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Big Cap; Derby winners go head to head
by Geir Stabell / Globeform
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Santa Anita: Tiago and Colonel John, both winners of the Santa Anita Derby (G1), head the list of possible starters in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1), run over 1 ¼ miles on Saturday, March 7.

Robert Frankel has nominated the ex-French runner Zambezi Sun, while interesting improvers on this list worth mentioning are Matto Mondo, Rail Trip and Cowboy Cal, who won the Strub Stakes (G2) on his most recent outing.


Santa Anita 7 March 2009 - 1 1/4 miles Pro-Ride

122 - TIAGO
115 - MAGNUM
114 - NOWNOWNOW Kilroe Mile possible
110 - MONBA

Ratings Copyright © Globeform


has become a regular in these top handicaps in California. There can be little doubt about his class and he is undoubtedly a runner who deserves success at the highest level. Now five, the son of Pleasant Tap has gained three of his five career wins at Santa Anita, and what a race he ran at the Breeders’ Cup here last fall, when third behind Raven’s Pass and Hentrythenavigator in the BC Classic. Given a great ride by Smith, Tiago saved ground on the inside and he stayed on well from off the pace, to be beaten just 2 ½ lengths. He was closing best of all also when runner-up to Well Armed in the Goodwood Stakes (G1) over 9 furlongs at this course last September, when Albertus Maximus finished third. The latter went on to take the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, and he opened this season with a win in the Donn Handicap (G1) at Gulfstream (Einstein third). Was the 2008 Goodwood a notch better than it seemed at the time? Probably. Albertus Maximus is now favorite for the Dubai World Cup (G1), where he may have most to fear from Well Armed.

Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner in 2007 and with such solid form in 2008, when he was also fourth in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1), Tiago is still going strong. He made a pleasing seasonal debut in the 9-furlong San Antonio Handicap (G2) in February. Magnum won that event, passing the post 3 ¼ lengths in front of Tiago while enjoying a 5lb pull at the weights. The roles could easily be reversed in the Big ‘Cap.

Colonel John will be making his first start since finishing fourth to Bob Black Jack in the 7-furlong Malibu Stakes (G1) over this course on December 26. That was much too short for the son of Tiznow, and last year’s Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner will be more at home over 1 ¼ miles. He also won the Sham Stakes (G3) here at Santa Anita last term, as well as the Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga, and – perhaps more importantly – performed with credit when sixth to Raven’s Pass in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). Racing over the same surface and distance as the Big Cap, Colonel John was beaten 5 lengths that day. It was not his best performance of last year but it showed that he handles the Pro-Ride surface. Having done a lot of training over the strip, he is a horse who holds ‘home advantage’ here, and he must be respected. If he reproduces his best level of form, Colonel John can beat them all. His sire won this event and Colonel John has, on more than one occasion, displayed a winning attitude similar to Tiznow, the only horse to have won the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) twice.

Einstein, trained by Helen Pitts, produced yet another solid performance when third behind Dubai World Cup favourite Albertus Maximus in the Donn Handicap (G1) at Gulfstream Park on January 31. Somewhat caught out by the distance and the pace scenario, he went down by 2 ¼ lengths in Florida. It a good start to the new season for this tough and versatile Brazilian bred runner. He was coming off a break since landing the Clark Handicap (G2) over 9 furlongs on dirt at Churchill Downs two months earlier. Einstein ran right up to his best in Louisville, to pass the front-running favorite Commentator at the top of the lane, and run on too strongly for the relentless closer Delightful Kiss (a G3 winner since). He was also second to Horse of The Year Curlin in last year’s Foster Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs. A classy G1 winner on turf, Einstien is likely to enjoy racing on the Pro-Ride surface. Nine furlongs suits him best, however, and if we get a strongly run Big ‘Cap his connections will may be worried about the stamina factor.

Matto Mondo, the most interesting new South American import around at the moment, is coming off two impressive wins at this venue, both in lesser company and both over shorter distances. He could have gone for the Kilroe Mile, but trainer Richard Mandella chose the Big Cap, and his horse is clearly in with a good chance, if he stays the trip. Matto Mondo beat the Euro import Mr Napper Tandy by 1 ¼ lengths in a turf allowance race over a mile in late December, then came back to take the Thunder Road Stakes (G3) over a mile on the Pro-Ride (race moved off the turf) on February 7. Always in the first two, he kicked right away in the straight to beat Global Hunter by 3 ¼ lengths, with Monba a length further back in third. That performance earned Matto Mondo Globeform 117+ and there is almost certainly more to come form this guy. He won the 8.5-furlong 2,000 Guineas (G1) in Chile back in 2007 and has 6 wins from 11 career starts.

Champs Elysees, arguably the best-bred horse in the field, is an intriguing contender. He finished third here last year, behind Heatseeker and Go Between. Champs Elysees made up a lot of ground from well off the pace in last year’s Big Cap, and it was a main track debut that made many include him on their shortlist for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). Indeed, via a season of some ups and down in turf races, Champs Elysees did end up in the BC Classic. But, while he produced his highest rating in the championship event, he finished only eighth. He went off at 23-1 so his run was more or less as expected. He was beaten 5 ¼ lengths by the winner, Raven’s Pass. Champs Elysees had previously gained G1 success in the rather soft Northern Dancer Stakes (G1) on turf at Woodbine in Canada, where he was third in the Canadian International (G1) four weeks later. Champs Elysees disappointed in his 2009 debut, as he could manage only seventh of eight behind Magnum in the San Antonio Handicap (G2) at Santa Anita in February. He needs to run a lot better than that to have a chance in the Big Cap but the son of Danehill has been rather inconsistent over the past twelve months, and it would be no surprise to see him bounce back to form. Related to som top class milers, such as Banks Hill, Dansili and Intercontinental, he stays 1 ½ miles and his chances increase if the race gets a strong pace.

Last update: 2009-03-01 14:18:17 (First published: 2009-02-21 05:49:10 )

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