A full field of 14 is in prospect for the Santa Anita Handicap next Saturday, and as far as Mike Smith is concerned, the more the merrier.

Smith rides Tiago, a stretch-running son of Pleasant Tap, in the mile and a quarter Big ‘Cap. Potential traffic problems are always a risk in a bulky field, but Smith was quick to take an optimistic stance for Tiago, a half-brother to Giacomo, 50-1 winner of the 2005 Kentucky Derby with Smith aboard.

“A full field is actually better for me,” the 43-year-old Hall of Fame rider said, “even though I come from off of it. The main reason is because the pace will be honest. Look at the last race (a third by Tiago in the Grade II San Antonio Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 8). The pace was unbelievably slow (:49 2/5 for the half mile, 1:13 4/5 for six furlongs, and a final time of 1:49 recorded by victorious Magnum).

“With a full field, at least you know the race is going to be honest, which is good for me, plus the fact that the San Antonio was Tiago’s first race off a layoff, and he’s come back and worked dynamite since. I like him. He’s always a horse to reckon with. He’s always right there. It’s a matter of if we can get there first.

“As far as big fields, he doesn’t really mind. He’ll go through, inside, outside; he doesn’t care. He doesn’t mind getting bounced around.”

Some of the nation’s top jockeys are scheduled to ride in the 72nd Santa Anita Handicap, a $1 million, Grade I race, but Smith’s competitive juices flow no matter the purse or the rivals.

“That makes it even better,” Smith said of facing the likes of marquee invaders Robbie Albarado, Ramon Dominguez, Julien Leparoux, Edgar Prado and John Velazquez, in addition to Santa Anita leaders Garrett Gomez and Rafael Bejarano. “I want to win no matter what, but I like the fact that you have a lot of veterans who know what they’re doing. You have fewer mistakes, so when a guy’s supposed to zig, he zigs, instead of zags. “It makes your job easier, riding with better riders.”

Probable for the 72nd Big ‘Cap: Blue Exit, Robbie Albarado, 115; Cause, Jon Court, 110; Champs Elysees, Jose Valdivia Jr., 118; Colonel John, Garrett Gomez, 119; Court Vision, Ramon Dominguez, 119; Cowboy Cal, John Velazquez, 120; Dansant, Tyler Baze, 116; Einstein, Julien Leparoux, 121; Heroi Do Bafra, Martin Garcia, 111; Magnum, Joel Rosario, 116; Matto Mondo, Rafael Bejarano, 116; Monba, Edgar Prado, 114; Nownownow, Alex Solis, 116; Tiago, Mike Smith, 118; and Zambezi Sun, Victor Espinoza, 116.

In other Big ’Cap news:

Tiago worked six furlongs over Hollywood Park’s main track Sunday in 1:13.20 for John Shirreffs.
Einstein worked five furlongs for Helen Pitts in 1:01.80.

Cowboy Cal and Monba worked five furlongs in :59.80 and 1:01.80, respectively, for Todd Pletcher. “Both horses went very well,” said Pletcher assistant Mike McCarthy.

Champs Elysees went five furlongs for Bobby Frankel in 1:00.60 with Goncalino Almeida aboard.
Red Rocks, who has raced exclusively on turf in his 21 career starts, is doubtful for the race. “I haven’t finished talking to Paul (owner J. Paul Reddam) about it,” trainer Mark Hennig said by phone from Florida Sunday morning, “but I’d say we’re probably not (running) at this point. Right now, I’d say not likely, but it’s not finalized. The plane (for California) leaves Wednesday, the fourth, so we’d have to know by then.”

If the race draws more than 14 starters, weight assignments are the first tiebreaker.
Hollywood Gold Cup winner Mast Track will pass the race for the New Orleans Handicap, a Grade II event at 1 1/8 miles at the Fair Grounds on March 14. The jockey will be Victor Espinoza, who also rides Proudinsky there for Frankel in the Grade II, $500,000 Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on turf.

