Breeders' Cup Saturday Previews
BREEDERS' CUP CLASSIC (G1), 12TH-SA, $5,000,000, 3YO/UP, 1 1/4M, 8:35PM, 11-3
The $5 million Classic is the centerpiece of the 15-race Breeders' Cup program and 12 runners will head to the post for the 1 1/4-mile test, led by Horse of the Year front runner Game on Dude. The five-year-old gelding finished second in the 2011 Classic at Churchill Downs, but he can make amends over his favorite track at Santa Anita.
1ST -- GAME ON DUDE turned in a terrific effort last year on a Churchill Downs track that wasn't favoring speed. After setting a solid pace, he fought off a host of challengers turning for him and surged clear in midstretch, only to be caught late by the closing Drosselmeyer. Game on Dude continued to move forward off that performance this season, recording four convincing stakes wins in California. His only setbacks were an unplaced effort in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup and a commendable second in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic, both on synthetic tracks that don't favor him. The dark bay relishes dirt, recording a five-for-five mark on Santa Anita's main track, and he is quality speed on an oval that should be playing well for early types. A two-time winner at the Classic distance, Game on Dude drew perfectly in post 5 with Rafael Bejarano and looks too good for these rivals at Santa Anita.
2ND -- MUCHO MACHO MAN enters the Classic off a 63-day freshening, but he runs well with time between starts and appears set for a strong showing, recording a terrific series of works in preparation. The four-year-old son of Macho Uno finished third in the Kentucky Derby and competed in all three Triple Crown events last year, but he was a growing colt that lacked maturity at that time. Mucho Macho Man has performed at a higher level this year, recording a 4-1-1 mark in six starts, including an impressive 2 1/2-length victory in the Grade 2 Suburban two back, and we will praise his neck second in the Grade 1 Woodward last time; the bay is a big, long-striding colt who needs room and he was stuck down on the inside (the worst part of the Saratoga track that day) for most of the race after breaking from post 3. Mucho Macho Man draws much better in gate 11 for the Classic and jockey Mike Smith has tactical speed at his disposal to establish good positioning early. The Kathy Ritvo charge owns the best chance at an upset.
3RD -- RICHARD'S KID will make his third start for Doug O'Neill after being sold right before the Pacific Classic. He was not a factor in that race, but will enter the Classic off an encouraging third behind Game on Dude in the Grade 1 Awesome Again (formerly Goodwood), passing a lot of horses in the stretch on the speed-favoring oval. The seven-year-old registered a 115 BRIS Late Pace rating last time and the Classic could set up well for him if a couple of rivals attempt to keep Game on Dude company on the front end. Richard's Kid has also posted triple-digit BRIS Speed ratings in four of five U.S. starts this season. A two-time Grade 1 winner at the distance, Richard's Kid appears to be finding his best stride presently and rates as an intriguing upset option for those trying to beat the favorite.
OTHERS -- BRILLIANT SPEED doesn't look like a serious win candidate, but the Grade 1 hero possesses a strong late kick and the race could set up well for him to come charging for a minor award. Third in last year's Belmont Stakes, the colt is winless in six starts this year, but he has placed in his last two outings and gets first-time blinkers Saturday. His connections elected to take a shot here based on the way Brilliant Speed was training, and he could add value to the exotics.
FLAT OUT is another to consider for the bottom of the exotics. The six-year-old has battled physical issues throughout his career, but he appears to be at the top of his game presently for Bill Mott, defending his title with a game win in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup last out, and 10 furlongs is no problem for the stalker. The biggest concern is Santa Anita's track; Flat Out must prove that he can carry his form outside of New York.
NONIOS exits a non-threatening second to Game on Dude in the Awesome Again and holds some appeal for the gimmicks here. The sophomore colt may have been better suited for the Dirt Mile at this point his career (he was cross-entered to both races), but he is definitely bred to handle the trip and owns good BRIS numbers (106-98-106 last three starts). We give him a chance to grab part from off the pace.
BREEDERS' CUP MILE (G1), 11TH-SA, $2,000,000, 3YO/UP, 1MT, 7:40PM, 11-3
Although the Breeders' Cup wasn't going to lure the world's compelling unbeatens -- Frankel, who is now retired, and Black Caviar, who is resting at home in Australia -- those superstars will be represented by proxy, so to speak, in the Mile. Frankel's whipping boy Excelebration and Moonlight Cloud, who almost shocked Black Caviar at Royal Ascot, will take on the American juggernaut Wise Dan in a hotly-anticipated showdown at Santa Anita.
Europeans have won four of the five Miles staged here, and two of three at Hollywood Park, making it six of eight in Southern California overall.
1ST -- EXCELEBRATION would have an eight-race winning streak, but for running into the monster named Frankel. Beaten by the world's top-ranked horse a total of five times, Excelebration has been runner-up on four of those occasions. When finally getting away from Frankel, Excelebration has proven to be an exceptional miler in his own right. He is arguably better than ever at the moment, with increasingly impressive wins in the Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville and Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II at Ascot in his last pair.
