Battle Force stamped himself as an excellent turf prospect this year when recording a fast-finishing second in the Grade 2 Sir Beaufort on Santa Anita's opening-day program, but trainer John Shirreffs has not given up hope that the four-year-old colt can transfer his sharp form to the main track. The son of Giant's Causeway will make his first dirt start when he lines up against nine rivals in Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 San Fernando at Santa Anita.
The middle leg in Santa Anita's prestigious Strub series, the 1 1/16-mile San Fernando represents only the sixth career start for Battle Force. He ran three times at two, including a third in the grassy Grade 3 Generous, but missed most of his sophomore campaign, making a belated 2012 debut in a November 17 allowance event at Hollywood Park that was moved from the turf to Cushion Track. Battle Force closed strongly to be a close second that afternoon and filled the same position in the December 26 Sir Beaufort, finishing stoutly to miss by only a half-length to the impressive Silentio.
Ridden by Mike Smith in his previous three starts, Battle Force will be handled for the first time on Saturday by Garrett Gomez and breaks from the rail post.
Handsome Mike is the most accomplished member of the field, posting a two-length victory in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby three starts back, but the Scat Daddy colt will need to turn things around following a couple of dismal efforts against formidable opponents, losing by a combined 30 1/4 lengths in the Breeders' Cup Classic and Grade 1 Hollywood Derby on turf. Trainer Doug O'Neill removed blinkers prior to his last start, but Handsome Mike will be equipped with the headgear on Saturday. Mario Gutierrez retains the mount.
Bob Baffert will be amply represented in the San Fernando, as he'll send out a total of four horses: Mile High Magic, Guilt Trip, Sky Kingdom and Fed Biz.
Fed Biz, regarded by many a year ago as perhaps Baffert's top Kentucky Derby prospect, will be ridden for the second time in a row by Smith, who guided him to a non-threatening sixth-place finish in the opening-day Grade 1 Malibu at seven furlongs. Prior to that, Fed Biz finished eighth in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. He did run well when returning from a lengthy layoff at Del Mar, winning the El Cajon on Polytrack, and followed that with a good third in the Grade 2 Indiana Derby.
Stakes runner-up Mile High Magic figures to be winging it early with jockey Martin Garcia. Guilt Trip makes his second attempt for Baffert following a fifth in the Malibu, with Joe Talamo picking up the mount, and Sky Kingdom, who was last seen finishing sixth behind I'll Have Another in the Grade 2 Bob Lewis last February, will return from a long layoff with new rider Edwin Maldonado.
Tribal Jewel and Tritap are a pair of last-out allowance winners for trainers Jerry Hollendorfer and Steve Asmussen, respectively, and Rafael Bejarano will keep the mount on Grade 2 Super Derby runner-up Fly Lexis Fly, who exits a third-place effort versus allowance foes at Hollywood.