The San Felipe Stakes has proven to be one of the more useful Kentucky Derby preps in recent years. To be more specific, since returning to dirt for the 2012 edition, the race has produced a Derby runner-up (Bodemeister in 2012), a Kentucky Derby winner (California Chrome, 2014), and a third-place finisher (Dortmund, 2015). This year’s entries look like they are good enough to continue to impress on the first Saturday in May.
1. Uncle Lino
A son of Uncle Mo on the Derby trail? What a surprise! All jokes aside, Uncle Mo has been having a fantastic year, and this son only adds to his impressive list of sons on the Kentucky Derby trail. Uncle Lino has a small case of “seconditis,” but when one of those placings comes against Mor Spirt, it’s understandable. What makes his last race, the Robert B. Lewis, so impressive was the way he held for the place, despite pressuring a solid pace, with a very light foundation. He has every reason to improve off of that effort, but he will be facing an even better group this Saturday. Can he improve enough to beat some of the most accomplished horses in California?
2. Danzing Candy
The son of the brilliant Twirling Candy has won two in a row and is now looking for his third consecutive win in his first graded stakes try. Like his sire, he has a great deal of speed, and based off of his past performances, he’ll be sent to the lead. He will be facing a ton of pressure coming from Exaggerator and Smokey Image. If he manages to turn those two away, he will need to withstand Mor Spirit. This set-up doesn’t seem favorable, especially when considering he’s never faced horses of this class before.
3. Mor Spirit
He ended 2015 on a high note and began 2016 the same way, with a measured win in the Robert B. Lewis. He can sit anywhere his connections want him to, but on Saturday I wouldn’t be surprised to see him running mid-pack, given the amount of speed in the San Felipe. The only issue that he has is his best races have come when he’s had a favorable pace set-up, against sprinters or horses with a light foundation. He should get another favorable set-up; however, his competitors are not light on conditioning and are more proven at two turns. He always shows up with a good run, but can he up his game to be as effective against more seasoned talent?
Third time was a charm for this Bob Baffert trainee. His maiden-breaker came when he was given a shot to navigate two turns. The win was a decisive one, but the question now is: is he good enough to compete with proven stakes horses? He’ll likely get a good trip, sitting right off the pace setters, but will he be able capitalize from it?
5. I Will Score
He is fast, fast, fast, and he will be looking for the lead right from the word go. He set the pace in the Robert B. Lewis, but understandably, got a little short in the stretch. Now that he has a two turn race under his belt he should be more prepared, but this time, like others, he’s facing a much more talented cast. He is definitely eligible to improve, but with more pace pressure this time around, will he be able to keep the pressers and closers at bay?
6. Smokey Image
The more distance you give him, the more he beats you by. That was the story of his two-turn debut in the California Cup Derby. His trainer had been quoted as saying that he wasn’t even 100 percent on his game for that race and, yet, he still crushed the field by over eight lengths. He’s got enough speed to wire a field, but he certainly doesn’t need the lead. He will be following in California Chrome’s hoof prints, using the California Cup Derby to prep for a graded stakes debut in the San Felipe. If all goes well he’ll point to the Santa Anita Derby and, then, the Kentucky Derby. He will get his stiffest test to date, this Saturday, but based on his last effort, there is no reason to believe he won’t be able to handle it.
This son of Curlin has had the misfortune of running into the unbeaten Nyquist in several of his starts. In races where Nyquist has not been present, Exaggerator has an impressive record of 4-3-1-0. Here he enters a race devoid of Nyquist, but instead he will meet Robert B. Lewis winner Mor Spirit and the unbeaten Smokey Image. Exaggerator is another one with stalker speed, who will sit a great trip. He has proven to have the turn of foot to take the lead in upper stretch… the question is can he keep it?
Race Outlook: Danzing Candy will shoot to the front and try to wire the field, while being kept honest by Exaggerator and Smokey Image. Entering the far turn Exaggerator and Smokey Image will turn up the heat, while Danzing Candy begins to wilt. Uncle Lino and Cupid will begin to creep up, while Mor Sprit follows just behind. The stretch will feature a ding-donging duel between Exaggerator and Smokey Image, with a strong close from Mor Spirit and Uncle Lino.
2) Smokey Image
3) Mor Spirit
4) Uncle Lino
(Updated 3/9/16 at 8:14 p.m. MT.)