As a seven-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds in February, the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes (G2) would not seem to pass muster as a Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) prep.
That’s a point driven home by the lack of Kentucky Derby qualifying points attached to the Feb. 6 stakes at Santa Anita Park.
But a check of the recent San Vicente winners tells a different story.
Last year, Nadal won the San Vicente for trainer Bob Baffert, and in a typical year he would have been the favorite or second choice in the Run for the Roses. Back in 2016, the winner was Nyquist , who captured the Kentucky Derby for Reddam Racing and trainer Doug O’Neill.
Yet Nadal and Nyquist illustrate the value of the San Vicente in manners that are 180-degrees removed from each other. For Nyquist, it was the 3-year-old debut of the reigning 2-year-old male champion who had adequately displayed his two-turn prowess by winning the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). Nadal, on the other hand, was coming off a victory at 6 1/2 furlongs in his career debut with the San Vicente viewed as a springboard to success around two turns.
The Nadal approach on the San Vicente best serves as the point of reference for the five starters in Saturday’s edition of the graded stakes with four of the entrants exiting maiden wins and none of that quartet with a race beyond 6 1/2 furlongs under his belt.
Baffert will send out two hopefuls in a bid for back-to-back San Vicente wins and his 11th overall in the duo of Gary and Mary West’s Concert Tour and SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Golconda Stables, Siena Farm, and Robert Masterson’s Freedom Fighter, both of whom were debut winners.
Concert Tour, a homebred son of Street Sense , was a front-running winner of his Jan. 15 debut at Santa Anita, drawing clear in the stretch to win by 3 1/2 lengths at six furlongs.
Freedom Fighter, a son of Violence bought for $120,000 from the Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales Agency consignment at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale by the partnership that calls itself “The Avengers,” had to work harder for his maiden win. He was also ahead throughout but had to dig down to prevail by a head in an Aug. 1 five-furlong test at Del Mar.
Reddam and O’Neill will take aim at another San Vicente win with Found My Ball, a California-bred son of Square Eddie. After a third in his debut, Found My Ball discovered a lot more than a round object in his second start as he romped by six lengths over state-breds in a six-furlong contest Jan. 22 at Santa Anita.
Another interesting Cal-bred among the field of five due to the scratch of Mr. Impossible is Robert Fetkin, John Sondereker, Richard Thornburgh, and trainer Eric Kruljac’s The Chosen Vron. A son of Vronsky , he was a decisive 6 3/4-length winner at 6 1/2 furlongs over state-breds in his Dec. 27 debut at The Great Race Place.
Kruljac originally mapped out the Jan. 16 1 1/16-mile California Cup Derby for The Chosen Vron, but a cough forced Kruljac to scratch him and opt for the San Vicente, where his gelding will face a formidable challenge.
“He’s coming into (the San Vicente) in good shape. He was going to be a heavy favorite in the Cal Cup and afterwards we let him get over what was ailing him and he came out fine. We backed off his training after the scratch and there were no Cal-bred allowances for him so we decided on the San Vicente,” Kruljac said. “I wish I could get a couple more serious works into him, but I felt that way before his debut. My partners really want to run and his last breeze was encouraging. We’ll have to match up against two Bafferts and that’s getting caught between a rock and a hard place — and O’Neill’s horse is nothing to sneeze at, either. Maybe we’ll get through OK and get a piece. This horse has surprised us in a good way already.”
Kruljac’s original plan to run in the California Cup Derby reflects his belief that The Chosen Vron should be able to handle two turns when that time comes for the son of the Tiz Wonderful mare Tiz Molly.
“If he stays healthy, he has some route ability on the sire side for sure,” Kruljac said. “The Vronsky offsprings grass and they go long. His dam was a sprinter but two turns is something we’ll definitely look into against Cal-breds. We’ll see what happens Saturday. We haven’t been able to tire this horse out yet.”
Rounding out the field is Eric Homme’s Uncle Boogie, a son of Ride On Curlin trained by Andrew Lerner who won a starter race last time out after finishing fifth in the Sham Stakes (G3).
His five starts matches the number of races by the rest of the field combined.
Entries: San Vicente S. (G2)Santa Anita Park, Saturday, February 06, 2021, Race 7Grade II7fDirt $200,0003 yo3:14 PM (local)