ARCADIA, Calif. (Jan. 14, 2009) – Preparations for this year’s Triple Crown begin in earnest on Saturday at Santa Anita with the Grade III, $100,000 San Rafael Stakes part of a graded stakes tripleheader that includes a pair of Grade II events, the $150,000 San Fernando for 4-year-olds and the $150,000 Santa Ynez for 3-year-old fillies.

Square Eddie, runner-up to Midshipman as the 7-2 favorite in October’s

$2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, likely will be an odds-on choice among eight 3-year-olds in the one-mile San Rafael, a race that has produced six Santa Anita Derby winners during the past 19 years.

El Gato Malo, winner of last year’s Lone Star Derby and the beaten favorite in the Santa Anita Derby, continues on the comeback trail in the 57th running of the San Fernando at 1 1/16 miles.

His primary competition among 12 entrants includes Oak Tree Derby winner Muny, Del Mar Derby winner Madeo, Swaps Stakes winner Tres Borrachos and Booted, a son of A.P. Indy who will be making his stakes debut following a pair of impressive comeback victories.

Trainer John Sadler sends out a pair among ten aspirants in the 55th Santa Ynez at seven furlongs including multiple stakes winner Evita Argentina, the 123-pound high weight, and Alpha Kitten, fourth in Hollywood Park’s Grade I Starlet in her last start.

Trained by Doug O’Neill for J. Paul Reddam, Canadian-bred Square Eddie scored a stunning 4 ¾-length victory in Keeneland’s Grade I Breeders’ Futurity, his U.S. debut early last October after four earlier starts as a 2-year-old in England.

Impressive enough to earn favoritism in the Breeders’ Cup, Square Eddie responded with a game second to Midshipman. Despite the 1 ¼-length defeat in his first start for O’Neill, Leandro Mora, deputizing for a Chicken Pox-stricken O’Neill, was pleased. “That was phenomenal,” Mora said after the event. “In the stretch, I thought he had a chance to go by, but he hesitated because the winner was too close to the rail. But I was pleased. He ran a huge race.”

Rafael Bejarano, aboard in the Breeders’ Cup hosted by Oak Tree at Santa Anita, will be back atop the chestnut son of Smart Strike who has earned $767,366 from a 2-2-1 record in six career starts.

Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, whose partnership sold top 2-year-old Vineyard Haven to Godolphin Racing last November, is hopeful that he may have an adequate replacement in Brother Keith, who makes his stakes debut in the San Rafael following a single start.

“You gotta try him someplace,” Frankel said of the colt who pulled away to take his debut by 2 ¼ lengths at Churchill Downs on Nov. 8 for Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey. “We’ll learn more about him this weekend,” said Frankel. Garrett Gomez, the nation’s leading rider in purse earnings the last three years, will be in the saddle.

The complete field for the San Rafael Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: The Pamplemousse, Alex Solis, 116; Fiddlers Afleet, Michael Baze, 116; Brother Keith, Garrett Gomez, 116; Ryehill Dreamer, Mike Smith, 119; Papa Clem, Tyler Baze, 116; Square Eddie, Rafael Bejarano, 122; Charlie’s Moment, Joel Rosario, 116, and Feisty Suances, David Flores, 116.

The San Fernando, whose rich history includes victories by such luminaries as Buckpasser, Damascus, Spectacular Bid and Tiznow when 4-year-olds, appears to be particularly wide open this year.

El Gato Malo, the 122-pound high weight and highest earner of the starters, was a leading Triple Crown hopeful last year, but he went to the sidelines with what trainer Craig Dollase described as “a minor leg injury” following his win in the Grade III Lone Star Derby on May 10.

Owned by West Coast Thoroughbreds, the gelded son of El Corredor has made two starts since returning to action in November including a fast-closing third in the Grade III Sir Beaufort Stakes on Dec. 26, opening day of the current Santa Anita meet. Corey Nakatani will take over aboard El Gato Malo, who has earned $456,160 from a

4-1-1 record in eight career starts.

Trainer Richard Mandella said Booted is doing so well he abandoned an earlier plan to wait until Feb. 7 for the Grade II, $250,000 Strub Stakes. “He’s really blooming right now,” explained Mandella. Booted captured an allowance race by 2 ½ lengths over 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita on New Year’s Day after breaking his maiden 2 ½ weeks earlier. Victor Espinoza rides.

Frankel has shipped in Wishful Tomcat from the East for the San Fernando. A winner of 5 of his last 6 starts, the Tactical Cat chestnut is coming off a victory in the Grade III Discovery Handicap at Aqueduct on Nov. 22. Joel Rosario will handle the colt who has banked $280,509 for IEAH Stables from a 6-3-1 showing in 11 races.

The complete field for the San Fernando Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Muny, Flores, 120; Wishful Tomcat, Rosario, 118; Cherokee Artist, Jose Valdivia Jr., 118; Blue Exit, Jesus Rios, 116; Booted, Victor Espinoza, 116; Nownownow, Joseph Talamo, 116; Madeo, Smith, 120; El Gato Malo, Nakatani, 122; Silver Sword, Michael Baze, 116; Slew’s Tiznow, Bejarano, 118; Tres Borrachos, Tyler Baze, 120, and Dakota Phone, Gomez, 118.

Evita Argentina will be surrendering at least seven pounds to her opponents in the Santa Ynez. Gomez will be aboard for the first time as the Halo Farms and Three Sisters Thoroughbred filly attempts to build on race-high earnings of $204,900 from 3 wins in 5 starts including Hollywood Park’s Moccasin Stakes and Del Mar’s Grade III Sorrento Stakes.

The complete field for the Santa Ynez, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Candilejas, Martin Garcia, 114; Nan, Nakatani, 114; Pinkarella, Rosario, 114; Spanish Ice, Flores, 114; Empressive Lady, Michael Baze, 114; Turtle Creek Babe, Espinoza, 114; Deeveetee, Patrick Husbands, 116; Evita Argentina, Gomez, 123; Alpha Kitten, Tyler Baze, 114, and Real Fancy Runner, Talamo, 114.

The three graded stakes will be run successively on a nine-race program beginning with the Santa Ynez as the sixth and concluding with the San Fernando as the eighth. First post is at 12:30 p.m.