Odds and logic say Pioneerof the Nile will win Saturday’s San Felipe Stakes. At 2-5 on the morning line, the 3-year-old son of 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker would appear to outclass his handful of rivals in the Grade II race at 1 1/16 miles, but aside from victory, Bob Baffert has other priorities. The 56-year-old trainer, a three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby who is eligible for the Hall of Fame this year, wants a safe trip.

Since early on, Baffert has had designs on the Run for the Roses on May 2 for Pioneerof the Nile. With enough graded earnings in his overall bankroll of $664,200 to assure a berth in the mile and a quarter classic at Churchill Downs, the $290,000 colt owned by Ahmed Zayat already has punched his ticket to the Big Dance.

Despite what could be a less than ideal pace scenario, and an abbreviated field, Baffert has declared all systems go.

“He’s got speed if he wants to use it,” Baffert said of Pioneerof the Nile. “But it’s not a concern. I just want him to get a nice run and come out of it healthy. That’s all we’re looking for. He’s doing very well. You can get excited and dream about the (Kentucky) Derby, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

In other San Felipe news:

Richard Mandella said New Bay would run, even though yesterday the Hall of Fame trainer was opting for Sunday’s Pasadena Stakes for the son of Cuvee. “We’ll give the San Felipe a try,” Mandella said. “He’ll probably be on the lead, coming out of (three) sprints.”

Shafted, eighth by nine lengths behind Pioneerof the Nile in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Feb. 7 after a slow start, will be saddled by Mark Casse assistant Rick Griffith.

“Mark was supposed to be here today from Ocala, but he had some unexpected problems after dental surgery and he won’t make it,” Griffith said Friday morning.
“We’re hoping to get that bad race (in the Lewis) behind him,” Griffith said of Shafted, a son of 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft. “He’s trained well and put on a little weight. We’re looking for him to show us what he’s got. He’s not a big horse, and he’s relatively lightly raced (four starts). He’s still developing.”

Zayat was on hand with sons Justin and Benjamin at Clockers’ Corner Friday enjoying a classic Southern California morning as he eagerly awaits Pioneerof the Nile’s performance in the San Felipe. “It’s very exciting to have a horse like this,” Zayat said.

The field for the 72nd San Felipe, which goes as race No. 4 on a 10-race program: He’s Really Big, Aaron Gryder, 30-1; Pioneerof the Nile, Garrett Gomez, 2-5; Feisty Suances, David Flores, 10-1; Shafted, Joel Rosario, 8-1; Jeranimo, Brice Blanc, 20-1; Kelly Leak, Victor Espinoza, 6-1; and New Bay, Joe Talamo, 8-1.

Pioneerof the Nile is highweight under 122 pounds. The others are assigned 115.


Magical Fantasy finished second by three-quarters of a length to Life Is Sweet in the La Caňada Stakes on Feb. 15. That’s as close as any horse has come to Life Is Sweet at the finish of her two East Coast starts. Paddy Gallagher, who trains Magical Fantasy, hopes for further improvement when she meets Life Is Sweet again in Saturday’s Grade I, $300,000 Santa Margarita Handicap for older fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles.

The La Caňada marked Magical Fantasy’s first race since last Nov. 30, when she finished fourth in the Grade I Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood Park. Gallagher did not feel she was in need of her last race.

“I think she keeps herself fairly fit,” he said. “Her last race was a good race, and Life Is Sweet is a very, very nice filly, and she’ll be tough to beat.”

Magical Fantasy’s stallion is the late Diesis, who sired Suivi, winner of the Del Mar Oaks in 1992 under Alex Solis for then-trainer Randy Winick, who currently is a racing official with the California Horse Racing Board.

“She was a very nice filly for Mr. and Mrs. (Albert) Broccoli, even though she didn’t have a long career,” Winick recalled. “She had four wins and four seconds from 14 starts and cost $300,000 at the Barretts sale. She lost a tough beat by a head in the Grade I Queen Elizabeth II at Keeneland. I remember that.”

Magical Fantasy, a 4-year-old chestnut filly, has a 2-4-0 record from 12 starts, with earnings of $314,431.

The field for the 72nd Santa Margarita: Forest Melody, Mike Smith, 113, 15-1; Life Is Sweet, Garrett Gomez, 120, 7-5; Bel Air Sizzle, Rafael Bejarano, 114, 12-1; Modification, Tyler Baze, 113, 10-1; Magical Fantasy, Alex Solis, 117, 3-1; Santa Teresita, Joe Talamo, 117, 7-2; and Model, Joel Rosario, 116, 6-1.

On the heels of a first-ever $1 million winner, Santa Anita will once again offer its popular
$1 million St. Patrick’s Horseshoe Pitch contest tomorrow between races.
Saturday also is Dollar Day at Santa Anita. General admission is $1, as are programs, beer, hot dogs, popcorn and soft drinks.

Shown live last year on HRTV, the contest generated national news when John Placzankis, of Ranch Cucamonga, tossed a perfect ringer which set off instant bedlam both trackside and throughout the grandstand. In the immediate aftermath of last year’s $1 million score, Placzankis, when interviewed on HRTV, exclaimed, “The drinks are on me!!”

Fans are encouraged to enter the contest, free of charge, when they attend on Saturday. Entries must be submitted by fifth race post time, and a group of 20 prospective contestants will be posted throughout the facility. Further instructions and contest information will be available on designated television monitors.


On a Thursday that saw former San Diego Charger and Dallas Cowboy offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese celebrate his 73rd birthday at Santa Anita, plenty of long-distance bombs were the rule of the pari-mutuel day, resulting in a Pick Six carryover of $81,584.98 into Friday. The carryover is the 22nd in 56 racing days and it’s expected today’s total pool will reach $500,000.

Thursday’s fourth race was named the “Scat Right Ernie Purse,” in honor of one of Zampese’s favorite long-distance pass plays. The winner was Voodoo’s Vision ($15.80) under Garrett Gomez.

FINISH LINES: Bob Baffert said no decision has been made on who would ride champion Indian Blessing in the $2 million Golden Shaheen in Dubai on March 28 should her regular rider, John Velazquez, opt for Quality Road in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park the same day . . . Santa Anita-based riders set for Dubai are Aaron Gryder (Well Armed and Informed), Tyler Baze (Hyperbaric and Machismo) and Clinton Potts (Black Seventeen) . . . Garrett Gomez held a 10-win lead over Rafael Bejarano in the Santa Anita jockey standings, 69-59, through Thursday, but there was a four-man battle in the trainers’ race. Mike Mitchell led with 22 wins from 86 starters (26 percent). There was a three-way tie for second shared by John Sadler (21 for 126, 17 percent); Doug O’Neill (21 for 172, 12 percent); and Jeff Mullins (21 for 85, 25 percent) . . . Santa Anita-based Papa Clem is 8-1 on the morning line for Saturday’s Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds. Bejarano rides for trainer Gary Stute in the Grade II race at 1 1/16 miles. Friesan Fire is the 5-2 morning line favorite in a field of 10 . . . San Carlos Handicap winner Georgie Boy worked five furlongs on Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track Friday in 1:00.40, breezing, for Kathy Walsh . . . There were 67 players still alive in ShowVivor II going into Friday’s races.