Helen Pitts-Blasi, trainer of multiple Grade I winner Einstein, who will represent the East Coast in the Big ’Cap, will be on HRTV’s “Across the Board” show next Wednesday at 5 p.m.
Jockey John Velasquez, who rides Cowboy Cal in the Big ‘Cap, and who will remain to accept the Santa Anita George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award next Sunday, March 8, will be the guest on a pre-taped episode of “ATB” which will air on Wednesday, March 11 at 5 p.m. Scott Hazelton and Becky Witzman host ATB. Chris Speck produces.

All fans in attendance at Santa Anita will receive a free Big ‘Cap sports bag with paid admission, while supplies last. First post time is 12 noon. Gates open at 10 a.m.


Eclipse Award winner Stardom Bound, champion 2-year-old filly of 2008, worked five furlongs Sunday on Pro-Ride in 1:01.40, breezing, for Saturday’s Grade I, $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks. Goncalino Almeida was aboard the gray filly, who could possibly move on to face males in the Santa Anita Derby on April 4 if all goes well.

A small field is likely for the 70th Santa Anita Oaks. In addition to Stardom Bound, who will be ridden by Mike Smith, other probables include Beltene, Joel Rosario; Nan, Corey Nakatani; and Will O Way, Russell Baze.

John Velazquez, winner of the 2009 Santa Anita George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, will receive the prestigious honor at Santa Anita next Sunday, March 8.

In a ceremony between races in the Santa Anita winner’s circle, Velazquez will formally receive the Woolf Trophy and be joined by many former winners of the award, which was instituted by Santa Anita in 1950. By a vote of his peers nationwide, Velazquez was selected over four other finalists: Gary Baze, Calvin Borel, Javier Castellano and David Flores.

The winner’s trophy is a replica of the full-size statue of George Woolf which adorns Santa Anita’s Paddock Gardens area. The statue was created through donations from the racing public after Woolf’s death following a spill at Santa Anita on Jan. 13, 1946.

Woolf, who was regarded as one of the greatest big-money riders of his era, was affectionately known as “The Iceman” in reference to his cool under pressure, and was revered by his colleagues as a fierce competitor and consummate professional. The award, which honors and recognizes riders whose careers and personal character earn esteem for the individual and the sport of Thoroughbred racing, is regarded as one of the most prestigious honors in the racing world.

FINISH LINES: Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner and Santa Monica Handicap winner Ventura had her final major drill for Saturday’s Grade I Kilroe Mile on turf against males in :59.60, under Goncalino Almeida. Probable for the 50th Kilroe: Artiste Royal, Rafael Bejarano, 119; Dixie Chatter, Tyler Baze, 115; Global Hunter, Jose Valdivia Jr., 116; Hewitts, Mike Smith, 114; Mr Napper Tandy, Joel Rosario, 113; and Ventura, Garrett Gomez, 118. Artiste Royal worked five furlongs on Santa Anita’s turf Sunday in 1:03.20 for Neil Drysdale; Global Hunter went five furlongs on turf in 1:00.40 for A.C. Avila, and Hewitts went the same distance in 1:00.60 for Bob Hess Jr. . . . Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner Pioneerof the Nile worked six furlongs under Gomez in 1:12.60 for the March 14 San Felipe Stakes. “He galloped out (seven furlongs) in (one) 25 and three (fifths),” Bob Baffert said. “He went nice and easy. He just cruised around there.” . . . I Want Revenge, prepping for next Saturday’s Grade III Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, worked five furlongs on Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track in 59.20 for Jeff Mullins . . . Aaron Gryder will be at Gulfstream Park next Saturday to ride Wild Promises for Greg Gilchrist in the Grade III, $100,000 Honey Fox Handicap at one mile on turf, according to agent Craig O’Bryan. . . Favorites won the first six races yesterday and seven of the 10 races overall. Jockey Chantal Sutherland will appear live in-studio tonight on KCAL Ch. 9’s SportsCentral, from 10:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.