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STABLE NOTES BY ED GOLDEN
• LIAISON, GAME ON DUDE AT THE READY FOR BAFFERT’S BIG WEEKEND
• TAPIZAR SET TO CARRY HIS SPEED IN STRUB STAKES
• MASSONE HOPES TO FIND WINNER’S CIRCLE IN ARCADIA
• APPRENTICE FLORES TRIPLES TO REACH THIRD IN STANDINGS
LIAISON, SKY KINGDOM ‘WELL-PREPARED’ FOR SATURDAY’S LEWIS
Bob Baffert’s ultimate goal for Liaison and Sky Kingdom is the Kentucky Derby on May 5. But the Hall of Fame trainer, a three-time winner of the Run for the Roses, anticipates the best from two of his leading Triple Crown contenders on Saturday when they start in the Grade II, $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.
“They’re doing well and we want to win the race,” Baffert said Thursday morning. “They’re going into the race very well-prepared so we expect them to run pretty well.”
Liaison, winner of the Grade I CashCall Futurity on Dec. 17, will be making his 3-year-old debut in the Lewis, named for the late Bob Lewis, who owned the first Kentucky Derby winner Baffert trained, Silver Charm, in 1997. Lewis died at 81 in February of 2006.
Sky Kingdom was fourth in the CashCall but was an impressive allowance winner at Santa Anita on Jan. 12, winning a mile and one-sixteenth test by 4 ½ lengths, “easily.”
“I just want them to have a good race,” Baffert said. “They’ve had a few starts now where they’ve got enough foundation and they’ve done well. You just want them to stay healthy.”
In addition to Liaison and Sky Kingdom in the Lewis, Baffert has Jaycito and Prayer for Relief running in Saturday’s Strub Stakes and Santa Anita Handicap winner and Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Game On Dude set for his 2012 debut in Sunday’s Grade II, $200,000 San Antonio Stakes, a forerunner to this year’s Big ‘Cap on March 3.
Jaycito, winner of the 2010 Norfolk Stakes when trained by Mike Mitchell, has been training in sensational fashion at Hollywood Park. In his last five recorded workouts at the Inglewood oval, four have been “bullets,” meaning they were the fastest of the day at their respective distances.
“I was thinking of running him in an allowance race,” Baffert said of the son of 1998 Belmont Stakes winner Victory Gallop, “but the allowance race came up just as tough as the Strub. If Jaycito runs well there, it could set him up for something else.”
Game On Dude, meanwhile, “has been training great” for the San Antonio, which could lead to defense of his crown in the Santa Anita Handicap or a trip to the Middle East to compete in the Dubai World Cup on March 31.
The field for the Lewis: Isn’t He Clever, Corey Nakatani, 6-1; Liaison, Rafael Bejarano, 9-5; Groovin’ Solo, Victor Espinoza, 12-1; I’ll Have Another, Mario Gutierrez, 12-1; Sky Kingdom, Martin Garcia, 6-1; Rousing Sermon, Joe Talamo, 5-2; Empire Way, Joel Rosario, 6-1; and Chips All In, Alonso Quinonez, 6-1.
The field for Sunday’s San Antonio: Tres Borrachos, Rafael Bejarano; Uh Oh Bango, Mike Smith; Game On Dude, Chantal Sutherland; El Gato Malo, Corey Nakatani; Ashtar, Kevin Krigger; Victory Pete, Martin Garcia; and Skipshot, Joe Talamo.
NAKATANI OPTIMISTIC TAPIZAR CAN GET STRUB DISTANCE
Corey Nakatani rated Tapizar perfectly in winning the mile and a sixteenth San Fernando Stakes on the front end on Jan. 14, winning the Grade II race by 3 ¼ lengths.
The veteran jockey is confident of a similar performance in Saturday’s Grade II Strub Stakes, despite an added sixteenth of a mile in distance.
“I don’t believe a mile and an eighth will be any problem whatsoever,” Nakatani said. “He’s a very talented horse. He’s definitely the speed of the race. He’s one of those that goes as fast as he can as far as he can.”
Trained by Steve Asmussen for owner/breeder Winchell Thoroughbreds, the 4-year-old bay son of Tapit won the Grade III Sham Stakes at Santa Anita last year at 1 1/16 miles.
“Tapizar reminds me of a Bertrando,” Nakatani continued, “so we’ll see if he can get the distance. We’ll let him go out there, take the race to them and hopefully, he’ll do what he did last time.”
