Faustin, one of four Baffert trainees taking on Ryan Hanson’s Man Child in the San Vicente (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)
By Ashley Tamulonis
Sunday’s $200,000, Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes, to be contested at 7 furlongs, drew a short field of five. California stalwart Bob Baffert will send out four of the runners with Ryan Hanson as the only trainer to oppose the 11-time winner of the race. Baffert’s most recent San Vicente win came in 2021 with Concert Tour.
Leading the Baffert contingent is two-time Grade 3 winner Havnameltdown. By Uncaptured and out of the Put It Back mare Ashley’s Babe, the bay colt is a confirmed frontrunner with just one career loss, a 2nd place finish to stablemate Cave Rock in the Del Mar Futurity (G1). Havnameltdown boasts both the best dirt speed and the highest last-race speed rating in the field. He earned a 102-Brisnet speed rating when winning the Best Pal (G3) and most recently received a 95 for his Bob Hope (G3) victory. Juan Hernandez, who rode the colt in both of his graded stakes wins, will be in the irons, and he has paired with Baffert to win 33% of their races. They will break from post one.
Faustin is a smart maiden winner who closed to capture a 6-furlong maiden event on opening day at Santa Anita for Bob Baffert. By Curlin and out of the Hard Spun mare Hard Not to Like, this handsome gray is bred to be a good one, though it’s worth noting that his dam succeeded on the turf rather than dirt. Faustin earned a 91-Brisnet speed rating for his maiden win. Jockey Ramon Vazquez retains the mount, and the duo will break from post two.
By Curlin and out of the Bernardini mare La Appassionata, Fort Warren is another maiden winner for Baffert. He went straight to the lead and never looked back, winning by ½-length in a 6 ½-furlong maiden race at Santa Anita at the end of October. He earned a 92-Brisnet speed rating for the effort but has not raced since. However, Baffert is winning at a 29% rate with runners coming off a 90+ day layoff. Juan Hernandez rode Fort Warren in his debut, but John Velazquez picks up the mount for this start. Velazquez and Fort Warren will exit post three.
The most experienced runner in the field, Man Child is also the only non-Baffert entrant in the race. Trained by Ryan Hanson, the son of Creative Cause and the More Than Ready mare Neck of the Moon was a debut winner but has not reached the winner’s circle since then in four attempts. He was a decent third behind Havnameltdown in the Best Pal (G3), pressing the pace set by that foe while eventually weakening but holding third. He was then 3rd in the restricted Capote Stakes before turning in a clunker of a fifth in the American Pharoah (G1), beaten by 24 lengths after being bumped at the start and racing evenly throughout the race. Man Child was most recently second by a neck in the Lost in the Fog Juvenile Stakes at Turf Paradise in December. Diego Herrera retains the mount from the Lost in the Fog, and the duo will break from post four.
Rounding out the field is the fourth Baffert trainee Gilmore. By Twirling Candy and out of the Henny Hughes mare My Surfer Girl, Gilmore was third upon debut, missing the win by ¾-length to winner Massimo in a blanket finish. In stretching out from 6 furlongs to a mile, Gilmore had to steady early but went on to win by 4 lengths at Los Alamitos. Mike Smith will be the colt’s third jockey in as many starts, but Smith and Baffert have paired to win both of their prior races together. Smith and Gilmore drew post five.
Havnameltdown will carry the high weight of 124 lbs while the rest of the field will tote 120 lbs.
Havnameltdown and Fort Warren are the two most likely to do the early legwork but expect Man Child and Gilmore to be hot on their heels and in early contention. While Faustin is a one-run type, he will not be very far behind the others, giving himself a good shot at picking up the pieces if his stablemates wear each other down. Fort Warren and Faustin have the advantage of already having a race over the Santa Anita track, but Havnameltdown is the class of the field and your likely winner. Havnameltdown has the best speed rating in the field with a 102; the best ratings for the rest of the field are a 91 from Faustin’s debut, a 92 for Fort Warren’s debut, an 88 for Man Child’s third-place finish in the Best Pal (G3), and an 87 for Gilmore’s third place in his debut. Bearing that in mind, I suspect we will see a Baffert superfecta with Man Child bringing up the rear.
Bob Baffert will also send out Arabian Knight in Saturday’s $750,000, Grade 3 Southwest Stakes. Carded at 1 1/16-mile, the Southwest will be the Uncle Mo colt’s first try around two turns and his graded stakes debut. He will face eight rivals, topped by Gun Runner Stakes winner Jace’s Road and undefeated Sugar Bowl Stakes winner Corona Bolt.
Baffert has won the Southwest five times, most recently in 2022 with Newgrange. Considering that the Southwest is an official Kentucky Derby points event, you must consider that Baffert thinks more highly of Arabian Knight in terms of Derby potential. However, they are ineligible to receive any points due to the ban on Baffert from Churchill Downs, Inc. stemming from the disqualification of Medina Spirit due to a medication violation. The Southwest will award a total of 40 points (20-8-6-4-2) to the top five finishers.
Of Baffert’s four entrants in the San Vicente, Havnameltdown looks to be the most promising Kentucky Derby contender. His Brisnet speed ratings are up there with the best in the class, and, as previously stated, only Cave Rock, another strong Derby contender in Baffert’s barn, has beaten him. However, Havnameltdown has yet to attempt a two-turn race, leaving that as a big question mark as we go forward. The Southwest would have been a good jumping-off point for him as well as Arabian Knight, but there will be plenty of other opportunities in the coming months.
Both the Southwest and the San Vicente have served as traditional prep races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby but neither has proved particularly proficient in turning out a Derby winner. Since its inception, only Smarty Jones (2004) has completed the Southwest/Kentucky Derby double. Likewise, Silver Charm (1997) and Nyquist (2016) are the only two San Vicente winners to also wear the roses on the first Saturday in May. In 2004, Imperialism won the San Vicente en route to a third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
Looking back at the last ten runnings of both races proves rather unproductive, as well. The 2008 Southwest winner Denis of Cork went on to finish third in the Kentucky Derby. In 2017, Lookin At Lee turned a third-place Southwest finish into a second-place finish in that year’s Derby. Most recently, Essential Quality triumphed in the Southwest but finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby. He was eventually awarded third place after the disqualification of winner Medina Spirit. Exaggerator played bridesmaid to Nyquist in both the San Vicente and the Kentucky Derby in 2016, and Battle of Midway ran third in both races in 2017.
Saturday’s Southwest is the tenth race on Oaklawn’s eleven-race card and will go to post around 5:57 p.m. Sunday’s San Vicente is the second race on Santa Anita’s nine-race card. Post time is approximately 4:00 p.m. EST.