California Cup Derby at Santa Anita Race Park

Acceptance (Vronsky) puts his perfect mark on the line Saturday when lining up against seven rivals in the $250,000 California Cup Derby, one of five stakes restricted to California-bred or sired runners on Santa Anita’s California Cup Day program.

The dark bay colt broke his maiden by 13 lengths at Santa Anita last October, took his stakes debut a month later in the Golden State Juvenile and closed out his two-year-old campaign with a three-length romp in the King Glorious S. at Los Alamitos.

By saddling Acceptance in the California Cup Derby, trainer Don Warren is following the same path that horseman Art Sherman utilized for eventual Kentucky Derby (G1) winner and Horse of the Year California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit). That chestnut was sixth in the Golden State Juvenile before dominating both the King Glorious and Cal Cup Derby.

California Chrome followed up with triumphs in the San Felipe S. (G2) and Santa Anita Derby (G1), and Acceptance will likely find himself continuing on the same road to the Derby if he runs well in Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile contest. Regular rider Elvis Trujillo retains the mount aboard the sophomore.

Acceptance faces quite a few familiar foes in the Cal Cup Derby, as the second, third and fourth-place runners from the King Glorious also return for this race. Pulmarack (Lucky Pulpit) entered that race off a 4 1/4-length maiden victory and held second by a half-length over Kluszewski (Northern Afleet), who also took on the King Glorious following a maiden score. Mischief Clem (Papa Clem) was another 3 1/4 lengths back in fourth.

Completing the Cal Cup Derby field are Chanito (Surf Cat), Avanti Bello (Include) and last-out maiden winners Tough Sunday (Grazen) and Neveradoubt (Decarchy).

Kicking off the stakes action at Santa Anita on Saturday will be the $200,000 California Cup Oaks, which attracted eight sophomore fillies going a mile on the turf. Only half the field has ever tried turf, with Swiss Skimmer (Swiss Yodeler) owning the most starts. The Steven Specht pupil placed in both her attempts over Golden Gate Fields’ green, including a head second on yielding ground in November. She finally broke her maiden December 14 on Golden Gate Fields’ synthetic Tapeta.

Tribal Express (Lucky Pulpit) was second in a grassy Del Mar allowance while Silver Starlight (Marino Marini) filled that same spot against fellow maidens at Santa Anita on New Year’s Day. Singing Kitty (Minister’s Wild Cat) faded to seventh, beaten just 3 1/2 lengths, while making her grass debut in the Blue Norther S.

Soviet Problem S. runner-up Heat the Rocks (Unusual Heat) and recent 6 1/2-length maiden scorer Sheer Pleasure (Birdonthewire) will be tough if they take to the green while Patsy G and Me (Unusual Heat) and Light One (Comic Strip) complete the field.

One of the more competitive events on Cal Cup Day will be the $250,000 California Cup Turf Classic, which sends a field of 12 nine furlongs on the green.

Alert Bay (City Zip) and Awesome Return (Decarchy) were one-three, respectively, in the Mathis Brothers Mile S. (G2) on December 26, while Big Bane Theory (Artie Schiller) captured last fall’s City of Hope Mile S. (G2). Grade 1 victor Tamarando (Bertrando), Grade 2 runner-up Bench Light (Benchmark) and 2014 Cal Cup Turf Classic second Stoney Fleece (Decarchy) are also entered.

Big Macher (Beau Genius) and Rousing Sermon (Lucky Pulpit) finished first and second, respectively, in the Cary Grant S. on November 23, and face-off once again in the $150,000 California Cup Sprint at six furlongs. The former triumphed in the Bing Crosby S. (G1) and Potrero Grande S. (G2) last year while Rousing Sermon ran second in the Tiznow S. in 2014. The Cal Cup Sprint also features stakes debuter and five-year-old gelding San Onofre (Surf Cat), who is 5-4-1-0 thus far in his short career.

A full field of 14 distaffers will go about 6 1/2 furlongs on the downhill turf course in the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf Sprint between the Cal Cup Derby and Sprint. Among the participants are stakes winner Velvet Mesquite (In Excess), third in the Monrovia S. (G2) three weeks ago; Grade 2 victress Doinghardtimeagain (Ministers Wild Cat), third in the Kalookan Queen S. last out; and Marks Mine (Benchmark), the runner-up from last year’s Filly & Mare Turf.