Solomini (outside) rallies past McKinzie (inside) and Instilled Regard (middle) in the Los Alamitos Futurity (©Benoit Photo)

Solomini (outside) rallies past McKinzie (inside) and Instilled Regard (middle) in the Los Alamitos Futurity
(©Benoit Photo)

The San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park is not until March 10th, but the two-turn event for three-year-olds is shaping up to be the race of the winter in Southern California.

The mile and a sixteenth affair conducted over the main track appears likely to attract three of the top five colts on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” leaderboard as we enter the second half of February. This includes the first try in 2018 for last year’s odds-on favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Bolt d’Oro.

Bolt d’Oro was originally scheduled to commence his three-year-old campaign in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes last Saturday, but muscle soreness kept the good looking son of Medaglia d’Oro on the sidelines for trainer Mick Ruis. The winner of 3 of 4 in 2017 did little wrong as a two-year-old, but an impossibly wide trip after a less than ideal start gave him almost no chance of besting the group of twelve at Del Mar last November. He still finished a solid third.

There is little doubt that Bolt d’Oro has the physical tools to win the 2018 Kentucky Derby and make a run at the Triple Crown, but the hiccups in his training are certainly cause for concern.

If the Kentucky bred can get back to the dominant form he showed last summer and fall he is likely to be one of the betting favorites on the first Saturday in May. However, I will be fading him at relatively short prices in the San Felipe, as well as future pool wagers until he displays that sort of brilliance once again. I simply do not trust at this point that he will even make it to the starting gate at Churchill Downs let alone hit the wire first.

As usual, Hall of Famer Bob Baffert has a number of horses that could make noise in the 2018 Triple Crown Series led by McKinzie. The son of Street Sense did not begin his racing career until a week before the Breeders’ Cup, so he has yet to compete against Bolt d’Oro, but he should enter the San Felipe next month a perfect 3 for 3.

McKinzie broke his maiden in stylish fashion and then rattled off two consecutive victories against graded stakes competition, including a controversial disqualification of Solomini that vaulted him from second to first in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity on December 9th.

The colt named after longtime Los Alamitos executive Brad McKinzie still has some learning to do, but unlike Bolt d’Oro things have gone as planned thus far for the son of Street Sense. Less than three months out I have him as the likeliest on the West Coast to capture this year’s “Run for the Roses.”

The aforementioned Solomini has not competed since being disqualified in Orange County in December, but he has worked twice this month, including a four-furlong drill in 48.4.  The Zayat Stables runner has just one victory in four starts, but the three losses all came in Grade 1 events where he finished in the top 3.

I have always considered Solomini a cut below Baffert’s top 2018 Triple Crown contenders, but he has already beaten both Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie to the wire at two turns so perhaps I could be proven wrong in the coming weeks and months. A win in the San Felipe may do just that.

Kanthaka comes off an impressive late rally in the San Vicente for Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer. The son of Jimmy Creed took advantage of a hot early pace to win by three and a quarter lengths in the end in the seven-furlong event last weekend.

The West Point Thoroughbreds colt illustrated a strong turn of foot in his initial effort versus winners, but the competition in the San Felipe, as well as the stretch out to a route of ground will present new challenges for the $140,000 Barretts March 2017 two-year-old in training sale purchase. I still need to see more to include him amongst the West Coast’s top Triple Crown contenders, but he should get his chance soon.

The “Road to the Kentucky Derby” is heating up and will be scorching by the time we get to the San Felipe next month. I cannot wait.