One of eight trainers dating back to 1940 to have saddled consecutive winners of the storied Santa Anita Handicap, John Sadler will seek an unprecedented three-peat this Saturday at The Great Race Place as his high weighted Gift Box defends his title in the 83rd running of the Grade 1, $600,000 classic for older horses at a mile and a quarter.
First run in 1935, the Big 'Cap, America's longest continually run “hundred grander,” has attracted an outstanding field of eight, including C R K Stable's talented Midcourt, who has been assigned 123 pounds, three less than Gift Box.
Kiaran McLaughlin's up and coming Endorsed, Sadler's Combatant, Bill Mott's Florida-based Hofburg, the Richard Baltas-trained Two Thirty Five and others make this year's Big 'Cap a compelling affair.
Sadler began his run on top in the Santa Anita Handicap in 2018, when eventual champion Accelerate won the race by 5 1/2 lengths, followed a year later by Gift Box.
In addition to Sadler, those trainers that have won two consecutive Big 'Caps are as follows: “Silent” Tom Smith (Kayak II, 1939 and Seabicuit, 1940), Ron McAnally (John Henry 1981 and '82), Charlie Whittingham (Lord At War 1985 and Greinton 1986), Richard Mandella (Siphon, 1996 and Malek 1997), Bobby Frankel (Milwaukee Brew 2002 and '03), Doug O'Neill (Lava Man 2006 and '07) and Bob Baffert (Game On Dude 2013 and '14).
Owner: Hronis Racing, LLC
Trainer: John Sadler
Originally trained by Chad Brown and purchased privately prior to winning the December 2018 Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes in his first start for Sadler, this 7-year-old colt by Twirling Candy outdueled Bob Baffert's McKinzie to take last year's Big 'Cap by a nose under regular rider Joel Rosario. Idle since running fourth as the 2-1 favorite in the Grade 2 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 15, Gift Box unleashed a monstrous effort in winning the San Antonio for a second time on Dec. 28, winning by 3 3/4 lengths while earning a Big 'Cap-best last out Beyer Speed figure of 107. A winner of three out of his five starts for Sadler, Gift Box, who took the San Antonio in gate to wire fashion, will attempt to join John Henry (1981-82), Milwaukee Brew (2002-03), Lava Man (2006-07) and Game On Dude (2013-14) as the fifth two-time winner of the Santa Anita Handicap.
Owner: C R K Stable, LLC
Trainer: John Shirreffs
A true training challenge by any account, Midcourt's fortunes began a steep ascent following a near 16-month freshening, which spanned from Oct. 28, 2017 until Feb. 24, 2019, an interlude which included the momentous decision to geld the now 5-year-old son of Midnight Lute. A handful both in the mornings and afternoons, Midcourt, who had been beaten a combined 27 1/2 lengths in his first two starts, comes off the best race of his career, a 3 1/2 length, gate-to-wire score in the Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes on Feb. 1, which brought his record since the ultimate equipment change to five wins from seven starts. Although well fancied at 2-1 versus Gift Box in the Dec. 28 San Antonio at 1 1/8 miles, Midcourt broke slowly and never threatened while beaten 7 1/2 lengths. With a 102 Beyer in hand following his triumph in the mile and one sixteenth San Pasqual, he'll need to break running under regular rider Victor Espinoza if he's to turn the tables on Gift Box in his first try at a mile and one quarter Saturday.
Owner: Godolphin, LLC
Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin
Lightly raced, this 4-year-old homebred colt by Medaglia d'Oro would appear to have tremendous upside, as he comes off an impressive two-length allowance score going a mile and one sixteenth at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 11—his first start since running a creditable fourth in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 24. A first-out maiden winner going six furlongs on an off track at Saratoga Aug. 18, Endorsed, who won his most recent race in stylish off the pace fashion, has three wins from six starts and would appear to rate a huge chance on Saturday.
Owner: Hronis Racing, LLC
Trainer: John Sadler
Conditioned by Steve Asmussen through his first 22 starts, this 5-year-old ridgling by Scat Daddy closed much ground in his first start for Sadler, a third place finish behind Midcourt in the Grade 2 San Pasqual on Feb. 1. Although he would appear to be best suited at middle distances, Sadler has excelled in recent years with acquisitions of this kind and Combatant can be expected to step forward off of his San Pasqual run. A winner of a one turn mile allowance two starts back on Nov. 8 at Churchill Downs, Combatant, who with three wins from 23 starts, is in search of his first stakes win, would be flattered by a fast early pace in the Big 'Cap.
Owner: Juddmonte Farms, Inc.
Trainer: William Mott
Favored in two out of his last three starts, this Florida-based homebred 5-year-old horse by Tapit appeared to have a rough trip when seventh at 7-2 in his most recent race, the Grade 3, 1 1/16 miles Mineshaft Stakes at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Seventh in the 2018 Kentucky Derby, beaten 8 3/4 lengths by eventual Triple Crown winner Justify in his only try at a mile and a quarter, Hofburg skipped the Preakness and was third, beaten 3 1/2 lengths in the Belmont, which would suggest distance shouldn't be a problem on Saturday. A winner of three out of his 10 starts, Hofburg, who calls Payson Park home, will be seeking his first graded stakes win in the Big 'Cap.
TWO THIRTY FIVE
Owner: Richard Baltas, Tom Mansor, Tammi Nielson & Kim Rasmussen
Trainer: Richard Baltas
On the improve for Baltas at age six, this gelding by Stay Thirsty has been competitive facing Midcourt in his last three starts, most recently finishing second, beaten 3 1/2 lengths by Midcourt in the San Pasqual on Feb. 1 at odds of 22-1. He was third, beaten seven lengths two starts back in the 1 1/8 miles Native Diver Stakes at Del Mar on Nov. 23, and he was second, beaten a neck by Midcourt three races back in the one-mile Comma to the Top at Santa Anita on Oct. 27. Well beaten in his lone try at a mile and quarter, Two Thirty Five, who is 21-5-4-5 and a reformed claimer, is in with a puncher's chance from a hot barn.
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