Trainer Aidan O'Brien has yet to win the Mile, but he has finished a close second three times. O'Brien is overdue for a trophy in this race, and Excelebration is his best chance since he suffered a heartbreaker with champion Rock of Gibraltar in 2002.
The only potential issue is wheeling back in two weeks after the QEII. Excelebration has executed a similar turnaround once before, all the way back in his juvenile days for former trainer Marco Botti. Perhaps more significantly, he has been sparingly raced since he finished best-of-the-rest behind Frankel in the Group 1 Queen Anne at Royal Ascot in June. Excelebration had nearly two months off until the Marois, and another two months until the QEII, and should be plenty fresh enough.
Excelebration also had the luck of the draw, landing in a perfect post 6. From there, Joseph O'Brien should be able to keep him in the clear and move whenever he's ready.
2ND -- WISE DAN poses a substantial threat to European dominance, and depending on what happens in the other Breeders' Cup races, the versatile campaigner could put himself into the Horse of the Year discussion with a big win here.
Far better than the typical American turf miler, Wise Dan has romped in his last three, including power-packed displays in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile and Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile. Both of those have emerged as key preps in recent years, and in 2011, the Woodbine Mile produced the top two finishers in the Breeders' Cup Mile.
Wise Dan's performance at Woodbine is significant for another reason: it ties in perfectly with the European form of Excelebration. Wise Dan demolished a useful European shipper in Cityscape, who has finished second to Excelebration at both Deauville and Ascot. That implies that Wise Dan stacks up against Excelebration.
On the other hand, it can be argued that Cityscape didn't run up to his best at Woodbine, but that he excelled himself at Ascot, where Excelebration thrashed Cityscape more easily than ever. If that judgment is correct, Excelebration might have the edge on Wise Dan.
The draw could also work against Wise Dan. Breaking from post 2, just to the inside of speedball Obviously, jockey John Velazquez probably won't want to press him through torrid fractions. But then the big, long-striding Wise Dan could get trapped on the inside, and find it tricky to extricate himself. While he could overcome it against purely domestic opposition, he's up against a couple of Europeans with warp-speed acceleration, and any delay could be fatal. Wise Dan's trainer Charles Lopresti, who missed on the head-bob with Turallure in last year's Mile, hopes for better luck this time.
3RD -- The filly MOONLIGHT CLOUD likely represents the best value in the race, as a legitimate win candidate at 6-1. She is trained by Freddie Head, who has been involved in an amazing total of five Mile wins. The rider of two-time champion Miesque (1987-88), Head went on to train the legendary mare Goldikova to win three straight Miles (2008-10). Goldikova finished third when seeking a grand slam in last year's Mile, and Head would surely like nothing better than to regain the crown with yet another filly.
Moonlight Cloud has excelled as a sprinter in Europe. Besides coming within a head of the mighty Black Caviar in the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee, she has twice trounced males in the Group 1 Prix Maurice de Gheest. Moonlight Cloud, once considered a doubtful miler, has since handled the increased distance. An unlucky fourth to Excelebration at Deauville, she scored her first victory at a mile in the Group 1 Prix du Moulin, edging Farhh -- who had earlier played second fiddle to Frankel.
Even if her stamina could be stretched by a mile on European courses, the sharper circuit at Santa Anita will play to her strengths. The 1986 Mile, at this very venue, was won by a pure European sprinter in Last Tycoon.
OTHERS -- One of the most intriguing storylines in the Mile is ANIMAL KINGDOM, last year's Kentucky Derby-winning champion three-year-old who has raced just once in the past 16 months. Injured in the roughly-run Belmont Stakes in June 2011, the Team Valor homebred required surgery for a hairline slab fracture. Animal Kingdom returned to action in a February 18 race over 1 1/16 miles on the Gulfstream Park turf, where he scored a smooth two-length victory. Unfortunately, he later developed the beginnings of a stress fracture, unrelated to his previous injury, and has been sidelined ever since.
Animal Kingdom will be ready to go, or else his connections wouldn't have him here, but the flat mile is a tad short for him, especially among world-class specialists at the distance. There is precedent, though, for a horse running a big race in the Mile off an even longer layoff: Badge of Silver came back from a 10-month absence and ran third in the 2006 Mile. Hailed by Graham Motion as the best horse he's ever trained, Animal Kingdom will be running late and could grab a piece of the purse.
There is likely to be a fast pace in the Mile, courtesy of the speedy OBVIOUSLY. Three-for-three since stretching out to a mile, he set a track record in the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile and a near-course record in the Grade 2 Arroyo Seco Mile (formerly Oak Tree Mile) here at Santa Anita. Obviously stands to benefit from the fact that his most dangerous pace rival, Little Mike, has opted to run in the Turf instead.
In both the Del Mar and Arroyo Seco Miles, Obviously defeated MR. COMMONS, by a diminishing nose in the former and a more comfortable length in the latter. Mr. Commons is a son of 2005 Breeders' Cup Mile winner Artie Schiller, who famously upset Animal Kingdom's sire, Leroidesanimaux. Trained by John Shirreffs, Mr. Commons was a solid fifth in last year's Mile as a still-green sophomore. He has some upset potential at odds of 12-1.
