This Saturday at Santa Anita Park, we'll have the 65th running of the Californian Stakes. It's a one mile and one-eighth event on dirt, for four-year-olds and upward.
This is a race of historical significance. DR. FAGER, AFFIRMED, SPECTACULAR BID, SUNDAY SILENCE, and CONCERN are just some of the great champions who have won it.
The prestige of this race has attracted a competitive field for the 2021 edition. There are eight probables, according to HorseRacingNation. Let's take a look:
Prominent among this group is EXPRESS TRAIN for trainer John Shirreffs. He is listed as a probable for both the Californian Stakes and the Oaklawn Handicap, but this analysis is for his potential start in the Californian.
EXPRESS TRAIN comes off a second place finish in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1), narrowly losing to the talented colt IDOL. It was a great effort. He likes the Santa Anita surface, averaging a 106 Equibase Speed Figure (ESF) for his last five starts over this track in question. He'll still want to improve those figures to be competitive here. The last running of the Californian Stakes required a 123 ESF to come out the winner. He worked six furlongs on April 10th at Santa Anita, going 1:11.40, as the lone work at that distance.
MIDCOURT is John Shirreffs' second entrant and is making his first start of the year. MIDCOURT has not found the winner circle since February of 2020, but has been competing at a high level ever since. He's consistently hit the board in 5 of his last 7 starts, and ran his highest speed figure at this mile and one-sixteenth distance. He will try to redeem his 5th place finish last time out in the San Antonio Stakes back in December. Though he comes in here off a long layoff, he's shown ability to run well after a freshening.
ROADSTER returns to the West Coast for trainer Michael Stidham. He tried his hooves at Fair Grounds in the New Orlean's Classic. He was not disgraced; he was making his first start in over a year, and should be a lot sharper this time around. Note that he is a Grade 1 winner over this trip.
INDEPENDENCE HALL will try to take advantage of a drop in company for trainer Michael McCarthy. It's not a very big drop; he'll still have to deal with EXPRESS TRAIN, who finished ahead of him last time out.
INDEPENDENCE HALL has run in three consecutive Grade 1 races, ranging from seven furlongs to one mile and one-quarter. The fact that he ran his fastest speed figure over this one mile and one-eighth distance puts him competitively in the mix. He's fit and ready to roll. He turned in a sharp five furlong workout at Santa Anita on April 10th, going 59.80 as the third fastest of 66 works at that distance.
Trainer Bob Baffert sends out COUNTRY GRAMMAR to make his four-year-old debut. He comes in off an eighth-month layoff, last seen running 5th in the Travers Stakes (G1). To his credit, he's got two wins over this one mile and one-eight trip, one of those wins being the Peter Pan Stakes (G3) at Saratoga. He's tasked with making his first start off a long layoff, in his first try against older horses. But as far as fitness goes, he's ready to run. He turned in a sharp five furlong workout on April 11th at Santa Anita, going 59.20 as the third fastest of 64 works at that distance.
Rounding out the probable field are: GROWTH ENGINE, BROWN STORM and ROYAL SHIP.