The best of the best will be on display at Santa Anita Park Nov. 1- 2, with the leading trainers in the United States and Europe pre-entering a star-studded array of talent for the Breeders' Cup World Championships.
To demonstrate the quality of this year's event, nine winners from last year's Breeders' Cup will be returning—Fort Larned (Classic), Royal Delta (Distaff), Wise Dan (Mile), Little Mike (Turf), Groupie Doll (Filly & Mare Sprint), Beholder (Juvenile Fillies), Mizdirection (Geico Turf Sprint), Flotilla (Juvenile Fillies Turf) and Trinniberg (Xpressbet Sprint).
In addition, nine others who placed in last year's Breeders' Cup will be heading back for another try—Mucho Macho Man , Flat Out , Point of Entry , Marketing Mix, The Fugue, Obviously, Capo Bastone , The Lumber Guy, and Reneesgotzip.
A total of 172 horses were pre-entered by the Oct. 21 deadline, down from the 180 horses pre-entered in 2012.
Part of that decline can be attributed to the six horses pre-entered for the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I), which drew such a quality field it discouraged others from pre-entering. The chances of defeating Princess of Sylmar, two-time Distaff (then the Ladies' Classic) winner Royal Delta, Beholder, Close Hatches, and Authenticity are about as good as going against the starting five of the Miami Heat.
A victory by Princess of Sylmar or possibly Royal Delta could raise the bar for Horse of the Year honors the following day. Game On Dude and possibly a couple more from the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) and Wise Dan, trying for consecutive Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) victories, will attempt to stake their own claim for top honors.
As expected, the heavy hitters from the U.S. and Europe will come well armed with high-powered ammunition, headed by rapidly rising star Chad Brown, the titan of the turf, who has pre-entered 11 horses, including eight in turf races. In an ostentatious display of talent, Brown has pre-entered four in the Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. IT) alone, three of whom have earned their way in with stakes victories. Brown also will saddle the powerful entry of grade I winners Big Blue Kitten and Real Solution in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) for Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who have five horses pre-entered with Brown.
Of course, there are the familiar faces of Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher, each of whom has nine pre-entered horses, including two each in the Classic. Many feel as if a victory by Game On Dude will clinch Horse of the Year for the 6-year-old gelding, who is unbeaten in five starts this year, including a sweep of the three big grade I California handicaps—the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic, only the second horse in history to accomplish that feat in the same year.
Also, in the battle within the battle, Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and Jim Dandy (gr. II) winner Palace Malice , trained by Pletcher, and Travers and Pennsylvania Derby (gr. I) winner Will Take Charge , trained by D. Wayne Lukas, will square off to see if one of them can nail down the 3-year-old male championship.
Lukas will add to his record 156 starters by sending out Hopeful (gr. I) winner Strong Mandate in the Juvenile (gr. I), along with Skyring, All Cash, Fast Bullet, and Tour Guide, in addition to Will Take Charge.
As usual, a serious invasion is expected from Europe, headed by old reliable, Aidan O'Brien, who will send five horses over from his Ballydoyle base, including another crack at the Classic, this time with dual group I winner Declaration of War . Also pre-entered for the Classic is the Marco Botti-trained Planteur, who is coming off a dismal performance in the Qatar Prix Dollar (Fr-II), but who has a pair of third-place finishes in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) to his credit.
In addition to O'Brien, Santa Anita will be graced by the presence of superstar trainers Sir Michael Stoute, Andre Fabre, John Gosden, Richard Hannon, and Dermot Weld. And they come with some serious horses, such as the runaway Beverly D. Stakes (gr. IT) winner Dank, trained by Stoute; Red Mills Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I) winner The Fugue; and arguably the two top milers in Europe, Toronado and Olympic Glory, both trained by Hannon.
Speaking of the Juvenile Fillies Turf, last year's winner, the French-trained Flotilla, is returning for the Mile, where she'll face Wise Dan, Silver Max , and the powerful Richard Hannon duo.
A great deal of attention will be on trainer Richard Mandella, who is on a 10-year-cycle that defies the odds. In 1993, Mandella saddled two Breeders' Cup winners and two stakes winners on the undercard. Ten years later, in 2003, Mandella rewrote the history books by winning an amazing four Breeders' Cup races in a single day. Now, another 10 years later, he is back with Beholder in the Distaff; Indy Point, who has a big shot in the Turf; and Vionnet in the Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT).
Another storyline is the presence of grade II winner Ever Rider, who will be attempting to give Argentina back-to-back victories in the Breeders' Cup Marathon following the impressive score last year by Calidoscopio.