ARCADIA, Calif. — Fresh off perhaps the best race of his career, C R K Stable’s Express Train heads a field of eight older horses going a mile and one quarter Saturday in the 85th running of the Grade I, $650,000 Santa Anita Handicap presented by Yaamava’ Resort & Casino.
A gutty nose winner of the opening day Grade II San Antonio Stakes at a mile and one sixteenth on Dec. 26, Express Train, a 5-year-old horse by Union Rags, put it all together in a rousing 3 ¼ length score in the Grade II San Pasqual at a mile one eighth on Feb. 5 and is thus in search of his third consecutive win for trainer John Shirreffs and jockey Victor Espinoza.
Second, beaten a half length in last year’s Big ’Cap, Express Train was third in the 2021 Hollywood Gold Cup and in his most recent attempt at a mile and a quarter, finished a well beaten sixth as the 2-1 favorite four starts back on Aug. 21.
Second early while attentive to a hot early pace in the San Pasqual, Express Train overhauled Grade I winner Eight Rings leaving the quarter pole and shrugged off a determined challenge from runner-up Law Professor to win in manner that would suggest he may relish the Big ’Cap distance on Saturday.
“I think this was a little bit more difficult for him,” said Shirreffs, when asked to compare his 2021 San Pasqual score following this year’s running. “There was a lot going on early (today) with the fast pace…Nobody got to relax because (American Theorem) came up on the outside and wanted to force the pace so it was do or die time then. We’re looking forward to the Big ’Cap.”
A four-time graded stakes winner still in search of his first Grade I, Express Train, who is out of the Mineshaft mare I’m a Flake, is approaching millionaire status with an overall mark of 16-6-4-3 and earnings of $935,800.
A big third, beaten 4 ½ lengths by super horse Life Is Good as a 26-1 longshot in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Jan. 29 at Gulfstream Park, owner Steve Moger’s Stilleto Boy posted a Big ’Cap-best last-out Beyer Speed Figure of 104 and will likely press the early pace on Saturday.
Trained by Steve’s brother Ed Moger, Stilleto Boy, a 4-year-old gelding by Shackleford, was a well beaten fifth in his only try at the Big ’Cap distance, three starts back in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 6.
A sharp horse in the best form of his career, Stilleto Boy is 13-2-3-5 overall with earnings of $833,175.
Brad Cox, 2021 Eclipse Award Trainer of the Year, will be well represented by consistent Warrant, who comes off a third place finish to recently anointed Kentucky Derby winner Mandaloun in the Grade III Louisiana Stakes Jan. 22 at Fairgrounds in New Orleans, will be making his second start of the year in the Big ’Cap.
A 4-year-old colt by Constitution owned and bred by Twin Creeks Farm, Warrant’s lone graded stakes win came two starts back in the Grade III Oklahoma Derby on Sept. 26 at Remington Park.
A promising Derby prospect a year ago, Bob Baffert’s Spielberg, fourth beaten 6 ½ lengths by Express Train in the San Pasqual, will make his third start of the year as he tries a mile and a quarter for the first time. Rallying impressively from off the pace to take a one mile allowance by three lengths here on Jan. 14, Spielberg, a 4-year-old colt by Union Rags who is owned by SF Racing, LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, LLC, et al, seeks his second graded stakes win and his fourth from what will be 12 overall starts.
Mike Smith seeks his fourth career Big ’Cap win aboard the George Papaprodromou-trained American Theorem, who although well beaten by Express Train in the San Pasqual, will likely show more early speed and looms a live longshot in his first try at a mile and one quarter. Second behind Eight Rings in the Grade I American Pharoah in his second start at age two, this 5-year-old American Pharoah Ridgling was a sharp gate to wire allowance winner going a mile and one sixteenth two starts back on Jan. 2.
Owned by Kretz Racing, LLC, American Theorem has two wins from eight starts.
Doug O’Neill and hot apprentice Diego Herrera will show up swinging with the sharp 4-year-old gelding Soy Tapatio, who has won his last two starts, both at a mile and one sixteenth. A front-running 6 ¼ length maiden winner on Jan. 8, this 4-year-old gelding by the Giant’s Causeway stallion Not This Time came back to rally from off the pace for a one length allowance score on Feb. 18.
A bargain $5,000 Keeneland January Yearling, Soy Tapatio is owned by Mercado Racing, LLC. A longshot by any measure, he figures to be forwardly placed in his first stakes assignment. With two wins and as many thirds from six starts, Soy Tapatio has been assigned 116 pounds.
THE SANTA ANITA HANDICAP WITH JOCKEYS & WEIGHTS IN POST POSITION ORDER
Race 11 of 11 Approximate post time 5 p.m. PT
Why Why Paul Why—Juan Hernandez—117
Soy Tapatio—Diego Herrera—116
American Theorem—Mike Smith–116
Express Train—Victor Espinoza—124
Kiss Today Goodbye—Kyle Frey—118
Stilleto Boy—John Velazquez–121
Early first post time for an 11-race card on Saturday is at 12 noon.
Santa Anita Press Office
Photo: Express Train/Benoit Photo