Santa Anita Handicap scouting report

Updated: March 5, 2009, 10:59 PM ET
By Jeremy Plonk | HorseplayerPro.com

Saturday, March 7, Santa Anita

The Low-Down: Nicknamed the Big 'Cap, Saturday's G1 Santa Anita Handicap lives up to that moniker and more, luring 14 world-class runners to its 10-furlong party. A cool $1 million purse is at stake as horses bred in no less than five different countries match strides. While the Big 'Cap might be an American classic, it's clearly an international draw. The British are coming with Juddmonte Farms' duo of CHAMPS ELYSEES and ZAMBEZI SUN, as well as DANSANT; the South Americans are represented by Chile's MATTO MONDO, Argentina's MAGNUM and Brazil's EINSTEIN; and America is well-represented by red, white and blue-blooded horses like COLONEL JOHN, COWBOY CAL, MONBA, COURT VISION and STREAM CAT.

Our Eyes: MATTO MONDO and COWBOY CAL figure to have the inside speed in a race that otherwise lacks real pace presence. What we're seeing in these all-weather surface routes is a reluctance of horsemen to enter speedballs, giving an even more turf-type pace scenario to races that are be flooded by horses with turf experience and pedigrees. The pace should be mild as Rafael Bejarano and John Velazquez are two cool customers piloting the lone speed runners and likely won't get into any front-end fisticuffs.

Speaking of riders, it's noteworthy to see Garrett Gomez opt for COLONEL JOHN in a race with a pair of Bobby Frankel trainees he's previously ridden. COLONEL JOHN is a room-temperature 9-2 morning line favorite in the Big 'Cap, but has not started in more than two months and not raced around two turns since flattening out late in the Oct. 25 G1 Breeders' Cup Classic. He loves the track and merits respect, but is only third-highest on the handicap weight scale (119) and would be an underlay as the post-time favorite.

EINSTEIN totes top weight of 121 pounds as a G1 winner on turf and G2 winner on dirt. But he's never raced on an all-weather track and is barely above water lifetime in terms of finishing in the exacta (12-for-23). He's not for me at 1 1/4 miles, but COURT VISION is a pure 10-furlong grass runner who has run well enough on dirt in the past to make him dangerous here. Trainer Bill Mott did awfully well shipping Go Between west for all-weather affairs, and this guy had COWBOY CAL's number in his last west coast appearance in the grassy Hollywood Derby. But with two stakes wins already at the meeting, 120-pound prospect COWBOY CAL appears to be the safest play in terms of recent form, experience over the track and lack of real early pace pressure.

The Bottom Line: ZAMBEZI SUN should run all day, gets in light at 116 pounds, and wheels back on 13 days for Frankel. That's dangerous, even with Gomez opting to ride COLONEL JOHN. After some win-place money at 12-1 in the morning line, I'll be part-wheeling ZAMBEZI SUN first and second in the exactas with COWBOY CAL, COURT VISION and COLONEL JOHN. That quartet also makes up the preferred trifecta box.

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In addition to being a longtime contributing writer to ESPN.com's Horse Racing section, Jeremy Plonk is the editor of The HorsePlayer Magazine.