Proxy might never rise to the top of the older horse dirt division, but he can pick up another Grade 1 under the right circumstances. There is a chance Proxy will earn his next one in the Grade 1, $500,000 Santa Anita Handicap on Saturday, where he projects to receive a fast pace and clear outside trip.
The pace in this edition of the Big Cap will come from Stilleto Boy and one or both of the Bob Baffert-trained entrants, Defunded and Hopper.
Although Stilleto Boy has flipped back and forth between stalking and contesting the pace in his starts for trainer Ed Moger Jr., it feels more likely he will go to the front in this spot with the other speed drawn outside him.
In Stilleto Boy’s lone win last year, he led a four-horse field from gate to wire in the Californian Stakes (G2) to prevail by 2 1/4 lengths over Express Train. For the pacesetting win, Stilleto Boy earned an impressive 134 on TimeformUS.
To start off his campaign this year, Stilleto Boy pressed the leader Hopkins in the San Antonio Stakes (G2), which resulted in Hopkins fading out of the picture on the far turn. Unfortunately for Stilleto Boy, he ended up settling for second as Country Grammer took control on the far turn and opened late for a clear win. Just last weekend, Country Grammer went on to finish second in the Saudi Cup (G1) overseas.
Then in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream, Stilleto Boy set the pace under pressure from Defunded through moderate fractions for the level. Both speed horses kept trying into the far turn, with Defunded moving ahead of Stilleto Boy. But they soon were passed by the long shot Art Collector, who opened up in the stretch for the win.
Stilleto Boy arguably affected Defunded’s chances in the Pegasus too, and now they face each other again in this race. The difference is that Defunded’s stablemate Hopper probably wants the lead more and jockey Mike Smith typically does not wrangle back a speed horse from running.
Hopper set the pace in both his Affirmed Stakes (G3) win last year and the recent San Pasqual Stakes (G2), where he finished second to Newgrange. In the latter race, he lost control of an uncontested lead and took pressure from Parnelli, who softened him for the stretch run.
Nevertheless, Hopper is likely to press Stilleto Boy through fast fractions or even attempt to steal the lead if Stilleto Boy breaks slowly or awkwardly. Defunded probably will run behind the pacesetting duo in some kind of close-range position alongside Newgrange. If the pace ends up softer than expected, either Defunded or Newgrange can pick up the pressing duties.
Now to discuss where Proxy will fit into the picture. For some reason, Proxy lost ground in the Pegasus as the horses approached the far turn, and then he rallied back in the stretch with a belated move to pick up fifth late. Given the late rally, he did not seem very tired at the end.
Maybe all the traffic and kickback affected Proxy on the inside.
In the Big ‘Cap, Proxy drew post 11. Most of the time, the wide post in a two-turn route is not a great spot for a mid-pack closer. But in this situation, a long run to the first turn gives a chance for the experienced jockey John Velazquez to secure a decent position before it comes up.
Assuming Proxy sits about fifth, sixth or seventh and in the clear, and the pace runs strong enough ahead, he can move in on the far turn.
Ideally, Proxy would sit in more of a stalking position closer to the dueling leaders Stilleto Boy and Hopper, but he might not own enough speed to settle near the expected positions of Defunded and Newgrange. Proxy needs to hope for a clear mid-pack position with pace to run into, and he is likely to receive it the latter part, at least.
If Proxy fails to win, then Defunded figures to overpower the leaders and show off his class in the stretch to pick up his second Grade 1.
The obvious downside with Defunded is the expected low value on a Baffert-trained horse who ran second in the Pegasus World Cup in his most recent start. Betting strategies and value aside, Defunded owns the best chance to finish first based on his early speed and overall class.
From a betting standpoint though, Proxy does offer the best value with proven class as a former Grade 1 winner and a solid late punch. Assuming the above pace scenario plays out, Proxy can mount his rally on the far turn and give Defunded a challenge in the stretch run. As long as there is enough of a difference in odds, Proxy is worth a shot.