Seven grade 1 races were run over the weekend at Oak Tree at Santa Anita as final preps for the Breeders’ Cup on October 24 and 25. Six were on Saturday.
Red Giant and Wait A While swept Saturday’s turf stakes for trainer Todd Pletcher. In the Clement L. Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship S. (Gr. I), Red Giant held off Out of Control and set a NEW WORLD RECORD of 1:57:16 (aided by a fast pace and a section of downhill running). Wait A While, who held off a sustained challenge from Vacare, won the Yellow Ribbon S. (Gr. I) for the second time. She also won in 2006 when she was named the Eclipse Award winner for Champion 3-year-old Filly. Jockey John Velasquez got his 3,999th career win. With a great record on firm turf, Wait A While should be a formidable foe in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf (Gr. I).
Cost of Freedom, a recent $50,000 claim by John Sadler, won his first graded stakes race in the Ancient Title S. (Gr. I), with a fast final time of 1:07.53. He held off favored Street Boss, whose breeding rights were recently sold to Darley. (Speaking of $50,000 Cal-bred claimers…recently-retired fan favorite LAVA MAN is to parade before fans on Breeders’ Cup Saturday. See the last part of this video).
Stardom Bound, a beautiful filly from the first crop of sire Tapit, won the Oak Leaf S. (Gr. I) as the favorite, bucking concerns over an earlier kick from a pony. Much like Zenyatta, she bided her time at the back of the pack and mowed them down near the end with a walloping stride. In fact, jockey Mike Smith, who also rides Zenyatta, called her his “baby Zenyatta.” Though physically very narrow, Stardom Bound has a very strong stride and should be the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (Gr. I).
The horse who got the loudest rouse from the crowd was Zenyatta. Though she may not receive the publicity of a Triple Crown colt or Horse of the Year (ala Big Brown and Curlin), racing fans know she is just as special. In the paddock for the Lady’s Secret S. (Gr. I), Zenyatta kept stretching her legs straight out forward, as if trying to paw the ground. In the post parade, she continued doing that and mixed in other odd hops, skips, and jumps. She exhibited some of the same behavior before her lackluster win in the Vanity (Gr. I) at Hollywood Park. Once they broke from the gate, however, she got back to her effortless style of running and made it look all too easy, as he is wont to do. In the tiny, four-horse field, many thought that talented frontrunner Hystericalady had a chance to wire the race on the lead, but jockey Mike Smith kept Zenyatta close and when they came into the stretch it was clear that Zenyatta was just too good to be beat. John Shirreffs is the winning trainer, and Jerry and Ann Moss are the winning owners.
Well Armed won the highlighted stakes of the day, the $500,000 Goodwood S. (Gr. I). Defending champion Tiago was second, and Albertus Maximus was third. Owners Bill and Susan Casner of Winstar Farms, LLC were on hand in the winners’ circle. They will now have two sons of Tiznow with a strong chance in the Breeders’ Cup, the other being 3-year-old Colonel John.
On Sunday, Street Hero won the Norfolk S. (Gr. I) for breeder, owner, and trainer Myung Kwon Cho, who has only five horses in his barn. Street Hero held off horses from heavy hitters such as Bob Baffert (Midshipman, second, and Del Conte, fourth), Todd Pletcher (Silent Valor, fifth), and Doug O’Neill (Azul Leon, sixth, and Liturgical, ninth). Cho said, “This is the best day of my life…This is my biggest win, and I’ve been training around 17 years.” It could be the best weekend of his life. Saturday, his filly Palacio de Amor ran second in the Oak Leaf (Gr. I).
John Velasquez was approaching 4,000 career wins on Saturday, but did not reach the milestone until his return to Belmont on Sunday. Garrett Gomez, however, scored his 3,000th career victory on Sunday in the Oak Tree Mile (Gr. II) aboard Hyperbaric.
The on-track attendance for Saturday was a disappointing 17,789. Belmont Park, which hosted five grade 1’s on the same day, had about half as many attend on a wet and muddy day to see Curlin break the North American earnings record. Also at Oak Tree on Saturday, the guaranteed $1 million Pick Six pool did not reach its mark. The weather was very hot and dry, but is it the main excuse? The six grade 1 races held at Oak Tree on Saturday was a North American record for a non-Breeders’ Cup day. Considering the star power and increased importance of the preps with Santa Anita as the 2008 and 2009 host site for the Breeders’ Cup, it is a surprise that there weren’t more attendees. Also, the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Day’s low cost of attendance and giveaway made it enticing when compared side-by-side with the Breeders’ Cup itself.
As the Daily Racing Form reported, the new Pro-Ride surface is having heat issues. The first five days of the Oak Tree meeting have been unusually hot. According to several different assistant starters, the track temperature was 180 degrees Fahrenheit on Wednesday, opening day, and 145 degrees on Saturday. Let’s hope that the horses don’t feel this through the outer keratin layers of their hooves, and the rubber soles on humans’ shoes don’t start melting!
The King has entered the building. 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin has arrived on Santa Anita grounds to train over the surface in advance of a possible showdown with Big Brown in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (Gr. I). On Saturday he set a new North American earnings record of $10,246,800 by winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup (Gr. I) at Belmont Park in New York. Wednesday will be the first day he is likely to hit the Pro-Ride track, the object of his trainer and owner’s concern.