The nine-furlong event is the West Coast’s major steppingstone to the Kentucky Derby (G1) on May 5.
In four starts, Brother Francis has two seconds and two thirds, one second coming in the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue Stakes and a close third behind Santa Anita Derby contender Liaison in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park last December.
Owned and bred by Norman Cheng of San Gabriel, Calif., Brother Francis was third by a head after leading into the stretch on March 10, in a one-mile maiden allowance race on turf.
“He’s training really well,” Cassidy said of the Kentucky-bred son of Lion Heart. “He’s been so close in all his races that it’d be a shame not to run him. We tried to break his maiden last time, but a bit of a slow break cost us the race. Other than that, he ran great. I think the mile and an eighth of the Santa Anita Derby will suit him.”
Take it as a plus that agent Tony Matos has booked two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Garrett Gomez to ride Brother Francis.
“I don’t look at the fact that he’s a maiden,” said Matos, who has represented Hall of Fame greats such as Angel Cordero Jr., Kent Desormeaux and Laffit Pincay Jr. during a span in which they won the Kentucky Derby five times: with Cannonade, Bold Forbes (Cordero), Real Quiet, Fusaichi Pegasus (Desormeaux) and Swale (Pincay). Matos also was agent for Victor Espinoza for 15 years. They won the Kentucky Derby in 2002 on War Emblem.
“I look at the horses he’s been running with and how he’s been running,” Matos said. “He’s a fresh horse and a horse that‘s got a chance to move forward.”
Santa Anita Park Publicity contributed to this report.
Brother Francis/Benoit photo