The streaking Express Train will be in search of his fourth consecutive graded stakes win at Santa Anita when he headlines a compact field of five set for Saturday’s Grade 2 Californian Stakes on Saturday.
The major prep for the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup on May 30, the 9 furlong Californian will be a cutback in distance for the big son of Union Rags. Last time, he was a determined winner in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap at 10 furlongs on March 5.
Before that the John Shirreffs-trained Express Train scored an easy 3 ¼-length score in the Grade 2 San Pasqual on February 5, after upsetting Hot Rod Charlie by a nose in the opening day, Grade 2 San Antonio on December 26.
Among his rivals on Saturday will be a familiar foe in Stilleto Boy. Closing in on a million dollars in lifetime earnings, the son of Shackleford was no match for Express Train when he finished nine lengths back in third in the Santa Anita Handicap.
He has had better performances previously, though, finishing ahead of Express Train when second to Medina Spirit in last fall’s Grade 1 Awesome Again, as well as a solid third behind Life Is Good and Knicks Go to begin the year in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup.
The remainder of the field is rounded out by recent winners Shaaz and Holden the Lute, as well as the fourth-place finisher in the Santa Anita Handicap, Spielberg.
Californian Stakes Predictions and Race Analysis
The big horse in the field comes in red-hot for trainer John Shirreffs. Ever since a determined late run was able to get the classy Hot Rod Charlie on the wire in the San Antonio late last year, this son of Express Train has looked like the best older male in California.
Always a talented runner, he seems to have put it all together in his last three. Still, he was taken to the wire last time in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap. Let’s see if he comes back from that tough race at his very best, as the highweight in here.
Any ill effects from the dogfight, and I think he will be vulnerable to the upset. If he runs his race, the millionaire likely wins this, but as a prohibitive favorite, I will take a shot against him in this short field.
Since running away with the Iowa Derby last summer, this son of Shackleford has run plenty of good races against top competition, but has not found the winner’s circle in any. Having said that, he has been competitive in most of the seven, and certainly looks to have the talent to win a race like this at some point.
Perhaps Saturday will be the day, as he has beaten Express Train before, and two races back he gave the champion Knicks Go a real run for second in the Pegasus World Cup.
Still, with seven straight losses and only two career wins, he is becoming a horse who seems to prefer to finish second or third, rather than actually get the win against good horses. Maybe the jockey change will help, but I’m betting he is second or third once again.
This lightly raced son of Uncle Mo interests me. He did not make his career debut until the end of his 3-year-old season on opening day at Santa Anita last December. It was a sharp debut, winning a fast maiden special weight at 6 ½ furlongs.
He had plenty of trouble when finishing second in his next start, but was awarded the win because of the interference. In his third and most recent start, he was ridden for the first time by Mike Smith and went right to the lead in the one-mile allowance race. From there he controlled the race and won easily.
Smith is back to ride again, and I can definitely see them going right to the lead again in his stakes debut. It’s a tough spot, but I think he could prove very dangerous on the front. Getting four pounds from the big favorite, I will take a shot that he can go all the way. He is the top pick.
Holden the Lute
Claimed on April 3 for $50,000 by the high profile team of owner Hronis Racing and trainer John Sadler, this one will step right up into graded stakes company after scoring a sharp 3 ¾-length victory in the one mile claiming race.
It seems like a pretty big jump, but the win, going one mile was nice, and I have a lot of respect for his new connections.
With plenty of speed, the 5-year-old gelding should be involved in the race early, and then it becomes a matter of how much improvement he can show for his new barn. Food for thought in this small field, but I am not ready to pick him in a graded stakes race just yet.
After beginning the year with a solid allowance score, this son of Union Rags was unable to contend with Express Train in the last two, finishing a well beaten fourth in both the San Pasqual and Santa Anita Handicap.
He comes back for a third try against him in the Californian, but considering the juvenile graded stakes winner has had plenty of chances against graded company the last two years, without really coming close, it’s hard to pick him out as a horse who is suddenly going to jump up and run big.
How to Watch the Californian Stakes
Californian Stakes Race Information What Californian Stakes (Grade 2) Location Santa Anita Time Saturday, April 30 — 6: 30pm Eastern time How to Watch TVG Purse $200,000