Immediately after Awesome Gem drew post position No. 5 and was installed as a tepid 4-1 favorite in Saturday’s Santa Anita Handicap, Monterey Jazz was assigned post position No. 6 and made the second choice at 5-1.
After the 14-horse field was completed Wednesday at Santa Anita, Craig Dollase, who trains both of those horses, said, “I’m not much of a poker player, but I have a good hand here.”
He’ll need it. There hasn’t been a larger field for the Big ‘Cap, Santa Anita’s signature event at 1 1/4 miles, in 25 years. There was also a 14-horse field in 2002; before that the largest field was 17 in 1983.
Also, the morning-line odds established by Santa Anita oddsmaker Jeff Tufts indicate a wide-open race among 4-year-olds and up.
Six horses are listed at 8-1 or less. Tiago and Go Between are at 6-1.
Tiago, who along with Monterey Jazz will carry high weight of 119 pounds, is coming off a second-place finish in the Strub Stakes on Feb. 2. Tiago finished 4 1/2 lengths behind Monterey Jazz. On Dec. 12, Tiago finished a close third in the San Fernando following a 10-week rest after placing a disappointing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Jerry Moss, who owns the 2007 Santa Anita Derby winner, likes Tiago’s chances Saturday.
“He’s in terrific shape and has been winding up for this one,” Moss said.
Awesome Gem, a 5-year-old gelding who ran eighth behind winner Lava Man in last year’s Big ‘Cap, was third behind Curlin and Hard Spun in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Awesome Gem is coming off a third-place finish in the San Antonio Handicap on Feb. 9.
“It was a very good comeback race,” Dollase said.
David Flores, originally scheduled to ride Monterey Jazz, will instead guide Awesome Gem.
Go Between, to be ridden by Garrett Gomez, won the Sunshine Millions Classic on Jan. 26.
Listed at 8-1 were Heatseeker, who will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano, and Great Hunter, who will have Victor Espinoza aboard.
Also on tap Saturday will be the Grade I, $300,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile on the turf course and the Grade III, $200,000 Sham Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles. The Sham, an important steppingstone to the April 5 Santa Anita Derby, features Triple Crown contenders El Gato Malo and Colonel John.
The first day of the Breeders’ Cup to be held Oct. 24 and 25 during the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita will be Ladies Day, with all five female races being run that day. The remaining nine male races will be run Oct. 25.
It was also announced that the Breeders’ Cup Distaff will be renamed the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic.
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Santa Anita Handicap
Grade I race. Ninth race on Saturday’s 11-race card. Approximate post time: 4 p.m. 1 1/4 miles on all-weather track. Four-year-olds and up. Purse: $1,000,000
*--* P# Horse Jockey Weight Trainer 1. Champs Elysees (GB) Ramon Dominguez 117 Bobby Frankel 2. Tiago Mike Smith 119 John Shirreffs 3. Big Booster Michael Baze 115 Mike Mitchell 4. Medici Code (GB) Martin Pedroza 115 Darrell Vienna 5. Awesome Gem David Flores 117 Craig Dollase 6. Monterey Jazz Russell Baze 119 Craig Dollase 7. Zappa Joel Rosario 114 John Sadler 8. Seminole Native Jose Valdivia Jr 113 Jorge Gutierrez 9. Celtic Dreamin Alex Solis 115 Rafael Becerra 10. Heatseeker (IRE) Rafael Bejarano 116 Jerry Hollendorfer 11. Student Council Richard Migliore 117 Vladimir Cerin 12. Go Between Garrett Gomez 118 Bill Mott 13. Great Hunter Victor Espinoza 115 Doug O’Neill 14. Air Commander Aaron Gryder 116 Bob Baffert *--*