The Santa Anita Handicap has long been one of those resume-building races. First run back in 1935, the roll call of winners features some of the best names in the business. One blossoming California-based runner hopes to add his name to the list come March 5.
Express Train has been one of the most consistent runners on the California circuit in recent times. His last ten starts have all been in graded stakes races and this five-year-old son of Union Rags has finished in the top three on nine occasions. Four wins, two seconds, and three third-place finishes mean this John Shirreffs trainee is usually right there at the end.
Throughout his career, Express Train has been a model of consistency. Having toed the track 16 times with a record of 6-4-3, this grandson of Mineshaft is usually competitive. Missing from his list, however, is that ever-elusive win in a grade 1 race. Six times the Train has rolled into a grade 1 and finished second twice, third twice, fourth and sixth. One of those runner-up runs came in last year’s Santa Anita Handicap. Beaten just a half-length by Idol, Express Train was in the lead until the final yards.
Coming into the year’s Big Cap, Express Train is riding a two-race win streak. On December 26, 2021, the Train won a real fistfight in the San Antonio when he clipped Hot Rod Charlie by a nose. On February 5 of this year, he rolled to an impressive 3 ¼ length win in the mile and an eighth San Pasqual.
Those last two runs were very impressive for different reasons. Encouraging recent works on top of those outings has his veteran conditioner thinking his locomotive has plenty of steam for the mile and a quarter Big Cap.
“He has trained very well since his last race”, says Shirreffs, who guided Zenyatta to one of the most brilliant careers in the game’s history. “He’s feeling strong and about where we hoped he would be coming into this one.”
Express Train will face seven other rivals including the Bob Baffert-trained Spielberg, the Brad Cox-trained shipper Warrant, Doug O’Neill’s Soy Tapatio, and the ever-dangerous Stilleto Boy. The good news for the Train is jockey Victor Espinosa, who has engineered the last two wins, is back in the irons.
The Santa Anita Handicap is the final race of card that features six graded stakes races. The expected post time is 5 pm, Pacific.