Casino Drive wins with ease in an allowance race designed as a prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita Oct. 12. <br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

Casino Drive wins with ease in an allowance race designed as a prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita Oct. 12.
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Casino Drive Cruises in BC Classic Prep

Japan-based colt easily handles allowance field over Santa Anita's synthetic track.

Casino Drive, the Japan-based half-brother to two Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winners, cruised to an easy victory in a Santa Anita allowance race Oct. 12 to prepare for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I). With jockey Victor Espinoza giving the colt what amounted to a guided tour of the Santa Anita oval, Casino Drive won by three-quarters of a length in the 1 1/16-mile race over the synthetic surface.

“It really was the perfect prep race,” said Nobutaka Tada, racing manager for Casino Drive’s owner, Hidetoshi Yamamoto. “He was ready to run, which we knew, but he’s not at the top of his form. We hope that after the race that he’s going to improve.”

Trainer Kazuo Fujisawa was looking for a solid effort that would show them that the colt was peaking for the Oct. 25 Classic.

“We want to see him back at the stables, safe, happy, and not too tired,” Tada said.

The 3-year-old son of Mineshaft --Better Than Honour, by Deputy Minister, broke well from post position 2. Espinoza placed him third outside of runners, which allowed Casino Drive to stalk the pace without encountering traffic. He moved up three wide rounding the second turn, Espinoza merely showing him the whip in the final yards when Dakota Phone closed mildly.

“I wanted him to have a good race but not too much this close to the Breeders’ Cup,” Espinoza said. “I was cruising in the lane. I just showed him the whip a little bit to see what I had, and he took off again.”

An elegant chestnut, Casino Drive drew a crowd in the Santa Anita walking ring, fans eager to see the colt who might challenge Curlin and Big Brown in the Classic. Despite the race being only his third start -- following a Feb. 23 victory in Japan and a win in the May 10 Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) -- Casino Drive acted like a seasoned veteran.

“He has a lot of class; he’s a smart horse,” said Espinoza. “I didn’t want to overdo it. If I’d wanted, I could have won by five, six lengths, but there’s no reason.”

Though nothing was immediately official after the race regarding the Breeders’ Cup, Tada indicated that Casino Drive would be pre-entered in the Classic with Espinoza likely engaged to ride him.

Casino Drive is a half-brother to Jazil, the 2006 Belmont winner, and Rags to Riches, the champion filly who won the 2007 Belmont. Casino Drive was scheduled to attempt the Belmont himself and was shipped to New York this past spring. He won the Peter Pan by 5 3/4 lengths, but later developed a stone bruise in his left hind foot and had to bypass the Belmont. The Santa Anita outing was his first race in five months.