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Rain May Alter Santa Anita’s Joe Hernandez Outlook

Two colts by American Pharoah   with only one turf start between them are among the 13 entered for the Dec. 30 Joe Hernandez Stakes (G2T), a sprint scheduled for Santa Anita Park‘s downhill turf course. But Hall of Fame trainers Richard Mandella and Bob Baffert may hold good hands if predicted rain results in the race switching to the dirt, which could prompt several scratches and perhaps play into their colts’ strengths.

The Hernandez has been carded as the first race.

Mandella trains Forbidden Kingdom , a 4-year-old son of American Pharoah whose only turf outing came at 2 in 2021 when he ran third in the five-furlong Speakeasy Stakes. On dirt, Forbidden Kingdom won back-to-back graded stakes at 3: the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes (G2) and 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes (G2). Forbidden Kingdom is winless since, but he ran second in the 2022 Malibu Stakes (G1) and 2023 San Carlos Stakes (G3), both at seven furlongs on dirt.

Flavien Prat rides the colt, owned by MyRacehorse and Spendthrift Farm.

Baffert’s entry, 3-year-old Tahoe Sunrise , is also by American Pharoah and is unraced on turf. Never worse than third in six starts, Tahoe Sunrise captured the one-mile Shared Belief Stakes Sept. 3 at Del Mar in a dead heat under Victor Espinoza, who returns in the irons. Tahoe Sunrise is coming off an allowance/optional claimer win against his elders, also at a mile at Del Mar. Baffert trains Tahoe Sunrise for owners Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman, the same connections as Speed Boat Beach , winner of the Dec. 26 Malibu.

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Trainers Phil D’Amato and Mark Casse have two apiece entered in the Hernandez, all adept at turf racing.

D’Amato excels with Irish-breds brought to the U.S., just what he has entered here: Balnikhov  under Antonio Fresu and Turn On the Jets  under Juan Hernandez. 

Perhaps indicative of Turn On the Jets’ ability is the presence of Hernandez, who has piloted several others in the field and has ridden Forbidden Kingdom in all of his starts. Turn On the Jets won the 2022 Stormy Liberal Stakes at Del Mar and is coming off a second in the 2023 edition of that stakes.

Balnikhov won the 2023 San Francisco Mile (G3T) at Golden Gate Fields, the 2022 Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar, and the 2022 Bryan Station Stakes (G3T) at Keeneland in this country. He has placed in five other U.S. stakes, including most recently a third in the Nov. 25 Seabiscuit Handicap (G2T) at 1 1/16 miles on the turf at Del Mar.

Casse-trained Lucky Score , with Edwin Maldonado booked to ride, raced exclusively at Woodbine until this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, where he finished seventh in the Mile (G1T). At Woodbine, the 5-year-old gelding won or placed in 15 of 19 starts, including victories in the 2023 Highlander Stakes (G2T) at six furlongs on turf and 2022 Vigil Stakes (G3) at six furlongs on synthetic.

Casse’s other entrant, Olympic Runner , to be ridden by Umberto Rispoli, has gone further afield. The 7-year-old gelding has competed at nine tracks, from Florida to Canada, winning the 2021 King Edward Stakes (G2T) at a mile on turf and the 2019 King Corrie Stakes at six furlongs on synthetic, both at Woodbine. This year, Olympic Runner won a 5 1/2-furlong allowance/optional claiming turf race at Colonial Downs.

Entries: Joe Hernandez S. (G2T)

Santa Anita Park, Saturday, December 30, 2023, Race 1

  • Grade II
  • About 6 1/2f
  • Downhill turf
  • $200,000
  • 3 yo’s & up
  • 12:00 PM (local)

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