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ARCADIA, CA – Trainer Michael McCarthy’s classy Independence Hall heads Saturday’s $200,000 Californian Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita, an iconic steppingstone to the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1), which will be run on Memorial Day, May 31.
The 2021 Californian, for 3-year-olds and up, attracted a field of five and is carded as the penultimate event on a 9-race card. Approximate local post time for the Californian is 4:30 PM.
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A Grade 3 winner going a one-turn mile at age 2 in New York, Independence Hall, a 4-year-old colt by Constitution, comes off a solid fourth-place finish, beaten 2 1/2 lengths, in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) March 6 and will be shortening up a furlong while retaining the services of leading man Flavien Prat.
A troubled third 2 starts back in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park January 23, Independence Hall was keen early in the Big ’Cap and tired a bit late to be beaten a 1/2-length for third by race favorite and previously-unbeaten Maxfield.
Owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Twin Creeks Racing Stables, LLC and Kathleen and Robert Veratti, Independence Hall was originally trained by eastern-based Michael Trombetta and will be making his fifth start for McCarthy on Saturday. With 4 wins (2 of them stakes) from 9 starts, Independence Hall is the top money-earner in the field with $630,600.
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Idle 15 months, Bob Baffert’s Magic On Tap came back to the races running on March 28 as he stalked the early pace and drew off to an impressive 1 1/2-length allowance win going a mile and one sixteenth with Prat up. A Summer Wind Equine homebred, Magic On Tap is a 5-year-old horse by Tapit that has good natural speed and tremendous upside as he tries stakes competition for the first time in what will be his fifth start.
With Prat opting to stick with Independence Hall, Magic On Tap, who has 2 wins and as many seconds from 4 starts, will be ridden for the first time by Umberto Rispoli.
Perhaps the biggest question mark in Saturday’s Californian is Brazilian-bred Royal Ship, who comes off a fast-finishing fifth-place finish on turf to talented Hit the Road in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) on March 6. A Group 1 winner on grass in his native Brazil, he raced twice on dirt in his 11 starts, finishing third in his 7-furlong debut in July, 2019 and a troubled fourth in the Native Diver Stakes (G3) 2 starts back on November 21 at Del Mar.
With a recent race to his credit, Royal Ship, a 5-year-old gelding by Midshipman, looms dangerous in what will be his fifth stateside start for Mandella with regular rider Mike Smith back aboard. A winner of 5 consecutive turf races in Brazil, Royal Ship, who will be making his 12th career start, need only finish as well on dirt as he did in the grassy Kilroe on March 6 to be a major factor Saturday as he seeks his first local win.
Grade 3 winner Country Grammer (making his first start for Baffert) and Growth Engine round out the field.
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