Gift Box attempts title defense in Santa Anita Handicap

The historic Grade I, $600,000 Santa Anita Handicap is set for Saturday. The traditional centerpiece race of the Santa Anita winter meet, the “Big ‘Cap” drew a field of eight. Post time for the 1 1/4-mile heat, Race 10 of 11 on the day, is 7:03 p.m. ET.

#4 GIFT BOX (6-5, morning-line favorite) was a facile winner of opening weekend’s San Antonio Stakes. He set the pace and drew away from MIDCOURT to beat him by 7 1/2 lengths. That was GIFT BOX’s first start since June, and he’ll enter the “Big ‘Cap” off a layoff as well. The John Sadler trainee used the San Antonio to prep for the Santa Anita Handicap last year and managed to grind out a victory over McKinzie. There doesn’t appear to be any such rival in here in 2020. Joel Rosario maintains the assignment.

#8 ENDORSED (6-1) is a potential rising star and should be used in all exotic wagers. He hinted at potential in his brief three-year-old season (perhaps due to a possible injury suffered in an off-the-board effort in the Champagne Stakes), winning an allowance and placing in the Curlin Stakes before rallying for fourth in the Travers. Unseen for the rest of 2019, ENDORSED returned in early January and took a salty Gulfstream allowance event. This Kiaran McLaughlin trainee is fast enough to compete with these and lures Drayden Van Dyke.

#5 MIDCOURT (2-1) has won five of his last six races, including the Grade II San Pasqual Stakes last time out, but he was buried by GIFT BOX when they met in the San Antonio. His pedigree does not suggest that he’ll relish going 1 1/4-miles either, so MIDCOURT does not look like a great proposition at his morning-line. However, he’s a must-use in exactas and trifectas. Victor Espinoza has the call.

The play: $5 exacta 4/5,8 ($10)

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