JERANIMO exploded from last to first in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park, beating SUGGESTIVE BOY, and he has been freshened since his third behind Obviously and Mr. Commons in the Del Mar Mile. Although not the most consistent type, he's capable of a dynamic late kick.
BREEDERS' CUP TURF (G1), 9TH-SA, $3,000,000, 3YO/UP, 1 1/2MT, 6:18PM, 11-3
Defending champion St Nicholas Abbey will try to become the third horse to score a repeat victory in the Breeders' Cup Turf.
Both of the previous two-time winners were Europeans as well -- High Chaparral (in 2002 and a dead-heat in 2003) and Conduit (2008-09). Together, Conduit and High Chaparral account for Europe's three wins out of five runnings of the Turf at Santa Anita.
Overall, Europeans have won 17 of 28 editions, six of the last seven, and four straight. While it would be no surprise for the trend to continue, there are a few clues why it might not, and why the trophy can stay home in America this time.
1ST -- Standing in the Europeans' way is the streaking POINT OF ENTRY, who rates as the best American hope since English Channel won this race in 2007.
The Phipps Stable homebred brings a five-race winning streak to Santa Anita. A perfect four-for-four at this 1 1/2-mile distance, the Shug McGaughey trainee was arguably at his most impressive in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational at Saratoga, where he bolted up by four lengths on the firm turf that he craves.
On rain-softened ground at Belmont last out, Point of Entry still defeated Europe's TREASURE BEACH convincingly in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational. He won well despite the fact that Treasure Beach floated him far out into the center of the course.
The Turf Classic remains the most productive American prep. Six Turf winners had competed in the Turf Classic, including the last American winner, English Channel.
Point of Entry has been training sharply since the Joe Hirsch. Given his significant improvement over the course of the season, from his professional score in the Grade 2 Elkhorn, to his more dynamic victory in the Grade 1 Man o' War, to his Sword Dancer blowout, to his emphatic Joe Hirsch on ground he wasn't really handling that well, it's possible that he is still on an upward curve.A Breeders' Cup win would be especially poignant for Point of Entry, considering that his half-sister, Pine Island, suffered a fatal injury in the 2006 Breeders' Cup Distaff (now known as the Ladies' Classic). Moreover, his recently-deceased sire Dynaformer is overdue for a first Breeders' Cup success. His 32 starters so far have included the likes of Film Maker, Riskaverse and Perfect Drift, and Point of Entry is well positioned to give Dynaformer a posthumous tribute.
2ND -- ST NICHOLAS ABBEY once again comes into the Breeders' Cup off an unplaced effort in Europe's fall championship, the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc Triomphe. But unlike last year, when he was a commendable fifth in the Arc, the Aidan O'Brien charge was a poor 11th this time. Heavy ground was his undoing, as it was for a number of others who threw in clunkers, including Turf rival Shareta (ninth).
The Arc has historically served as the most informative guide to the Turf, with nine Arc runners going on to win the Turf that fall. Significantly, none had won the Arc, but most had run well in it. O'Brien took this path with High Chaparral for both of his Breeders' Cup wins. Conduit likewise warmed up in the Arc prior to his title defense in 2009.
But St Nicholas Abbey is at the tail end of a long campaign. He started the season differently by traveling to Dubai, where he missed to Cirrus des Aigles (who just finished second to the unbeaten phenom Frankel in the Group 1 Champion Stakes). Also unlike last year, when he had a brief late-summer break, St Nicholas Abbey got in an extra start this summer, chasing home Frankel at York.
The Turf will mark his seventh straight month of racing -- not even counting his earlier adventure in Dubai. He could be a bit past his peak by this point. There's a reason why six other Turf champions were beaten when seeking a repeat.
3RD -- Japan, still seeking its first Breeders' Cup victory, fields a solid chance in TRAILBLAZER. At this time last year, he was joining his nation's top rank of turf performers. After winning the Grade 2 Copa Republica Argentina, he finished fourth to Buena Vista in the Grade 1 Japan Cup, beating Arc winner Danedream and Shareta.
But Trailblazer subsequently became a bleeder, and connections set their sights on America so that he could race with anti-bleeder medication.
Trailblazer made his U.S. debut in the Grade 2 Arroyo Seco (formerly the Oak Tree) Mile, Santa Anita's local prep for the Breeders' Cup Mile. Although he had never raced over so short a trip, and was returning from a vacation, he finished a barnstorming runner-up to Obviously in near course-record time. If he can move forward, or even duplicate, that effort, Trailblazer would be a serious factor in the Turf.
Trailblazer is a stablemate of Japanese Horse of the Year Orfevre, who just failed to give Japan a much-coveted first win in the Arc. Perhaps they can make a breakthrough in the Breeders' Cup.
OTHERS -- SHARETA is a prime threat on merit. Runner-up in the 2011 Arc, the Aga Khan homebred beat Filly & Mare Turf favorite The Fugue in the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks and rolled to a good-looking score in the Group 1 Prix Vermeille. But Shareta is another with a slight question mark, for trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre had previously commented that Santa Anita wouldn't suit her well at all. This smacks of a change of plan, and the Breeders' Cup usually doesn't work out as an afterthought.
