By Byron King BloodHorse
Invitational Stakes (G1), the Saudi Cup, and the Dubai World Cup Presented by Emirates Airline (G1), changes are on the horizon for the Santa Anita Handicap (G1), which has its 84th running March 6.
Santa Anita Park racing secretary Chris Merz told BloodHorse last month that he anticipates announcing adjustments later this spring to the track’s stakes schedule, including to the iconic “Big Cap,” which rose to prominence when inaugurated in the mid-1930s. It then offered a purse of $100,000, at the time a lucrative amount for a horse race.
Its current purse of $400,000 is a fraction of the $3 million Pegasus, the $20 million Saudi Cup, and the $12 million Dubai World Cup.
But the 1 1/4-mile race is still clinging to its status as a grade 1, prestige that has lured the unbeaten Maxfield to California for the race, where he is matched against seven rivals, led by Independence Hall, Express Train, and Idol.
Having missed last year’s postponed Triple Crown series due to injury, Godolphin’s Maxfield has unfinished business on the racetrack, as his connections seek to establish him as one of the country’s best older horses.
The 4-year-old Street Sense colt handily took the Tenacious Stakes and Mineshaft Stakes (G3) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots this winter, efforts that followed a victory in the Matt Winn Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs in the late spring of his 3-year-old year.
“There aren’t a lot of grade 1s for older horses this time of year,” trainer Brendan Walsh said. “The timing is good for the horse; the mile and a quarter will be a good test. There were options at home but this seemed like a good time to ship.”
Though Maxfield is unraced in California, this is not his first trip to Santa Anita. He arrived at the Arcadia track for the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) in the fall of 2019 after winning both of his races in Kentucky, including the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1). But he was scratched by Walsh due to unsoundness, a setback that cost him a chance at a coveted 2-year-old championship.
Longshot Storm the Court won the Juvenile and was voted champion 2-year-old male, and that winter Maxfield underwent surgery to remove a chip from an ankle, which kept him away from racing until last year’s Matt Winn May 23.
The high weight under Florent Geroux in the Santa Anita Handicap, Maxfield carries 124 pounds, spotting the opposition between one to eight pounds.
He has not raced beyond 1 1/16 miles, much less the 1 1/4 miles of the Santa Anita Handicap, but no horse in the eight-horse field has any racing experience at the precise trip. Most haven’t run beyond 1 1/8 miles, the exceptions being Idol, winner of a 1 3/16-mile allowance race at Churchill Downs in November, and Tizamagician, second in the 1 1/2-mile Tokyo City Cup Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita in September.
Independence Hall, winless in three two-turn routes, all in graded stakes, stretches out from 1 1/8 miles after finishing third behind Knicks Go and Jesus’ Team in the Pegasus World Cup Jan. 23 at Gulfstream Park. His Pegasus performance, which followed him finishing fifth in the seven-furlong Runhappy Malibu Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita, earned him a career-best 110 Equibase Speed Figure.
He makes his fourth start for California trainer Michael McCarthy after previously being trained on the East Coast by Mike Trombetta for owners Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Twin Creeks Racing Stables, and Kathleen and Robert Verratti.
“It was interesting because Michael was always kind of hinting what he was seeing out of the horse was that he wanted to go nine furlongs and beyond. We’re hoping as an older, more mature horse that this is what he wants to do,” said Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners president and founder Aron Wellman. “Now that Santa Anita is sort of his home court, we’re hoping he can take advantage of that home court on Saturday. ”
Wellman acknowledges the distance adds an element of uncertainty for his representative on Saturday but was encouraged by the Pegasus when Independence Hall chased a loose-on-the-lead Knicks Go.
WinStar Farm became a partner with the Constitution colt last year, according to Wellman.
“We’re looking to put a final seal of approval on what we’re hoping ultimately turns into a very illustrious stallion career with a grade 1 win at some point this season,” Wellman said.
Drawn inside under leading rider Flavien Prat, Independence Hall is one of several that should flash speed, along with Tizamagician and last year’s Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner King Guillermo. They were respectively second and fifth behind Express Train in the Jan. 30 San Pasqual Stakes (G2).
Also running in the San Pasqual was Calvin Nguyen’s Idol, who finished third for trainer Richard Baltas.
On Dec. 26 at Santa Anita, C R K Stable’s Express Train was second in the Malibu behind Charlatan, the eventual Saudi Cup runner-up. The John Shirreffs-trained Express Train finished 5 1/2 lengths ahead of Independence Hall in the Malibu.
Santa Anita Park, Saturday, March 06, 2021, Race 10
- Grade I
- 1 1/4m
- 4 yo’s & up
- 5:00 PM (local)
|1||1Independence Hall (KY)||Flavien Prat||120||Michael W. McCarthy||4/1|
|2||2Maxfield (KY)||Florent Geroux||124||Brendan P. Walsh||8/5|
|3||3Kiss Today Goodbye (KY)||Mike E. Smith||119||J. Eric Kruljac||8/1|
|4||4Coastal Defense (KY)||John R. Velazquez||116||Dale L. Romans||15/1|
|5||5Express Train (KY)||Juan J. Hernandez||123||John A. Shirreffs||3/1|
|6||6Idol (KY)||Joel Rosario||119||Richard Baltas||6/1|
|7||7Tizamagician (KY)||Drayden Van Dyke||119||Richard E. Mandella||12/1|
|8||8King Guillermo (KY)||Abel Cedillo||116||Juan Carlos Avila||12/1|