ARCADIA, Calif. (March 1, 2015)–Depending upon who you ask, Crimson Giant is: a.) A racing rarity. b.) A throwback to a bygone era. c.) A continuously overmatched iron horse. Or, d.) Just a healthy, happy horse that likes to play and play often.
However he’s defined, he’s running–and he’s running for the 67th time in his career, in Saturday’s Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Handicap presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino–that’s right, the Santa Anita Handicap, America’s longest continually run “hundred grander!!”
A 6-year-old California-bred gelding by Formal Gold, Crimson Giant comes off the best race of his life, a desperate nose defeat at 33-1 in a one mile third condition allowance race at Santa Anita on Feb. 20, a race in which he earned a career-high 88 Beyer Speed figure.
A winner of just one career race, the Big ‘Cap will mark his sixth start of the year and his seventh of the Winter Meet, dating back to a fourth place starter allowance finish on opening day, Dec. 26.
“He’s never been better,” said owner/breeder Bryan Carney. “He went eyeball to eyeball for about a quarter mile with a very good horse of Pete Miller’s (odds-on favorite Appealing Tale) that day (Feb. 20) and put him away. That’s a good sign to me that a horse is really doing well.”
Okay, Crimson Giant, despite the fact he’s winless in his last 57 starts, dating back to Nov. 13, 2011, is doing well, but is he doing Big ‘Cap well?
“This horse has been ready for the Big ‘Cap for three years now,” said trainer Charlie Stutts, 73, the son of a trainer who was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and has trained horses mostly in Florida, Chicago and California for 55 years. “He never has a bad day. He’s very professional, nothing bothers him.
“The mile and a quarter is a question, but it’s a question with all horses. I thought he ran a great mile the other day, under pressure and his gallops coming out of that race have been solid. He gallops at a high clip every day. He picks it up the last three eighths or half mile and he’s plenty fit, believe me.”
One thing’s for sure, Messrs. Stutts and Carney haven’t taken any public opinion polls prior to entering their “Big Horse” in his previous 66 races and it’s safe to assume they won’t be seeking any advice prior to Big ‘Cap entry time on Wednesday morning.
“I would rather race my horses than work ’em in the mornings,” said Carney. “You’re much less likely to get hurt racing than training, because in the morning, you’re running over a track that’s uneven, because of all the horses that are out there. In the afternoon, the surface is harrowed and it’s level.”
(For the record, Crimson Giant’s six Santa Anita Winter Meet starts were made on Dec. 26, fourth at 26-1, Jan. 9, seventh at 41-1, Jan. 19, ninth 39-1, Feb. 1, second at 70-1, Feb. 8, third at 6-1, and Feb. 20, second at 33-1).
With a field of perhaps 10 or 11 horses expected for Saturday’s Big ‘Cap, America’s top rated older horse, the once-beaten Shared Belief, is expected to be a heavy odds-on favorite. As for Crimson Giant, with apprentice jockey Brandon Boulanger aloft, he could be 50-1 or higher, but Carney is undeterred.
“The jump that he’s taking from a third condition allowance to the Big ‘Cap is easier than the one he took from a starter allowance (a third place run on Feb. 8) to his last race,” Carney said. “I should say, it’s easier except for one horse, Shared Belief, who in my opinion is the best horse in the country.”
And, if Crimson Giant pulls off one of the biggest upsets since Upset himself beat Man ‘O War, would it change the way modern-day horsemen manage their racing schedules?
“Hopefully, they’ll follow our lead,” said Stutts with a wry smile.