SLIM SHADEY looms as the most attractive longshot. The Simon Callaghan charge just dominated the Grade 2 John Henry (formerly the Clement L. Hirsch) Turf Championship on the front end at Santa Anita last out, extending his local mark to 5-3-1-0. Unlike a few of his speedy rivals, however, he is more tactically adaptable and doesn't have to go to the lead. Although 1 1/2 miles is a question, Slim Shadey ran well in his only previous try at this trip, a near-miss second to course specialist Bourbon Bay in the Grade 2 San Luis Rey here in March.
Slim Shadey has some very strong form to his credit this season. He finished second to Little Mike in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic over nine furlongs, and perhaps more significantly, to champion older male Acclamation, pressing him to the wire in the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Memorial. Acclamation would have been a major contender in the Turf before being sidelined by injury, and Slim Shadey could pay him a compliment here.
Slim Shadey has a Breeders' Cup-oriented pedigree. His sire, Val Royal, won the 2001 Mile, emulating his own sire, Royal Academy, who took the Mile in 1990. Slim Shadey's other grandsire, Chief's Crown, landed the Juvenile during the inaugural Breeders' Cup in 1984.
TURBO COMPRESSOR, who captured the Grade 1 United Nations, has a point to prove at this distance. The front runner faded badly in his only try at 1 1/2 miles in the Sword Dancer, finishing last behind Point of Entry. In the John Henry, Turbo Compressor never made it to the lead and had to settle for second to the pacesetting Slim Shadey.
The front-running LITTLE MIKE, who was under consideration for the Mile, hopes to rebound off a dismal fifth behind Point of Entry in the Turf Classic. That rare clunker was caused by his hating the boggy ground at Belmont. Otherwise, Little Mike has been consistent, with wire-to-wire wins in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and the Grade 1 Arlington Million.
The key concerns for Little Mike are the distance and the pace scenario. The Turf Classic was his only attempt at 1 1/2 miles, and it's questionable whether he can carry his speed this far. Also, there are a few other pace factors in the race, making for a livelier early tempo than typical for a race of this type.
Dale Romans' other runner, DULLAHAN, is a veteran of the 2012 Triple Crown trail. Although he was a good third in the Kentucky Derby, he has run poorly on dirt since, and all three of his career wins have come on synthetic. Dullahan has placed three times from four starts on turf -- including behind OPTIMIZER as a juvenile. His turf form is some way below what's required here.
Optimizer, unplaced in all three legs of the Triple Crown, has since found his true home on turf. The D. Wayne Lukas trainee has won his past two on the front end, capped by a course record-setting coup in the Grade 3 Kent at Delaware. He is from the first crop of English Channel, who is now trying to become the first Turf winner to sire a Turf winner, but that history will have to wait for some other time.
BREEDERS' CUP JUVENILE (G1), 8TH-SA, $2,000,000, 2YO, C/G, 1 1/16M, 5:36PM, 11-3
The Breeders' Cup Juvenile will likely decide the divisional championship, with six of the past seven winners receiving the Eclipse Award as champion, and the main storyline centers around the East Coast's biggest star, Shanghai Bobby, against local hero Power Broker. There are also several exciting two-year-olds from the West Coast ranks.
Shanghai Bobby and Power Broker both look very capable, but we will tab a minor upset with inside speed.
1ST -- TITLE CONTENDER displayed excellent quickness in his July 28 career debut at Del Mar, overcoming a bad start to whip through quick fractions of :23 and :46 2/5 on the Polytrack, before grudgingly weakening to third behind next-out stakes winner Dry Summer. He kept training throughout August, but it was obvious that trainer Bob Baffert was waiting to run him next on dirt. Title Contender made his second start on the opening weekend of Santa Anita, racing on the September 29 undercard of the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes, and the dark bay easily made a clear lead from the far outside post, dominating his two-turn debut in impressive fashion. The Pulpit colt received a 100 BRIS Speed rating, better than Power Broker's 98 in the FrontRunner, and Saturday's 8 1/2-furlong distance fits perfectly within his wheelhouse. Title Contender will show the way from the rail, on a track that should be favoring speed, and appears to be training forwardly in preparation. The talented colt has more to offer here.
2ND -- POWER BROKER dropped his first three starts on Polytrack and turf at Del Mar before exploding to a 6 1/2-length win in the FrontRunner, overcoming post 10 in a spectacular performance. The Pulpit colt is a threat to keep moving forward for Baffert, but the speedy chestnut was done no favors with post 9. That could make a difference if he gets caught wide early, but Power Broker has done it before and must be respected.
3RD --SHANGHAI BOBBY has not been seriously threatened while posting smart wins in New York's biggest races for two-year-olds, the Grade 2 Hopeful at Saratoga and Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont, and equaled a career-best with a 103 BRIS Speed rating in the latter, the top number in the Juvenile field. Shanghai Bobby has never been two turns or raced outside of New York, so he faces a major test against a strong California contingent, but we can't dismiss the chances of the Todd Pletcher colt.