The field for the Strub: Jaycito, Martin Garcia, 4-1; Prayer for Relief, Rafael Bejarano, 7-2; Beer Meister, Glenn Corbett, 20-1; Ultimate Eagle, Martin Pedroza, 9-2; Clubhouse Ride, Victor Espinoza, 12-1; Indian Winter, Joel Rosario, 15-1; Tapizar, Nakatani, 6-5; and Balladry, Joe Talamo, 8-1.
OUTSIDER MASSONE SHARP FOR ARCADIA STAKES
Tim Yakteen gives Massone more than a longshot’s chance to outrun his odds against even-money morning line favorite Mr. Commons in Saturday’s Arcadia Stakes at one mile on turf.
“He’s training absolutely lights out and Corey’s going to fit him like a glove,” the trainer said, speaking of jockey Corey Nakatani, who rides Massone for the first time.
In 29 career starts, Massone has eight seconds and eight thirds, but only two victories. “He’s ready to run a big race,” Yakteen added. Owned by the Frankfurt Stable of Lewis Figone, Massone, a 6-year-old Menifee horse, has earned $513,342.
The field for the Arcadia, which goes as the third of 10 races: Dewey’s Special, Jose Valdivia Jr., 8-1; Pathfork, Joel Rosario, 5-2; M One Rifle, Joe Talamo, 10-1; Calimonco, Victor Espinoza, 6-1; El Gato Malo, Martin Garcia, 12-1; Willyconker, Rafael Bejarano, 8-1; Massone, Corey Nakatani, 20-1; and Mr. Commons, Mike Smith, 1-1.
‘HAT TRICK’ MOVES ESWAN FLORES UP IN SANTA ANITA STANDINGS
With a natural “hat trick” on Sunday’s program, apprentice rider Eswan Flores climbed into a tie for third place in Santa Anita’s standings with 15 wins. The 18-year-old native of Jalisco, Mexico, has been riding with a seven-pound weight allowance but will add two pounds and compete with a five-pound advantage with one more victory, which will give him 40 in his fledgling career.
Flores won Sunday’s first race aboard Smil’n From Above; the second on You Can Dream; and the third on Warren’s Morgan.
“The more you win, the more confidence you have,” said Eswan, who is represented by agent Joe Griffin. “I definitely have a lot more confidence than when I came here. It takes time. With practice comes more confidence. I’ve been practicing a lot in the mornings and working hard.”
RECORD SIGN UP OF THOROUGHBREDS MEMBERS ON SUNSHINE MILLIONS DAY
Despite the late scratches of pre-race favorites Caracortado and Eden’s Moon from their respective stakes races on Saturday, Sunshine Millions Day, a record number of fans signed up that day to become THOROUGHBREDS members at Santa Anita, a total of 1,657.
“This represents the largest ever one-day THOROUGHBREDS signup here at Santa Anita,” said Chris Quinn, Santa Anita Vice President of Sales and Marketing. The THOROUGHBREDS giveaway Saturday was an attractive beach chair, which was given free to all those who signed up. On track attendance topped 30,000 at 30,514.
FINISH LINES: Buoyed by the meet’s first two-day carryover, Santa Anita’s Pick Six handle last weekend was bullish, capped by an influx of $1,236,851 Sunday, for a total pool of $1,476,369 . . . Apprentice jockey Keiber Coa, son of jockey Eibar Coa, is scheduled to make his Santa Anita debut Sunday on Corn Maze in the eighth race. His agent, Joe Ferrer, also represents Rafael Bejarano. Keiber, in receipt of a 10-pound weight allowance, is 19 years old, tacks 108 pounds and has had nine career mounts, still seeking his first win . . . San Gabriel winner Norvsky worked seven furlongs on Santa Anita’s firm turf course Thursday in 1:29.40 for Don Warren. On the fast main track, Santa Anita Derby winner Midnight Interlude went four furlongs in 47.80 and Del Mar Futurity winner Drill went the same distance in 49.20, both for Bob Baffert. At Hollywood Park Thursday, Palos Verdes winner Frumious worked four furlongs for Jeff Bonde in a bullet 46.60, while Santa Ynez Stakes winner Reneesgotzip went the same distance in 51 flat for Peter Miller . . . Going into Thursday’s races, 11 players remained alive in ShowVivor . . . First post time Super Bowl Sunday is 11 a.m. Gates open at 9 a.m.