Achilles Likely a Longshot to Repeat in SA Handicap

SA Handicap (Grade 1)- $600.000 Purse
SA- For Four Year Olds and Upward
One Mile and One Quarter on the Dirt
March 7, 2020

The 16th running of the SA Handicap takes place this Saturday, and we’ll see if last year’s winner, Achilles, can become the first horse to win the race twice. It will not be easy, however. We’ll have a full field here, and it will consist of many well known horses who have run against one another before. The big determining factor in this race will be weight, as there is a range from 117 to 122 pounds. Post position will also matter, given the size of the field. This should be an entertaining race given the names of the horses, with the nature of the race, several of these are coming off of subpar finishes. These factors make the race hard for me to predict, but let’s give it a look.

#1- People Doubted (Aml Racing, ridden by B J Hernandez Jr)- People doubted whether or not Aml Racing was going to leave the game when the last thread about that was made, and it turns out they were correct. Now, People Doubted will also like to prove himself in this field, but he has not run on the main track in almost two years. Can’t blame the post though, as averages are evening out for him, and this is his second straight start from the rail.

#2- Dustu (Team 7 Illusions, ridden by A Bocachica)- He continues to be a consistent runner for this trainer, earning a top four finish for about a year and a half of racing. They are not always wins, though, and his only wins to date have coming while running against WV-breds. That’s not the same as running exclusively against New Yorkers or Californians. Must expect him to be in the mix, but there are some tough ones for him to have to beat here.

#3- Range Of The Sun (Team 7 Illusions, ridden by E J Wilson)- Horse two of three from this barn draws right next to his stablemate, and there is no denying that he has done some great things in his career. What has he done more recently, though? Since the Grade 3 Cougar Handicap that he won in July, which in itself was a bit of an outlier when it happened, he has not done much. Capable of rediscovering his form, but I would not put real or virtual money on it.

#4- For The Boys (D J C Racing Stables, ridden by F Pennington)- A great summer saw him hit the board in both the Haskell and the Travers, with momentum continuing into the PA Derby with a fourth place finish. This sent him to the BC Classic, where he struggled and has not seemed to recover. Now, he has not been bad since then, but a couple of mid-pack finishes in 14-horse fields do not lead to optimism that this will be much different.

#5- Achilles (Diablo Diablo, ridden by T C Baze)- Last year, Achilles got the job done in the SA Handicap, winning in a photo over Centerpiece, and the third place Range Of The Sun. Now, with a different jockey aboard, he looks to win it again. T C Baze rode him in his last start, which was a fifth place run in the Pegasus. As much as it would be a great accomplish to win it again, he’s been a little inconsistent of late. In a familiar setting, don’t be surprised if the good side of Achilles shows up here.

#6- Unfold (Fractious, ridden by R M Hernandez)- After being acquired from Mb Stables for $300.000, Unfold has been a success in his new barn, winning right here in the BC Dirt Mile. He followed that up well, placing third in the Pegasus World Cup and will be well rested for this race. His run in the Pegasus should cure any worry that he might not like this distance. This biggest concern about him here is the weight that he’ll carry, which is 121 pounds. Perhaps over the ten furlongs, that can be an issue. I like his chances, though.

#7- Charlemagnes Command (Serenity Stables, ridden by L Contreras)- Made his debut for his new trainer in the Pegasus as well, and only beat a couple of horses. Overall, he has two wins in eleven starts, so the resume is not as impressive as many of his rivals. That said, Serenity has now had time to get acquainted with the horse, and his works are looking pretty, especially one on Valentine’s Day. He seems poised for a good run here.

#8- Eclipse My Knowledge (Nakamura Stables, ridden by A Beschizza)- Took a three race winning streak into the Pegasus World Cup, but was disappointing there as he was never a factor in the race, finishing near the back. That winning streak, though, makes him the high weight in this field, carrying 122 pounds. If you go back two races, he won the Grade 1 Clark Handicap as the highweight, but the difference was not as big as it is here, nor was the field as strong. Never has two bad races in a row, so you can see this going either way.

#9- Shanghai (Nakamura Stables, ridden by A Cedillo) Starting next to his stablemate, the four year old was acquired by the trainer just three days after an attempt at sprinting did not got well. As soon as he arrived at the barn, Shanghai was gelded, so safe to say the horse did not find the surroundings to be friendly right away. It paid off, though, as he won the San Pasqual Stakes, and now we’ll see if the geld brings consistency, something he’s needed.

#10- Apples To Oranges (Mb Stables, ridden by T Gaffalione)- Still a horse that I like, but his wins are starting to look a little more sporadic. There have been good days, which winning the Grade 1 Pacific Classic certainly was, and running fourth in the BC Classic is also one of them. Then, there have been not as good, like only beating one horse in the Pegasus, a race where he toiled at the back from gate to wire. Needs a bounce back here. Carries 119 pounds.

#11- First Class Male (Team 7 Illusions, ridden by J Pimentel)- Here is horse three of three from Team 7 Illusions, and this one is transitioning from the turf to the main track. There is also a layoff in play with him, as he has not run since the BC Turf, a race in which he finished up the track and only beat one rival. It’s closing in on two years since the last time he ran on the dirt.

#12- Champion In Action (Night Rider Stables, ridden by S X Bridgmohan)- It’s been about ten months since he won, that being the Gold Cup right here last May, but after a short cold spell, his form has been resurgent, hitting the board in each of his last three races. The most recent effort saw him place third in the San Pasqual, a race won by Shanghai. This distance has not always been kind to him, even though it was the distance of the Gold Cup, part of that may simply because it came at a time when he was in that cold spell. Carries 119 pounds, and is an intriguing option here.

#13- Questionable (Mb Stables, ridden by J R Velazquez)- You know the trainer is very confident about his horse here, given that he is starting from this post, and he has not been scratched. Mb Stables is not shy about scratching with outside post draws. With Questionable, he should be more confident, as twice recently he started from post 12 and they resulted in winning the Queens Plate and finishing third in the Pacific Classic. In fact, you might want to say the trainer has them right where he wants them for this race.

#14- Combat Wombat (Maxmillion Farm, ridden by R Bejarano)- This horse made a name for himself back in 2018, winning the Pacific Classic that year and then eventually running second in the BC Classic. Last year was successful as well, though does not have as glamorous of a race line attached to it. Started this year by finishing fourth in the San Pasqual, and now will need to overcome this post while carrying 118 pounds. He’ll be happy to have regular rider R Bejarano back aboard.

Prediction: 6-13-7-12

— NS

Categories: Grade I, STAKES ARTICLES

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