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The Big Cap 2011

Posted by Brian Mulligan on 3/2/2011 4:42:19 PM

The 74th Santa Anita Handicap will be showcased this Saturday in Arcadia, as the best older runners in the west will vie for the major portion of the $750,000 purse.

A full field will be in the gate for the mile and a quarter classic that has been won by some legends over the decades.

Probably the dominant figure in the early years of the race was Seabuscuit, who lost his first two attempts to win it in 1937 and 1938 in close photes.

He suffered what was believed to be a career-ending injury while preparing for the 1939 edition but returned to run in the1940 Big ‘Cap, finally winning in what would be his last race.

Other legends like Courar 11, Vigors, Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, John Henry (twice), Best Pal, Tiznow and Lava Man (twice) earned glory in the Big ‘Cap.

Since this is a handicap with weights assigned by the racing secretary, let’s look at the field from the lightest to the top weight.

Setsuko was tabbed with 112 pounds and he is an interesting runner. He has only won one race but he ran second in the SA Derby last year and was not well intentioned in the Malibu on opening day of this meet.

Setsuko flopped as the chalk in an allowance race in January but according to his trainer, Richard Mandella, he had an excuse. Mandella: “We found some nasty, deep mucous that we had to treat after that race. We got it cleaned up and it seemed like that was the key. He’s a mile and a quarter horse, so we feel under the circumstances, he deserves a chance.” Pode is also pegged with 112 and he won at this demanding distance in Brazil. Life and death to win his first race in the states, he came back to earth with a dud in the Grade 2 San Antonio about a month ago.

Soul Candy with 114 could be a bit fragile. He has had his races spaced, has limited speed and was handled by a more prominent rival also going today. If Quindici Man is truly to become Da Man today, he’ll do it carrying 115 pounds. He was only one for 11 last year and the win came at the minor track Fresno. He has middling speed but seems to be more of a pack animal.

Spurrier, also with 115, will be one of 4 of Bob Baffert’s entrants in the Big ‘Cap. He will try to snap the seconditis bug that he has since he’s been the runner-up in three in a row. His style suggests the pace must be sizzling for him to have a valid chance.

The next three, Game On Dude, Tweebster, and First Dude are the rest of the Baffert quartet with Game on Dude at 115 and the other 2 a pound more. Game on Dude has a nice style in that he has speed, but doesn’t need the lead to win. First Dude figures to be sent along early and although he was placed in two halves of the Triple Crown last year, he just has a maiden diploma.

Tweebster should get a stalking journey. He ran second to the today’s Big ‘Cap favorite last time and will need things to go just right to cash. Gladding will tote 117 and he is one for 3 since breaking his maiden at Calder by over 17 lengths on a fast strip. He controlled the pace and the outcome in the G2 San Antonio and should be prominent from the get go.

The second high weight is Aggie Engineer, who had a three-race win streak snapped in the Antonio. The runner looked great in his conventional dirt debut winning the Grade 2 San Pasqual but he bounced a bit last time.

That leaves us with the leader of the division out West and the chalk, Twirling Candy.

The 122-pound assignment should not bother this guy, who only has lost once in his 7-race career, and that was his first attempt in Grade 1 company. He proved he wants to beat you with the game Malibu score and came away with authority in the G2 Strub on February 5.

This guy is clearly the one to beat but he will offer no value so let’s take a swing with Setsuko.

If Mandella, who once won four Breeders’ Cup races the same year, thinks his charge is good enough, that’s good enough for this corner. He trained Setsuko’s sire Pleasantly Perfect and the best part about the equation is that price will be right.

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