OTHERS -- HE'S HAD ENOUGH offers appeal for the bottom of the exotics at long odds (20-1). The Doug O'Neill-trained colt lost any chance when experiencing a troubled trip in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last out and figures to appreciate the switch to dirt with his breeding. If a hot pace materializes, He's Had Enough could make a lot of ground from the back of the pack. CAPO BASTONE will also be running late. The John Sadler pupil bobbled at the start and was left with too much to do in the stretch of the FrontRunner, but he did pass a number of rivals late. We like the jockey switch to Joel Rosario and give Capo Bastone a chance to make a late impact.
BREEDERS' CUP SPRINT (G1), 10TH-SA, $1,500,000, 3YO/UP, 6F, 6:58PM, 11-3
Locally-based runners and horses with prior winning form over the surface dominated main track events the first three years the Breeders' Cup was held over a traditional dirt surface at Santa Anita in 1986, 1993 and 2003. Interestingly, two of the three exceptions occurred in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, when Smile (1986) and Cajun Beat (2003) invaded from east of the Mississippi to win the six-furlong dash that will be renewed Saturday.
1ST -- We're not sure if FAST BULLET qualifies as a "wise-guy" horse (watch the wagering on Saturday), but there have to be good reasons why Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has entered this four-year-old, who has made but two career starts and none in the past 51 weeks. With two other legitimate entrants from his barn in the field (Coil and Capital Account), Baffert must think enough of Fast Bullet to give him this opportunity.
A dynamite debut scorer over this track and trip by 6 1/4 lengths last October, Fast Bullet returned to beat allowance foes over the Cushion Track at Hollywood Park by 3 3/4 lengths the following month. Presumably sidelined by infirmities for the past year, Fast Bullet has seemingly shown Baffert enough in his morning trials to justify his entry into such a tough field.
For fans of pedigree, Fast Bullet's family is replete with Breeders' Cup influences. His sire, Speightstown, won this race at Lone Star Park in 2004. Fast Bullet's dam, Renfro Valley Star, is the product of a mating between Dayjur, who famously lost the 1990 Sprint at Belmont Park after jumping shadows shortly before the wire, and Brave Raj, who captured the 1986 Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita.
With little separating the main West Coast contenders, and with the East Coast invaders possibly compromised by their lack of local experience, we'll take a shot with the Sprint's most mysterious candidate.
2ND -- Last year's Sprint winner and divisional champion AMAZOMBIE has had his name written on this race for the past year. In 2011, he had to ship to Churchill Downs in order to pull off the mild 7-1 upset. This time he'll just have to walk over from his Santa Anita stall.
The Arcadia, California, track has been good to Amazombie, who's won the Grade 1 Ancient Title, two editions of the Grade 2 Potrero Grande and a Sunshine Millions Sprint over it. He hasn't been invincible here, however, as was shown in his last start in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship, the race formerly known as the Ancient Title.
Showing his customary stalk-and-pounce strategy in the October 6 contest, Amazombie was in the thick of contention at the top of the stretch but unexpectedly failed to go on and was ultimately passed by three rivals at the finish. It was later reported that Amazombie came out of the race dehydrated and with an abnormal blood count.
Presuming he's back in better health, there's no reason to think Amazombie will not run back to his best form here. Unless a speed bias exists, there should be an adequate pace setup provided by several of the East Coast shippers for both him and other rallying types to make their presence felt in the closing stages.
3RD -- Benefiting from Amazombie's off day in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship was the Baffert-trained COIL, who until this season was best known for capturing the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational over nine furlongs. After a long layoff, the son of Point Given returned to racing this past July at Del Mar and promptly won a seven-furlong allowance.
Runner-up to Capital Account by a half-length in the Grade 1 Pat O'Brien next time, Coil turned the tables on his stablemate in the Sprint Championship, getting the early jump and lasting in the six-furlong dash by a head. Few are entering this race in better, more consistent form, and the pace scenario looks equally as favorable as it did in the Sprint Championship four weeks ago.
OTHERS -- CAPITAL ACCOUNT is hard to discount in this spot, but he's winless in four starts at six furlongs and probably needs more ground to show his very best. JIMMY CREED closed up the rail to finish a close third in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship, but we still prefer some of his more seasoned opponents at this point.
The best of the eastern threats might be three-year-old THE LUMBER GUY, who returned from a layoff of 4 1/2 months to win the Grade 1 Vosburgh over older rivals. However, there's a chance he might regress off that career-best effort, plus he might get hooked in an early duel with fellow sophomore invaders SUM OF THE PARTS and TRINNIBERG, all of whom might wear each other down. GANTRY and POSEIDON'S WARRIOR have each won a big race this season, but we still find them suspect on class.
BREEDERS' CUP DIRT MILE (G1), 6TH-SA, $1,000,000, 3YO/UP, 1M, 4:14PM, 11-3
The Dirt Mile features a nice field of nine, led by multiple Grade 1 hero and 2011 Dirt Mile runner-up Shackleford, and six of the contestants made their last start outside of California. An affinity for the Santa Anita oval looks like an edge in the well-matched field and we will take a stand with Fed Biz, an impressive winner in two previous starts on the track.
