TEAM O’NEILL SET FOR BUSY DAY WITH 11 HORSES ENTERED
The big boys come out to play Saturday.
Among those entered at Santa Anita in five stakes—three of them Grade I’s—are Bob Baffert’s undefeated Triple Crown contender Mastery and John Shirreff’s nearly perfect Grade I winning Gormley in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles; Phil D’Amato’s versatile speedster Midnight Storm and Jimmy Jerkens’ highly accomplished Shaman Ghost in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap for older horses at a mile and a quarter; Peter Eurton’s stretch-running Kobe’s Back in the Grade I Triple Bend Stakes for older horses at seven furlongs, his first start since finishing third in the 2016 Triple Bend last June; and 2015 Santa Anita Derby winner Dortmund, who’s making his debut on grass in the Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile—which is also his first start for trainer Art Sherman.
With an 11-race card on tap, the busiest trainer in Arcadia will be Doug O’Neill, who has 11 horses entered throughout the day which will begin with a special early first post time of 12 noon. A three-time Santa Anita training king, the 48-year-old O’Neill is a racing department’s dream, evidenced by the fact he’s entered a Winter-Meet high of 121 horses, 12 more than runner-up Richard Baltas.
“Team O’Neill” could have its best chance Saturday with Iliad in the San Felipe, although the son of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper looms the third choice behind Mastery and Gormely, a winner of the Grade I FrontRunner here on Oct. 1 and the Grade III Sham Stakes on Jan. 7.
O’Neill has enjoyed successful treks on the Triple Crown trail, having won the Kentucky Derby twice in the last four years, with I’ll Have Another in 2012 and again last year with Eclipse Champion 2-year-old Male of 2015, Nyquist.
Owned by Kaleem Shah, who also campaigns Dortmund, Iliad has had only three starts, all of them sprints and none further than his 3 ½ length win in the seven furlong, Grade II San Vicente here on Feb. 12—a race that produced a career-best 96 Beyer Speed figure.
Among those in Iliad’s San Vicente wake was 4-5 favorite Battle of Midway, who although he was beaten eighth lengths, rebounded to win a first condition allowance here on Thursday for Jerry Hollendorfer, prevailing by a neck while getting a mile and a sixteenth in 1:44.16 under Flavien Prat. Following the win, Hollendorfer told TVG’s Britney Eurton that his Smart Strike colt would now be considered for the Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 8.
“Iliad ran huge in the San Vicente,” said O’Neill. “He’s got a mind, the stride and the pedigree of a two-turn horse, but you never know until you do it. We’re excited about him. He’s doing really well.”
In addition to Iliad, O’Neill will also be represented in the San Felipe by Term of Art and Ann Arbor Eddie.
A winner of the Grade III Cecil B. DeMille Stakes three starts back at Del Mar on Nov. 27, Term of Art comes off an even fourth place finish in the Grade III Robert B. Lewis on Feb. 4, while Ann Arbor Eddie, a two-time stakes winner versus state-breds, comes off a second place finish at even money in the Grade III El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields on Feb. 18.
The San Felipe offers 85 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, distributed on a 50-20-10-5 basis. Team O’Neill will also have a three-pronged attack in the $75,000 China Doll Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile on grass: Go On Mary, How About Zero and Simmy’s Temple.
I don’t know if running 11 in one day at the same track is a personal record,” O’Neill said, “But it’s close. I’ve had a bunch before, but that’s a lot. It’s going to be an exciting day. The weather’s going to be nice and all the horses are doing well.”