Dortmund (Big Brown), who many consider among the leading Kentucky Derby (G1) contenders, will take his next step toward the Louisville classic on Saturday when he faces a field of nine in the $400,000 San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita over 1 1/16 miles.
The Bob Baffert trainee has won all four starts, including hard-fought victories in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) and Robert B. Lewis (G3). In the latter, the physically massive chestnut set a pressured pace, fell a length behind Firing Line (Line of David) in mid-stretch, but re-rallied to win by a head in a tremendous show of fortitude.
There is no shortage of promising rivals in the San Felipe lineup. Ocho Ocho Ocho (Street Sense), who is also undefeated, had to work hard to take his last start in the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot (G3), his juvenile finale on November 22. The Jim Cassidy charge successfully stretched out to 1 1/16 miles that day, winning by a nose against a field that included subsequent Southwest (G3) hero Far Right (Notional).
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Prospect Park (Tapit), who dropped his first three outings at two, has come on this winter with back-to-back scores against maiden and allowance company, the latter by more than five lengths going a mile on January 30. The San Felipe marks his stakes debut.
Also likely to attract support are Lord Nelson (Pulpit), most recently a neck winner over Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Texas Red (Afleet Alex) in the seven-furlong San Vicente (G2), and Bolo (Temple City), who makes his dirt debut after an easy win in the December 27 Eddie Logan on turf.
Among the others, the most notable are San Vicente third Sir Samson (Smart Strike), the multiple stakes-placed California-bred Pulmarack (Lucky Pulpit), and stakes winner Pain and Misery (Bob and John).
Conquest Two Step (Two Step Salsa), who ran Shared Belief (Candy Ride) to a neck in the Malibu (G1) before scoring in the Palos Verdes (G2) last time, will attempt to make it two in a row in the $250,000 San Carlos (G2) over seven furlongs.
Back to challenge is Wild Dude (Wildcat Heir), the 2014 Palos Verdes hero who ran third in this year’s edition in his first start in more than nine months. Grade 3 winner Chitu (Henny Hughes), winner of the $101,000 Damascus on Breeders’ Cup weekend, makes his first start of the year after closing out 2014 with a narrow third in the Malibu.
Other notables in the San Carlos lineup are Grade 3 winners Kobe’s Back (Flatter) and Midnight Hawk (Midnight Lute), and the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Outside Nashville (Broken Vow), a non-factor when shipped east last month for the General George H. (G3) at Laurel.
The $75,000 China Doll, a one-mile turf race for three-year-old fillies, is populated by a number who contested the $79,000 Sweet Life on February 15. The top four finishers from that race — She’s a Big Winner (Bellamy Road), Bobbi Grace (Big Bad Bob), Spirit of Xian (Kodiac), and Mio Me (Eskendereya) — all return.
Blue Norther heroine Lutine Belle (Bellamy Road) returns to turf after finishing fifth in the Las Virgenes (G1) on dirt, while Maybellene (Lookin at Lucky) tries the surface for the first time after finishing eighth of nine as the Las Virgenes favorite.
Another intriguing entry is the Carla Gaines-trained Curlin’s Fox (Curlin), a debut winner down the hill in early February.