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Joe Hernandez Preview: Encoder Returns to Turf
Encoder after winning the Del Mar Juvenile Turf (Credit: Ernie Belmonte)

Joe Hernandez Preview: Encoder Returns to Turf

ARCADIA, CA – Unraced since a failed dirt try last February 1, Hronis Racing’s Encoder returns to the turf for Friday’s $200,000 Joe Hernandez Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park.

The Joe Hernandez is a 6 1/2-furlong turf sprint open to all horses ages 4 and up. This year’s edition is the seventh event on a 9-race card and has a local post time of 3:30 PM.

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Here’s a look at the full field for the Joe Hernandez:

1. Texas Wedge 4/1 – The first of two entries from the barn of turf sprint wizard Peter Miller, he stretches out beyond 6 furlongs for the first time since finishing third in 2018 against optional claimers. He won last year’s edition under returning rider Flavien Prat when it was held at 5 1/2 furlongs and recently fired a 5-furlong bullet best-of-28 work in 1:00.20.

2. P R Radio Star 12/1 – He’ll make just his second career start on turf after finishing third against $40k claimers in a 5-furlong sprint at Arlington Park. He finished last of seven in the Pat O’Brien Stakes (G2) 2 starts back, his only prior graded try, but he’s won 10 of 32 lifetime and trainer Phil D’Amato currently hits at 20% with a strong $2.84 in turf sprints.

3. Encoder 20/1 – He won multiple turf stakes as a juvenile, including the 1-mile Eddie Logan Stakes over this turf course, then made his final start prior to this in last February’s Robert B. Lewis (G3). He’ll hope to overcome his barn’s recent slide; trainer John Sadler has won just 8 of his past 115 starts (through Tuesday) and hits at 10% returning from similar layoffs.

4. Hembree 5/1 – The second Miller runner debuts for his new barn after getting tagged for $62.5k out of an optional claiming victory going 1 mile on the Churchill Downs main track. A winner going 6 furlongs at Woodbine in the 2018 Nearctic Stakes (G2), he’s still going strong at age 7 and Miller is 29% first off the claim. Running back protected is a show of confidence.

5. True Valour 8/1 – He returns to southern California for the first time since being privately sold and changing barns to Graham Motion. He won a pair of local mile-long graded stakes in early 2019 but may be better sprinting: he won a 6 1/2-furlong optional claiming event at Woodbine and finished third in the 6-furlong Aqueduct Turf Sprint Championship Stakes in his last 2 starts.

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6. Blitzkrieg 5/1 – He returns to sprinting after failing to hit the board in 3 grass stakes tries routing and will try to avenge his narrow fourth-place finish in last year’s edition of this race. The Doug O’Neill trainee won 3 straight over the local downhill turf course in early 2019 and reunites with jockey Victor Espinoza, aboard for his American Stakes (G3) score in June.

7. Wildman Jack 3/1 – The second O’Neill runner exits a strong showing in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1), where he attended a blazing early pace before weakening late and finishing seventh, 3 lengths behind the winner. The classy 5-year-old won the 5 1/2-furlong Daytona Stakes (G3) over this course and March’s 6-furlong Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint (G3) in Dubai. 

8. Chaos Theory 4/1 – The field’s hottest runner has won 3 of his past 4 starts including the 5-furlong Green Flash Handicap (G3) at Del Mar in August, but like Encoder, he must overcome the Sadler barn’s cold streak if he hopes to succeed again here. His style is to take back and launch a sustained rally in the stretch, so a hot pace would be to his liking.

9. Oiseau de Guerre – This planned third O’Neill entry will be scratched.

10. Mesut 15/1 – He returns to the graded stakes ranks still seeking his first victory at this level and since defeating first-level allowance rivals going this distance down the hillside turf course 12 months ago. Off since mid-October, he’ll try to become the first Carla Gaines trainee in 14 months to win after a similar layoff. He bulleted 4 furlongs in :47 flat as his final work.

11. Ohio 12/1 – The venerable Brazilian-bred 10-year-old returns for the first time since finishing seventh in last March’s Frank Kilroe Mile (G1), a race he won in 2019. He won a pair of turf sprints early in his career, and while he may be using this as a prep for a third Kilroe appearance, trainer Michael McCarthy is 4 for his last 16 with runners returning from similar layoffs.

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