The Goodwood Stakes (gr. I), as usual, serves as the main prep race in Southern California for the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) this season. But for the 11 entered in this year's $500,000 renewal Sept. 24, it's also the first test of Santa Anita's new Pro-Ride synthetic racing surface and will go a long way toward determining which contenders move on.
Oak Tree's Goodwood is a Breeders' Cup Challenge Series race, meaning the winner will have earned a spot in the upcoming Classic over the same track Oct. 25.
John Shirreffs, trainer of the defending Goodwood champion Tiago, is among those who will be watching closely. His 4-year-old dual grade I winner won last year's race over Santa Anita's since-replaced Cushion Track and has experienced mixed results with the synthetic surfaces at his home track, Hollywood Park. He won the Swaps (gr. II) there at 3, but in his last start, the June 28 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I), he was not a factor while finishing sixth.
Tiago tried to run at Del Mar, but Shirreffs couldn't get the son of Pleasant Tap ready for a race, so he'll come into the Goodwood without a start in nearly three months. Shirreffs thinks Tiago will not be at a disadvantage in the 1 1/8-mile Goodwood.
"It's just that he didn't like the track at Del Mar," Shirreffs said. "I tried to work him a couple of times down there, and each time the rider just pulled him up and said he wasn't handling it well. So, going back to Hollywood, he has been training up here for six weeks or so, and his last two works have been very good. He worked (seven furlongs) in (1:24), and then came back with (1:11) for six furlongs. So I would think that with his level of ability and accomplishment, he won't need a race."
The question for Shirreffs is whether Tiago, whose lone win in six starts this year came in the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II), can handle Pro-Ride. Since he trains over Hollywood's Cushion Track, the trainer is unfamiliar with the new Australian-manufactured material.
"I've looked at the course a couple of times, but the one thing I like about any racetrack is the ability of the horse to get a hold of it and get a little rotation of the foot into the track," Shirreffs said. "Some of the synthetic tracks, they just stop the foot from going into the track at all so that...they don't slide. So, there's a little jarring and, personally, I don't like that for racehorses. I prefer that they get a little hold."
Tiago will defend his title against the likes of Pacific Classic (gr. I) runner-up Well Armed, Arlington Million (gr. IT) winner Spirit One and Gold Cup victor Mast Track, who ran third in the Pacific Classic. Others likely to get attention from the bettors are the improving Alberus Maximus and 2008 Swaps hero Tres Borrachos, trying to bounce back from a last-place finish in the Aug. 23 Travers (gr. I).
Tiago, fifth to Curlin in last year’s Classic at Monmouth Park, will once again have Mike Smith aboard while breaking from post 8. The half-brother to 2005 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Giacomo owned by Jerry and Ann Moss has earned $1,734,270 from a 5-2-3 record in 15 career starts.
WinStar Farm’s Well Armed should be the horse to catch in the Goodwood. Earlier this year, the 5-year-old gelding held on for third behind Curlin in the $6 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I). He scored wire-to-wire victories in Del Mar’s San Diego Handicap (gr. II) and the San Antonio Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita. In the 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic, Well Armed opened up a 1 1/2-length lead in stretch and after being passed by the victorious Go Between in the late stages, battled back to lose by a neck.
Aaron Gryder rides for trainer Eoin Harty. The son of Tiznow has banked $1,230,803 from a 5-3-1 mark in 18 races.
"It's a good stepping stone," said Harty, who also plans to run Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) and Travers (gr. I) winner Colonel John in the Classic. "It's a month out from the big one, so you ought to be plenty fit now and easy to keep fit between now and the big day. The Goodwood is a good spot for Well Armed. It's an important race, and it's a grade I. Everybody wants to win a grade I."
The French-bred Spirit One makes the switch from turf to synthetic for the first time following his 13-1 front-running upset in the Million Aug. 9, his first U.S. start. Philippe Demercastel trains the 4-year-old colt for owner and breeder Kamel Chehboub. French jockey Ioritz Mendizabal, who was aboard for the Arlington win, makes the trip.
Mast Track, owned, bred, and trained by Bobby Frankel, likes to be forwardly placed as well and went all the way on the lead to win the Gold Cup by 2 1/2 lengths. The 4-year-old Mizzen Mast colt was in stalking position in the Pacific Classic and came up short. He'll have to contend with the far outside post in the Goodwood. John Velazquez takes the mount.
Albertus Maximus scored his first stakes win in Del Mar's Windy Sands Handicap Sept. 1 for trainer Vladimir Cerin, rallying wide and clearing off by 2 1/2 lengths. Garrett Gomez will be the pilot.
Trainer Beau Greely hopes the return to synthetic track will help Tres Borrachos, one of two 3-year-olds in the field (El Cajon winner Slew's Tiznow is the other), find his Swaps-winning form following the Travers debacle.
“He broke well out of the gate, and then just didn’t handle the surface for some reason,” Greely said of Saratoga's main track. “I talked to Tyler (Baze) after the race, and he said it felt like he threw a shoe or two out there. The horse acted like he never ran."
Grade II winner Zappa finished fourth in the Pacific Classic. Surf Cat, who weakened to sixth in the same race after pressing the pace, should appreciate the slightly shorter distance and the additional speed.
$500,000 Goodwood Stakes (gr. I, Race 10, 5 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Zappa (KY), 124, Joel Rosario
2. Tres Borrachos (KY), 121, Tyler Baze
3. Informed (KY), 124, Martin Garcia
4. Surf Cat (KY), 124, David R. Flores
5. Slew's Tiznow (KY), 121, Alonso Quinonez
6. Albertus Maximus (KY), 124, Garrett K. Gomez
7. Well Armed (KY), 124, Aaron T. Gryder
8. Tiago (KY), 124, Mike E. Smith
9. Spirit One (FR), 124, Ioritz Mendizabal
10. Mostacolli Mort (KY), 124, Martin A. Pedroza
11. Mast Track (KY), 124, John R. Velazquez