1ST -- FED BIZ turned heads when breaking his maiden at Santa Anita in late December and established himself as a promising Kentucky Derby candidate for Bob Baffert when opening his sophomore campaign with a sharp 5 3/4-length allowance tally in early February. Unfortunately, he went to the sidelines until late August, returning to the races with a sharp front-running score in the El Cajon Stakes at Del Mar, and Fed Biz shipped to Hoosier Park for his next start in the Grade 2, 1 1/16-mile Indiana Derby. The bay colt dueled on a pressured pace before fighting gamely to the wire, giving way late to finish a close third. The Giant's Causeway colt is easily bred to handle longer distances but at this point in his lightly-raced career, the one-mile trip fits him perfectly. We love the way he registered a 110 E2 Pace rating in the El Cajon and a 116 Late Pace figure last time, showing high speed as well as the ability to finish, and his BRIS Speed ratings (105 and 99) were solid. Fed Biz looks set for a top showing in his third start off the layoff and his tactical speed will suit him well. We give him a slight edge with Joe Talamo.
2ND -- EMCEE brings an impressive set of numbers into the race, registering BRIS Speed ratings of 109, 105 and 106 in his last three starts, and exits a smart 4 1/2-length score in the Grade 1 Forego Stakes at seven furlongs, his first stakes win. His connections opted for the Dirt Mile over the Sprint and the one-mile trip looks like a much better fit for the middle-distance specialist. Emcee has never been two turns, which is a legitimate concern, but he's bred to easily handle the distance and appears to be hitting his best stride presently for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, producing several fast works in preparation. He will be forwardly placed with Alan Garcia and Emcee could look extremely large turning for home.
3RD -- SHACKLEFORD will likely make his final career start in the Dirt Mile and if he can summon his form from earlier this season, the four-year-old will be tough to beat for trainer Dale Romans. He reeled off a pair of outstanding efforts this spring, posting a whopping 115 BRIS Speed for his victory over a deep field in the Grade 1 Met Mile and a 105 figure for his score over sprint champion Amazombie in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes, but Shackleford will be attempting to rebound from a pair of defeats, a disappointing eighth in the Grade 1 A.G. Vanderbilt and a well-beaten second in the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap. Shackleford should have no trouble stretching out to two turns -- he captured last year's Preakness -- and appears to be training well at Santa Anita. However, we are concerned that he may be a little over the top at this point in the season and will try to beat the classy chestnut for the win.
OTHERS -- JERSEY TOWN rolled to an impressive win in the Kelso and finally appears healthy and fit for trainer Barclay Tagg. The stalker must be regarded as a serious top-three threat in this spot, but he's winless outside of New York and faces the difficult challenge of carrying his form forward at Santa Anita. RAIL TRIP is a seven-year-old gelding who has been facing Grade 1 rivals at longer distances, but he posted a solid win the Grade 2, 1 1/16-mile San Diego three back and could find the cutback to a mile to his advantage. We give the classy veteran a chance to finish up strongly for a share.
BREEDERS' CUP FILLY & MARE SPRINT (G1), 5TH-SA, $1,000,000, 3YO/UP, F/M, 7F, 3:35PM, 11-3
Saturday's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint has attracted last year's winner and runner-up, Musical Romance and Switch, as well as beaten favorite Turbulent Descent. All three will be deserving of respect in this renewal, but the filly to beat for all the marbles is Groupie Doll.
1ST -- GROUPIE DOLL has become the dominating leader of this division since the spring. After a few early-season setbacks at Gulfstream Park, trainer "Buff" Bradley added blinkers to the four-year-old's equipment and she's been literally unstoppable since.
Following a three-length score in the Grade 1 Madison at Keeneland, where she reversed an earlier loss in the Grade 2 Inside Information to defending champion Musical Romance, Groupie Doll next turned in a sparkling 7 1/4-length drubbing of that same rival in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs, breaking the seven-furlong track record in the process. The Bowman's Band filly's form has been no less impressive since her return from a summer break, capturing the Grade 2 Presque Isle Downs Masters by 3 3/4 lengths and the Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America by 6 1/2 lengths.
Listed at even-money on the morning line, Groupie Doll is the heaviest of early favorites over the two-day Breeders' Cup meeting, and deservedly so. On paper, she simply looks the fastest of the 10 fillies and mares in the field.
For those looking to stand against her, the one knock against Groupie Doll is her lack of experience over the Santa Anita strip. In previous Breeders' Cups held at Santa Anita over conventional dirt, locally-based runners or horses with winning form over the track have held a major advantage in main track races (80 percent strike rate). It's possible she might not run to her very best against a rival with prior experience over the track, but her local three-furlong blowout in :34 2/5 will probably make most bettors think twice about straying too far away from her.
2ND -- SWITCH has run second in the past two renewals of this event, both at Churchill Downs, but now gets to try again over her home track. There is much to like about the move as she's perfect in seven-furlong events at Santa Anita, having won the Grade 1 La Brea in 2010 and the Grade 1 Santa Monica in early 2011.
Unfortunately, Switch's form entering this race leaves much to be desired. She's placed only once in five starts this year, only winning a sub-par renewal of the Grade 2 A Gleam Handicap at Hollywood Park back in July. However, much of her career has been spent running in races at distances beyond her optimum, and her last two starts, both at 1 1/16 miles, might be considered tossouts with that taken into account.
