ARCADIA, Calif. -- One thing was missing from the Santa Anita meet's richest Grade 1 for older horses -- a favorite.
It gets settled this weekend in two Grade 2's -- Twirling Candy was the early choice into the Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds on Saturday; Aggie Engineer and Gladding lead a field of older horses into the San Antonio Stakes on Sunday.
Run well, and the next stop is the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap on March 5.
"That's something to think about after this race," trainer Paddy Gallagher said, referring to the 1 1/8-mile San Antonio on Sunday. Gallagher trains Aggie Engineer, winner of three straight; John Sadler trains Gladding, an impressive allowance winner.
Seven entered the San Antonio; Dakota Phone was expected to run Saturday on turf. That leaves Aggie Engineer and Gladding as the choices in the San Antonio. Pode Ir has an outside look following a decent allowance win.
Aggie Engineer put it all together last fall by winning an allowance and the Grade 3 Native Diver at Hollywood Park. The 6-year-old kicked off his Santa Anita winter campaign Jan. 8 by delivering a decisive victory under jockey Joe Talamo in the Grade 2 San Pasqual.
Since then, 7-for-17 Aggie Engineer has maintained form. Though his most recent six-furlong workout in 1:15.60 was slower than his 1:12.60-work into the San Pasqual, there are no worries.
"The time was not as fast," Gallagher said. "But the work was just as good -- he finished."
Aggie Engineer drew the outside, where Talamo has the option of making the lead or applying pressure to Gladding, who drew the rail. Gladding is making his second start in California for Sadler, and his first since a powerful first-level allowance win Dec. 29.
"I looked at the division, and I think he fits in there," Sadler said.
Gladding pressed a fast pace winning the mile allowance with a 100 Beyer, and may benefit from the extra furlong of the San Antonio.
"The way he's bred, I think he'll run all day," Sadler said.
Gladding is a 4-year-old gelding sired by Belmont Stakes winner Sarava. Rafael Bejarano rides Gladding, who has trained super and figures no lower than second choice in the $150,000 race.
"If he's the second favorite, we're happy," Sadler said. "I didn't buy him with grand visions; I thought he could win a couple allowance races."
Pode Ir 4 for 8, will be forwardly placed. Quindici Man, Spurrier, and Big Shot Syd are also entered.