Aqueduct and Tampa Bay kick off their 2012 graded stakes programs on Saturday with a pair of Grade 3s at both venues. Two coupled entries make up half the field of older horses in Aqueduct's 8th race, the Toboggan. Flat Bold and Candyman E, the 1-1A coupling, is owned by Michael Dubb and partners, and has been tabbed at 9-5, while the Repole Stable-owned entry of Calibrachoa and Caixa Eletronica, is favored at 7-5. Calibrachoa began his 2011 campaign with a win in this race and ended it six races later with a third-place finish in the G1 Cigar Mile on Nov. 26. Caixa Eletronica easily won the Rise Jim in early January over J J's Lucky Train (3rd), also returning here.
Tampa Bay is host to the Endeavour, as well as another Derby prep, the Sam F. Davis. Zagora and Keertana are among the 11 entries in the Endeavour. Those two met last March here in the G3 Hillsborough, where Zagora finished second, defeating third-place finisher Keertana by 1 ½ lengths. Since then, Zagora raced four times in graded stakes competition, capturing the G1 Diana at Saratoga. The Hillsborough represented the only loss last year for Keertana; she had four wins, including the G3 Louisville Handicap over males. She's been on the sidelines since that May 28 race.
Todd Pletcher, who knows a thing or two about winning graded stakes, has entered Ecabroni in the Sam F. Davis. The son of Smoke Glacken won at second asking Jan. 14 at Gulfstream. The more experienced Reveron has three wins in a row, including the Gulfstream Park Derby run on Jan. 1. Other expected starters are last year's With Anticipation (G2) victor State of Play, and Prospective, winner of the Pasco, run here on Jan. 14.
Santa Anita owns the rest of the weekend's graded stakes, beginning with Saturday's 3rd race, the G2 Arcadia, for older turf horses. Mr. Commons, the even-money morning line choice, already has a win under his girth at this meet with a successful run in the G2 Sir Beaufort. John Sadler has a pair entered—Calimonco and European shipper Pathfork. Calimonco has been rested since his third-place finish in the Nov. 26 G2 Citation Handicap. Pathfork, trained overseas by Jessica Harrington, won his first three outings in Ireland before finishing far back in Newmarket's 2000 Guineas, a Group 1 race won by the remarkable Frankel.
The top two from Hollywood's Real Quiet and Cash Call Futurity (G1) clash again in the G2 Robert B. Lewis. Liaison beat Rousing Sermon in both those contests, but not by much, so trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is hoping his pupil can turn the tables this time. Bob Baffert, trainer of Liaison, has another entry here, Sky Kingdom, who exits a win in an allowance as the odds-on choice.
Tapizar, impressive winner of the G2 San Fernando, will face seven others in the Strub, also a Grade 2. In the San Fernando, the son of Tapit went gate-to-wire and was never threatened. Here, it appears that Bob Baffert may send Jaycito to challenge the pace, which could set up for a closing run from another Baffert runner, Prayer for Relief, who finished third in the San Fernando. Prayer for Relief was nosed out for the place by Balladry, also entered back here. Another entrant who could press the pace is Ultimate Eagle, making his dirt debut. A son of Mizzen Mast, Ultimate Eagle's most recent effort was a third in the G2 Sir Beaufort; previous to that he had four straight wins.
Sunday's Santa Anita card is highlighted by the G2 San Antonio, which attracted Uh Oh Bango, Tres Borrachos, and Skipshot, the first three finishers from the G2 San Pasqual, run on Jan. 7. Also in the lineup is Game On Dude, fresh from a three-month rest following his gutsy performance in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Sent off at 14-1 and with Chantal Sutherland in the irons, Game On Dude made all the pace in the Classic and hung on gamely in the late stages, but was beaten in the final strides by Drosselmeyer. If he can come anywhere close to that effort here, he should handle this field easily.
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