Switch has turned in three straight bullet works over the track leading up to this, and she might have one more good run in her as she approaches six years of age. Still, her form doesn't suggest she will be able to catch an in-form Groupie Doll.
3RD -- Divisional champion and last year's Filly & Mare Sprint heroine MUSICAL ROMANCE has enjoyed another solid campaign. As she seems to run well everywhere, we don't feel the move to Santa Anita will cause too much hindrance.
The highlights of her season thus far have been the aforementioned win over Groupie Doll in the Inside Information, and a score in the Grade 1 Princess Rooney Handicap over her home track of Calder. She's had excuses for some of her defeats, losing a shoe in the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Sprint and fighting a speed bias when third in the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom Handicap at Belmont two back.
Overall, she brings solid form into this title defense, but again the question is whether she'll reverse the form of her two losses to Groupie Doll here. We take a suspect view of that while believing she can still run a strong race in defeat.
OTHERS -- Gallant Bloom upset winner DUST AND DIAMONDS lost her only previous start at Santa Anita, last January in allowance company, but has reeled off three straight wins for trainer Steve Asmussen. She actually looks rather scary in this spot as the potential controlling speed with a positive inside draw. The concerns are that she might regress off her career-best performance in the Gallant Bloom and/or she'll be hooked into an early duel, perhaps by locally-based RUMOR, who impressively captured an overnight stakes here on New Year's Day. TURBULENT DESCENT perhaps shouldn't be rated this low. She's won over the track before and looked good capturing the Desert Stormer Handicap at Hollywood and Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga over the summer. Like Musical Romance, she was fighting a bias in the Gallant Bloom last time and wound up fourth in a dull effort. However, she's often thrown in clunkers at inopportune times over the past two seasons when heavily backed, and this time might be no exception.
BREEDERS' CUP JUVENILE TURF (G1), 4TH-SA, $1,000,000, 2YO, C/G, 1MT, 2:50PM, 11-3
The Juvenile Turf is one of the more recent Breeders' Cup events, with just five previous runnings, but a clear pattern has already emerged. Europe has won three, including both staged at Santa Anita, and the Continent threatens to maintain its advantage with a formidable squad.
1ST -- The Roger Charlton-trained DUNDONNELL has shipped to Santa Anita in search of firm turf, or else he might have contested a more prestigious prize back home in England.
The Juddmonte Farms homebred, who is out of a full sister to world-renowned sire Danehill, is two-for-two in similar conditions. After romping by 12 lengths in course-record time for a juvenile at Lingfield, he captured a strong renewal of the Group 3 Acomb, defeating subsequent Group 2 Royal Lodge winner Steeler.
On good ground in the Group 2 Champagne at Doncaster last out, Dundonnell was a closing second to the highly-regarded Toronado. With such strong form in his favor, and a plum draw in post 6, Dundonnell ranks as the horse to beat.
2ND -- Godolphin's ARTIGIANO comes off an excellent second in the Royal Lodge, the very race that produced last year's Juvenile Turf winner, Wrote. The well-bred son of Distorted Humor showed tactical speed throughout and was just outstayed by Steeler up the hill at Newmarket, but is entitled to do even better around this circuit.
Two starts back, Artigiano nearly upset one of Europe's leading two-year-olds, Olympic Glory, in the Group 2 Vintage at Glorious Goodwood. Trained by Mahmood al Zarooni, Artigiano projects a forward, ground-saving trip from post 2 with Frankie Dettori.
3RD -- Trainer Aidan O'Brien, who just missed in the first two runnings of the Juvenile Turf, broke through with his first win in this race a year ago. He returns with two colts who are entitled to improve on firm ground, but GEORGE VANCOUVER is the better fancied of the pair.
A royally bred son of champion Henrythenavigator and millionaire Versailles Treaty, George Vancouver has placed in a pair of high-level events. He got up for second to Reckless Abandon in the Group 1 Prix Morny and most recently rallied for third to Dawn Approach, Europe's presumptive champion juvenile, in the Group 1 Dewhurst. Top English rider Ryan Moore picks up the mount.
OTHERS -- Like Artigiano, FANTASTIC MOON also took part in the Royal Lodge, but encountered trouble, got going too late, and wound up a well-beaten fifth. He's better judged on his prior outing, when he just got up in the nick of time in the Group 3 Solario. Trainer Jeremy Noseda, who masterminded Wilko's shock win in the 2004 Juvenile, has expressed great faith in Fantastic Moon's chances.
America's best hopes rest with the Chad Brown barn. Although the undefeated NOBLE TUNE is likely to get the jump on stablemate BALANCE THE BOOKS, both have solid credentials. Noble Tune, a great-grandson of Hall of Fame racemare Serena's Song, blew away the field in the Grade 3 Pilgrim at Belmont. The Pilgrim has yet to produce a Juvenile Turf winner, but that stat is bound to fall sooner or later. Balance the Books, a deep closer, has overcome troubled trips to prevail in both the Grade 2 With Anticipation Stakes and the Grade 3 Bourbon Stakes. Balance the Books' scrappiness could come in handy in a bulky field.
