John Scott, who appears to have found a new lease on life at age five, heads a competitive eight-horse field in Saturday's $175,000 California Cup Classic, a race which headlines Santa Anita's 23rd annual Cal Cup Day for horses bred or foaled in the Golden State.
"The Golden State Series, which was initiated this year by the California racing industry, has helped bolster entries for this year's Cal Cup and it is responsible for significant increases in purses for both of our two-year-old stakes," Santa Anita Vice President of Racing Rick Hammerle said. "Both the Bob Benoit Juvenile and the Keith Card Juvenile Fillies have had their purses bumped from $100,000 to $250,000 each. This is great news for the Cal Cup and for our game here in California."
Trained by Carla Gaines, John Scott exits a game win in the one-mile Harry F. Brubaker at Del Mar on September 4, a race run on synthetic Polytrack. The gelded son of Bertrando entered that contest off a half-length second in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap, his first foray against stakes company since running fourth, beaten just 2 1/2 lengths by eventual classic winner and dual champion Lookin at Lucky in Santa Anita's Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes as a two-year-old in October 2009.
John Scott subsequently went to the sidelines following the Norfolk and did not resurface until April 21, 2012 at Santa Anita. In that race, a 6 1/2-furlong, first condition allowance, he finished a close fourth and went on to register consecutive allowance wins at Hollywood Park going seven furlongs and 1 1/16 miles.
Saturday's Cal Cup Classic will be the first time John Scott has faced state breds since winning the I'm Smokin Stakes at Del Mar in 2009.
John Scott figures to press the Classic pace or make the early lead under his regular pilot, Victor Espinoza, who was aboard for the Brubaker score and who has partnered with the dark bay "John" in four of his lifetime victories.
Rousing Sermon, a three-year-old colt by Lucky Pulpit, has faced America's best three-year-olds this year and will be taking on older competition for the first time in the Classic.
Most recently fourth in the Grade 2 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs on September 8, the chestnut has been busy on a national scale throughout 2012. He ran fourth behind I'll Have Another in Santa Anita's Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes on February 4, fifth while staying at that track in the Grade 2 San Felipe on March 10, third in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby on April 1 at Fair Grounds, eighth in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 5, fourth in Hollywood Park's Grade 2 Swaps Stakes on July 4 and second in the state-bred Real Good Deal Stakes on August 3 at Del Mar.
Conditioned by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, Rousing Sermon's best races have come when he is able to mount a late-charging rally from off the pace. His most recent win came in the Cal Cup Juvenile a year ago.
Other contenders in the Cal Cup Classic include Grade 3-placed stakes winner Holladay Road, a seven-year-old Street Cry gelding who was third in last year's running of the Classic as well the Brubaker behind John Scott most recently; and Lucky Primo, beaten only a neck when second in the 2011 Classic. The six-year-old gelded son of Atticus has competed just twice since then, capturing an allowance by 2 1/4 lengths while making his seasonal debut in mid-July at Hollywood Park and most recently finishing a a close fourth in an allowance race at Del Mar on August 30.
While the 1 1/16-mile Classic enjoys top billing on Saturday's 10-race program, the $100,000 California Cup Distaff will garner plenty of notice as well as it attracted 22 fillies and mares, resulting in the race being split, to be run as the 6TH and 8TH races. The Distaff will be contested at 6 1/2 furlongs down the Camino Real Turf Course and with the split of the race, bettors will be offered a total of six stakes on the afternoon.
The first division of the race could see favoritism befall the Marty Jones-trained Tiz Flirtatious. A winner of her first three starts, the lightly raced Tiz Bud four-year-old filly tasted defeat as the 8-5 favorite in the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes on January 22 and has not run since. The dark bay miss will be reunited on Saturday with jockey Joel Rosario while trying turf for the first time on Saturday.
Teddy's Promise should also garner plenty of attention as winner of the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes on New Year's Eve. The Salt Lake four-year-old has been idle since running fifth in the Grade 2 A Gleam Handicap on July 14 at Hollywood Park, but has posted series of drills for trainer Ron Ellis to prepare for this return to action.
The second division of the Distaff, like the first, attracted a field of 11 fillies and mares. The Walther Solis-trained Willa B Awesome, winner of the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks in late March, is one of the top draws in the contest despite not having run since finishing third as the 3-2 favorite in Del Mar's Fleet Treat Stakes on July 28.
The Awesome Gambler three-year-old miss will be tackling older competition and trying the turf for the first time in the Distaff.
Willa B Awesome will vie for favoritism in the Distaff with Sugarinthemorning, who just missed when a half-length second in the Grade 2 Rancho Bernardo Handicap on August 19. An allowance winner down the hillside turf course, the Ron McAnally-trained daughter of Candy Ride has two Grade 1 stakes placings to her credit and four graded placings overall.
Sandwiched between the two Distaff divisions is the $100,000 California Cup Sprint for three-year-olds and up, and trainer Doug O'Neill will saddle the consistent Mensa Heat in the six-furlong affair.
The Cal Cup Sprint attracted a wide-open field of 10 and Mensa Heat may enjoy a class edge, as he appears to have been facing the toughest recent competition. The six-year-old Unusual Heat gelding exits a third, beaten just 1 1/2 lengths, in the Grade 3 Eddie D. Stakes on September 28. Prior to that, he was second to the highly regarded Comma to the Top in the Pirate's Bounty Stakes and three starts back ran second to recent Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship winner Coil in a classified allowance on July 26.
The stakes action on Cal Cup Day will begin and end with the juvenile races. First up will be the $250,000 Cal Cup Juvenile, which drew a field of 10 colts going 1 1/16 miles. Though he is still a maiden, The Humancomplaint would appear to have run better in his most recent start than any of the rivals he'll be facing on Saturday. The son of Tribal Rule was surging late when second, beaten 1 3/4 lengths, in the six-furlong I'm Smokin Stakes on September 3 at Del Mar and opened his career with a half-length second in a maiden over that same Polytrack in early August. The Ben Cecil pupil will be trying two turns for the first time in the Cal Cup Juvenile.
The $250,000 Cal Cup Juvenile Fillies will conclude Saturday's program as 10 juvenile fillies take to the track. The Mike Harrington-trained Tilde, a daughter of Swiss Yodeler, is easily the most accomplished in the field off a nice win in the Generous Portion Stakes at Del Mar in late August. Two starts back the gray lass captured the C.T.B.A. Stakes and shows only one loss from four starts to date, with that coming as a third in the Cinderella Stakes at Hollywood Park in mid-June.
Admission gates open at 11 a.m. (PDT) Saturday and first post is 1 p.m. All attendees will receive a collector's item Doug O'Neill Bobblehead, free with paid admission. Santa Anita will also offer a $400,000 guaranteed Late Pick 4 on the final four races. For information, or to make reservations, visit santaanita.com, or call 626-574-7223.