ARCADIA, Calif. -- General a Rod was a mainstay on the 3-year-old scene in early 2014, finishing third in the Florida Derby and starting in all three legs of the Triple Crown. He has not had the same impact as an older horse, winning two of five starts in the last 14 months.
There is reason to believe that could change. General a Rod won an optional claimer at 1-1/16 miles by 7-1/2 lengths on a sloppy and sealed track at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28. The win has led to his first trip to California for Saturday's $1 million Santa Anita Handicap.
"We felt like his last race was a step in the right direction," trainer Todd Pletcher said on Wednesday.
The well-traveled General a Rod has run at seven tracks up and down the East Coast and in Kentucky in his 14-race career. By Roman Ruler, General a Rod was trained by Mike Maker until early 2015, when he was transferred to Pletcher. For Pletcher, General a Rod has won twice, including the minor Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs last March.
The win in the optional claimer in January earned General a Rod a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 105.
"From a figure standpoint and a visual standpoint, he did very well in his last race," said co-owner Jack Wolf.
Wolf's Starlight Racing shares ownership of General a Rod with Skychai Racing. The owners and Pletcher are after their first win in Santa Anita's signature race for older horses.
The Big Cap is run at 1-1/4 miles. General a Rod was a troubled 11th at 30-1 behind California Chrome in the 2014 Kentucky Derby, his only previous start at 1-1/4 miles.
The Big Cap has a projected field of nine, led by Effinex, the runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland last October. Trained by James Jerkens, Effinex won the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 27 in his most recent start.
Effinex and General a Rod are the only shippers in a Big Cap field expected to include Class Leader, Cyrus Alexander, Donworth, Hard Aces, Imperative, Melatonin, and Point Piper.
Imperative and Donworth were second and third in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes at 1-1/8 miles on Feb. 6. Race winner Hoppertunity will not start in the Big Cap and is being pointed for the $10 million Dubai World Cup in the United Arab Emirates on March 26.