The tradition-rich Big 'Cap will be the grand finale to a 15-stakes 1/ST Saturday in March extravaganza at Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita. The mile and one-quarter feature goes as Race 11 and anchors a trio of consecutive G1 stakes, preceded by the Beholder Mile on dirt and the Kilroe Mile on turf. The Santa Anita Handicap offers 1/ST BET and Xpressbet customers up to a $10 money-back guarantee on win bets if your selection finishes second or third. It also anchors a 12% takeout ($1 minimum) all-dirt pick five that mixes stakes at Gulfstream and Santa Anita.
EXPRESS TRAIN is a G2 winner and runner-up in this G1 headliner a year ago. SPIELBERG and KISS TODAY GOODBYE also are G2 winners. WARRANT is a G3 winner, while STILLETO BOY is multiple G1-placed. STILLETO BOY has held the strongest recent company lines, while EXPRESS TRAIN and KISS TODAY GOODBYE are familiar foes in California's top handicap division stakes.
AMERICAN THEOREM would be the pacemaker here if his connections opt for the Big 'Cap over the 7-furlong San Carlos, a race he's cross-entered. There's not a confirmed early burner. STILLETO BOY and WHY WHY PAUL WHY also have the potential to set the tempo. Deep closers appear compromised by this race shape.
EXPRESS TRAIN just missed by a half-length in this race last year in what has to be considered a much tougher renewal, book-ended in the results by Idol and Maxfield. He's arguably a better horse now than in 2021 at the time, fresh off wins in the G2 San Antonio and G2 San Pasqual on the Big 'Cap prep path. He'll give 3-8 pounds to his competition and has failed to slam the door late in 3 previous 10-furlong tries. But note the rest of this field has but 2 off-the-board finishes in as many attempts at the distance. He's clearly the horse to beat; but the distance at least cracks the door open. EXPRESS TRAIN has looked strong in his training at XBTV.com.
STILLETO BOY should enjoy himself in the paddock, looking around and not seeing some of the buzzsaws he's run up against in the last several months. But after 54-1, 51-1, 19-1 and 26-1 over-achievements, can you swallow something less than 5-1 on him Saturday? After all, he's still eligible for a non-winners of 3 lifetime condition and has not won a graded stakes in 5 tries. John Velazquez takes the mount, and that's absolutely a plus.
WHY WHY PAUL WHY and WARRANT are the shippers to consider. The former has looked strong working on video for his first start since coming to reputable trainer Michael McCarthy. The former $30,000 claim should be in contention throughout with a ground-saving run. WARRANT won last year's G3 Oklahoma Derby for Brad Cox and last out was a distant third behind Saudi Cup-bound Mandaloun and Midnight Bourbon. He broke his maiden in his second start of the form cycle and likely will improve off his Jan. 22 try at Fair Grounds. Flavien Prat takes the call to complete formidable connections.
As for the others: SPIELBERG is 0-4 in stakes since his 2YO season and couldn't keep up late with EXPRESS TRAIN last month. The extra distance would not appear a benefit, though he's bred for it. KISS TODAY GOODBYE, sixth in this race last year, has gone off form and was no match for the favorite in his last 2.
Most Certain Exotics Contender:
EXPRESS TRAIN is 8-9 in the trifecta on dirt at Santa Anita and just missed in this race last year vs. tougher.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender:
SOY TAPATIO looked very good in a gate workout Feb. 12 for this and has won 2 straight. We don't know his ceiling compared to some of these veterans, though pedigree might cloud his ability over this trip.
Sending it in ($100 bankroll):
Let's try to maneuver around STILLETO BOY and find exacta value elsewhere. $40 exacta part-wheel EXPRESS TRAIN over WHY WHY PAUL WHY and WARRANT ($80); $20 exacta part-wheel EXPRESS TRAIN over SOY TAPATIO.