(from Oak Tree report)
Four-year-old filly Romance Is Diane, a grade I stakes winner, is the 5-2 favorite among eight entrants in the $250,000 California Cup Classic presented by City National Bank, the centerpiece of Oak Tree's 10-stakes series of races exclusively for state-breds at Santa Anita Oct. 5.
The Classic's defending champion, Bold Chieftain, meanwhile, was entered in the $175,000 John C. Mabee Mile on turf. Trainer William Morey Jr. explained that a grass surface presently seems more agreeable to the 5-year-old bay, a winner of three of his four most recent starts on turf. The Cal Cup Classic will be contested on Santa Anita's new Pro-Ride racing surface.
This is the 19th year of the Cal Cup, which offers a total of $1,325,000 in purses in 2008.
Romance Is Diane, who will be the first female to compete in the 1 1/8-mile Classic, will make the state-bred competition her last race before owner Senji Nishimura offers her in a broodmare sale next month in Kentucky.
“If she wasn’t at the top of her game, I wouldn’t have put her in this race,” said trainer Mike Mitchell, who had also been considering the $150,000 TOC/CTT Cal Cup Matron at 1 1/16 miles, an event Romance Is Diane won by 6 1/4 lengths last year.
“It was pretty much my decision and was largely based on who was going in which race," Mitchell said. "I think she fits in the Classic and the distance won’t be a problem. If she wins this race, it should really help her in the sale. For her, it’s simply time. Besides, we’re tired of looking at Zenyatta’s hind end.”
The daughter of In Excess had chased unbeaten superstar Zenyatta in three of her last four starts, all grade II open events, after winning the Bayakoa Handicap (gr. II) at Hollywood Park last December. As a 2-year-old, Romance Is Diane captured the Hollywood Starlet (gr. I).
She has twice competed in the Cal Cup, winning the Juvenile Fillies by 1 3/4 lengths in 2006 before taking the Matron last year, each time at odds of 5-1. Romance Is Diane will take earnings of $662,718, along with a 5-1-3 mark in 15 starts, into her final race.
Mr. Chairman, who has hit the board in his last eight starts for trainer Doug O’Neill, was made the 3-1 second choice. South Coast, pegged at 7-2, has been first or second in five of his last six starts, and Cheroot, at 6-1, will be racing in this fourth straight Cal Cup Classic.
A 7-year-old son of Smokester trained by Darrell Vienna for Charlotte Wrather, Cheroot ran third to McCann’s Mojave in 2005, second to Texcess in 2006, and seventh to Bold Chieftain last year. Cheroot’s earnings, $506,201 resulting from a 7-3-8 record in 32 starts, are the field’s second-highest behind Romance Is Diane's career earnings.
The Classic will be the 10th race on an 11-race program that commences at noon.
Bold Chieftain heads a field of eight in the Mile. The 5-year-old Chief Seattle offspring has won 11 of 21 starts while earning $793,327. Russell Baze rides Bold Chieftain, whose record on grass is 5-2-0 in seven starts. Bold Chieftain was assigned high weight of 123 pounds for Sunday’s event.
Lightmyfirebaby and America’s Friend are the top contenders among 14 entrants in the $150,000 John Deere Distaff on the hillside turf course at 6 1/2 furlongs. Johnny Eves, winner of Santa Anita’s Malibu Stakes (gr. I) last December, appears to be the class of 10 runners in the $150,000 Donald Valpredo Sprint at six furlongs.
Bai and Bai will seek her third straight stakes victory as the 121-pound highweight among six entrants in the $150,000 Matron at 1 1/16 miles. The field of 13 for the $125,000 Bob Benoit Juvenile at 1 1/16 miles will have Babs Moossa going for his fifth straight win following three stakes victories. The $125,000 Robert H. Walter Juvenile Fillies at 1 1/16 miles attracted 11 2-year-olds, including trainer Bob Baffert’s Ten Churros, a recent 2 1/2-length winner of the Generous Portion Stakes at Del Mar.
Other events that round out the Cal Cup portion of the program are the $100,000 TVG Distance Handicap at 1 1/4 miles on turf, the $50,000 AM 570 KLAC Starter Allowance at 1 1/2 miles on turf, and the $50,000 William T. Pascoe Starter Sprint Handicap at six furlongs.
$250, California Cup Classic (Race 10, 4:30 p.m.), 3 & Up, State Breds, 1 1/8 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Add Heat, 116, Alex O. Solis
2. South Coast, 114, Joseph Talamo
3. Top This and That, 114, Garrett K. Gomez
4. Mr. Chairman, 115, Michael C. Baze
5. Romance Is Diane, 115, Rafael Bejarano
6. Top Emblem, 113, Aaron T. Gryder
7. One Chin Again, 111, Joel Rosario
8. Cheroot, 115, Martin A. Pedroza