Tuesday, February 10, 2009

$1M Big Cap looks packed for March 7

GOOD LUCK!! and have A GREAT DAY!!!

By Steve Andersen

ARCADIA, Calif. -- There will be no shortage of starters in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 7.

As of Sunday, 13 starters were probable for the richest race of the meeting, with the maximum field of 14 well within reach. Three preps at Santa Anita last weekend helped solidify a probable field led by the Strub Stakes winner, Cowboy Cal, and the San Antonio Handicap winner, Magnum.

Cowboy Cal won his third stakes since October in the Grade 2 Strub Stakes at 1 1/8 miles, and must be considered the top contender for the Big Cap. Trained by Todd Pletcher for Robert and Janice McNair, Cowboy Cal has won two stakes at this meeting, the first of which was the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap against older horses on Jan. 10.

In the Strub, Cowboy Cal stalked the pace before taking the lead in the final furlong, winning by three-quarters of a length over Blue Exit, another Big Cap hopeful.

"I think he settled pretty well," Pletcher said of Cowboy Cal. "It was a quality effort from a quality horse."

Blue Exit had a rough trip in the stretch. He was ninth at the eighth pole and closed well.

"He got a little unlucky in the lane or he might have won it," trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said.

There were seven horses within two lengths of Cowboy Cal at the finish. Victory Pete, third, beaten 1 1/4 lengths, and Dixie Chatter, who was a neck behind Victory Pete, are Big Cap candidates.

Richard Mandella trains Dixie Chatter and may have another Big Cap runner in Matto Mondo, the winner of Saturday's Thunder Road Handicap at a mile on the main track. Matto Mondo was timed in 1:34.61, the fastest of 34 one-mile main-track races at this meeting.

"I wouldn't have thought of [the Big Cap] until he ran like that," Mandella said.

The Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile on turf on March 7 is another possibility for Matto Mondo, Mandella said.

Monba, trained by Pletcher, finished third in the Thunder Road in his first start since a 20th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby last May. The Thunder Road was scheduled for turf, but switched to the main track because of rain.

"We were hoping the race would come off the turf," Pletcher said. "I thought his race was good."

At least two runners from the San Antonio are expected for the Big Cap - the winner, Magnum, and third-place finisher Tiago. Well Armed, who set the pace and was beaten a length, will be pointed for the $6 million Dubai World Cup on March 28, a race in which he finished third last year.

Other Big Cap hopefuls include the French turf stakes winner Zambezi Sun, now trained by Bobby Frankel; Colonel John, the winner of the 2008 Santa Anita Derby and Travers Stakes; Court Vision, the winner of the Hollywood Derby in November; the undefeated Rail Trip, who has yet to start in a stakes; and Dansant, an invader from England.

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