JOHA, who was just caught by Balance the Books in the With Anticipation, came back to wire the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity over Keeneland's Polytrack. That flattered Balance the Books, and earned Joha an automatic berth to the Juvenile on dirt, but trainer Mike Maker opted to keep him on a surface that he's known to like. Joha is a son of Johar, the dead-heat winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf over this course in 2003. Interestingly, Joha fits the pattern of the two American-based winners of this race. Both were produced by foreign-bred mares, and Joha is out of the Irish-bred Mujado.
KNOW MORE, who would have been a logical candidate for the Juvenile, will try to become the first horse to win this race in his turf debut. The Doug O'Neill trainee is no stranger to making history in audacious places. He made a winning career debut in the Grade 2 Best Pal, becoming the first horse ever to win a Del Mar graded stakes in his first start. Know More turned in another strong performance on Polytrack when runner-up in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity, and his proficiency on synthetic, combined with his pedigree, suggest that he should adapt to turf. Post 13 is a liability, though.
O'Brien's other entrant, LINES OF BATTLE, was marooned widest of all in post 14. He has not been as ambitiously placed as his stablemate George Vancouver, but he posted a good-looking stakes win on the synthetic in Ireland last out.
The unbeaten GERVINHO rallied to take the Zuma Beach over this same course and one-mile distance last out, while I'M BOUNDTOSCORE comes off a victory in the Grade 2 Summer at Woodbine. Although the Summer has yielded a Juvenile Turf winner and two runners-up in just five years, it's questionable whether the latest running of the Summer had the same depth or quality. I'm Boundtoscore controlled the pace on yielding ground, and his beaten rivals haven't looked terribly strong.
BREEDERS' CUP TURF SPRINT (G1), 7TH-SA, $1,000,000, 3YO/UP, *6 1/2FT, 4:57PM, 11-3
The pattern is unavoidable. Since the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint was inaugurated in 2008, every winner had previously won over the Turf Sprint's course and distance, whether it was at five furlongs on a relatively tight course at Churchill Downs or about 6 1/2 furlongs downhill on Santa Anita's unique hillside grass. With that in mind, concentrating on the Southern California-based entrants is probably the way to go for Saturday's renewal at The Great Race Place.
1ST -- UNBRIDLED'S NOTE had never run on turf before the Grade 3 Eddie D (formerly the Morvich) on opening day of Saturday's fall meet September 28. Despite that fact, bettors made him the mild 3-1 favorite in the field of 12, and the three-year-old responded by turning a perfect stalk-and-pounce journey into a decisive 1 1/4-length victory under Corey Nakatani.
While the race was not especially fast by course standards, nor was the field as loaded with talent as this one, there are things to like about the colt's chances at a repeat. The son of Unbridled's Song has been ultra-consistent in his brief career, finishing first or third in all five starts under a mile. Post 13 on Saturday should not prove much hindrance considering he broke from post 12 in the Eddie D, and the race looks like it could set up nicely for a horse with his style as there's plenty of speed in the field.
2ND -- The winner of this race when last held at Santa Anita three years ago, CALIFORNIA FLAG has been hit or miss in 10 interim starts. On the plus side, the times he's run to form have usually occurred over this course. There has been no slowing down this eight-year-old gelding at Santa Anita over the past year as he's walked away with wins in both the Grade 3 San Simeon Handicap on April 21 and the 2011 Morvich last October.
Unraced since his victory in the San Simeon, California Flag will have to gun from post 1 here and is likely to encounter a lot of other speed elements. Of course, we reasoned the same prior to the 2009 Turf Sprint and instead watched California Flag take an uncontested lead and stroll all the way down the hill and into the winner's circle. It's hard to envision him running a rare clunker over a course and distance he loves.
3RD -- CAMP VICTORY has never won at the Turf Sprint course and distance, but came close one time in a race that no longer shows on most past performances. In the 2011 San Simeon, the Forest Camp gelding fell a nose short of catching Regally Ready, who went on to score in the Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs last November.
A stalk-and-pouncer by trade, Camp Victory has done most of his best work on Hollywood Park's Cushion Track, winning the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap this past June and last year's Grade 3 Los Angeles Handicap. He certainly has the class to compete against this kind, and might be an overlooked longshot to include in vertical exotics.
OTHERS -- The filly MIZDIRECTION is perfect in two starts down the hill at Santa Anita, winning the Grade 3 Monrovia and Clocker's Corner Handicap against her own sex this season. She's certainly capable of running a big one if she can handle both males and the effects of a five-month layoff.
Eddie D runner-up CHOSEN MIRACLE also likes the course and distance, but might get sucked into a speed duel from a wide post. Among the eastern shippers, we prefer GREAT ATTACK over BRIDGETOWN. The former, last seen winning the Grade 3 Twin Spires Turf Sprint, is one of several who could make a strong late rally if the leaders tire. Morning-line favorite Bridgetown rarely runs a bad one, and finished a close second over this course in the 2009 Juvenile Turf going a mile. He's never run down the hill, though, and we'll stick with the belief that experience over its unique features will be key.
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