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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 12:00 AM

Santa Anita: Flashback, Goldencents go head-to-head in San Felipe

ARCADIA, Calif. – Like a couple of hawks, Flashback and Goldencents have circled their prey for months at Santa Anita.

Goldencents won the Sham in January, Flashback the Robert B. Lewis in February. They are considered California’s two leading prospects, at present, for the May 4 Kentucky Derby, and on Saturday, they will meet for the first time in the Grade 2, $300,000 San Felipe Stakes, a race with implications far beyond determining who is best in the West.

The San Felipe, race 7 on a nine-race card that begins at 12:30 p.m. Pacific, is worth 85 points – with 50 going to the winner – under the Derby eligibility system put in place this year by Churchill Downs. Both Flashback and Goldencents already have won at the San Felipe distance of 1 1/16 miles. And both have shown an ability to rate off the pace and still win.

But this should be the first time both will be forced to sit, in a two-turn race, behind what figures to be a scalding pace, with the fleet Salutos Amigos stretching out off fast-paced sprints.

Salutos Amigos also drew outside Flashback and Goldencents, who are next to one another in posts 2 and 3 in the eight-horse field. The run to the first turn, with Salutos Amigos likely crossing over and Flashback and Goldencents vying for advantageous positioning, should make for great theater.

“Julien’s going to have to play the break,” said Bob Baffert, the trainer of Flashback, who will have regular rider Julien Leparoux aboard.

Flashback, Baffert said, is “going to get tested this week.”

“He’s going to have to run. It’s a tough field. It’s going to be fun to watch,” said Baffert, who also will send out longshot Carving, who is co-owned by his wife, Jill.

Flashback has raced just twice. He won his debut sprinting against maidens at Betfair Hollywood Park on Dec. 8, then was able to set a soft pace before kicking clear in the Lewis on Feb. 2.

“He’s had two easy races,” Baffert said. “He didn’t have to run hard last time. He needs some toughening.”

He should get it here.

Goldencents has won 3 of 4 starts – all with jockey Kevin Krigger – while racing at four different tracks. This will be the first time he has raced at the same place twice. Goldencents went straight to the front in his first three races but sat second in the Jan. 5 Sham before pouncing.

“I loved it,” said his trainer, Doug O’Neill. “Kevin did a great job getting him to drop the bridle. He got him to relax a little bit, and he galloped out strong. The biggest thing we need from him is to be able to shut it off and pick it up to be a big-time horse.”

Salutos Amigos used his keen speed to defeat maidens going six furlongs Feb. 9. This will be his stakes debut and his first start around two turns. While a victory would be an upset, there is no doubt his presence adds intrigue to the race.

Will he be in front?

“I would imagine,” said his trainer, Eric Guillot. “He’s the fastest horse,”

Salutos Amigos has raced twice this meet, both times with blinkers, since returning from a layoff of nearly seven months.

“I think the blinkers have helped a bunch,” Guillot said. “I’m going to cut them back a bit for this race, from a half cup to a French cup, so he can have more peripheral vision.”

Hear the Ghost, like Salutos Amigos, is trying two turns for the first time. After winning his debut at Hollywood Park on Dec. 15, he was second in the San Pedro here Jan. 21. Both those races were at six furlongs.

Carving was a distant fourth in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate on Feb. 16. He has finished out of the money all three times he has raced in graded stakes.

Kochees, a debut winner on the hillside turf course, was fourth in a first-level allowance last time out Jan. 31, but that race has been live. The winner, Super Ninety Nine, came back to win the Southwest at Oaklawn Park while runner-up Code West was a close second in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds.

Tiz a Minister and Omega Star were first and second in the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes on Jan. 26. This is the first graded stakes for both.

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