ARCADIA, Calif. (Dec. 22, 2014)–Second as the 5-2 favorite in the Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct Nov. 29, trainer Bob Baffert’s Secret Circle cuts back in distance Saturday as he returns to the home of his greatest triumph–a win in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita. A 5-year-old Kentucky-bred horse by Eddington, he heads a field of seven older horses in the Grade III, $100,000 Midnight Lute Stakes at 6 ½ furlongs.
Run around one turn, Secret Circle stumbled leaving the gate in the Cigar Mile and had to settle for second behind top sprinter Private Zone. Second, beaten a half length in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita on Nov. 1, Secret Circle is looking for his first win in 2014, as he’s finished second in three out of his four starts this year.
Although he’s never run at 6 ½ furlongs, Secret Circle is 7-4-2-1 at six furlongs and is 13-7-5-1 overall with earnings of $2,424,790. Owned by Karl Watson, Paul Weitman and Mike Pegram, he’ll be reunited with Martin Garcia, who did not ride him in New York.
Claimed for a bargain $12,500 on Dec. 28, 2013, Seeking the Sherif ran his first sub-par race for trainer Ron Ellis in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint Nov. 1, as he finished 11th, beaten eight lengths at odds of 43-1. With 2014 earnings of $222,700 from an outstanding record of 9-5-1-2 this year, including a close third in the Grade I Bing Crosby Stakes July 27, Seeking the Sherif will look to rebound in the Midnight Lute and could be the second choice.
Trainer Jeff Bonde’s speedy Distinctiv Passion comes off a gate to wire Del Mar allowance win at 5 furlongs on turf Nov. 14 and he’ll be making his third start of the year on Saturday. Third in last year’s Grade I Santa Anita Sprint Championship on Oct. 4, he’s one of the quickest horses on the grounds and routinely gets his first quarter mile in 21 and change. With Edwin Maldonado opting to stick with Seeking the Sherif, Mike Smith will take over on the 4-year-old With Distinction colt for the first time.
Trainer Mark Casse will be represented by Grade II stakes winner Bahamian Squall, who returns to dirt following a dull fifth in a five furlong turf classified allowance at Del Mar Nov. 14. Second two starts back in the seven furlong Damascus Stakes behind the talented sprinter Chitu, the 5-year-old Donald Dizney homebred horse by Gone West has earnings of $580,380 from an overall mark of 22-5-6-4.
The lone 3-year-old in the field, Belita Boyz will make his second start for Jerry Hollendorfer and could improve off of his Southern California debut–a fifth place finish to highly regarded Red Outlaw in the 6 ½ furlong turf Uniformity Stakes on Oct. 19. He worked a bullet six furlongs at Santa Anita in 1:12 flat Dec. 19 and retains the services of top rider Rafael Bejarano.
Trainer Peter Miller’s Heir of Storm comes off a front running allowance win going six furlongs at Del Mar on Nov. 30 and will hope his synthetic form transfers to Santa Anita’s natural dirt. Based at San Luis Rey Downs, he’s winless from five starts at six furlongs on dirt and has one win and two thirds from seven tries at Santa Anita. He’ll be ridden back by Gary Stevens.
Miller will also saddle Appealing Tale, who’s been idle since June 21. Although he appears best suited at a flat mile, he could be dangerous with Victor Espinoza, who rode him to a pair of front running wins going a mile earlier this year.
Formerly run as the Vernon O. Underwood Stakes at the now-shuttered Hollywood Park, the Grade III Midnight Lute Stakes will be run as the fifth race on a nine-race card Saturday. The complete field, in post position order with jockeys and weights: Heir of Storm, Gary Stevens, 119; Bahamian Squall, Corey Nakatani, 119; Bolita Boyz, Rafael Bejarano, 117; Appealing Tale, Victor Espinoza, 119; Seeking the Sherif, Edwin Maldonado, 119; Secret Circle, Martin Garcia, 119, and Distinctiv Passion, Mike Smith, 119.
First post time on Saturday is 12:30 p.m. Admission gates open at 10:30 a.m.