Saturday is the Big Day so your preview will take a slighter different format with the races being previewed in order of their importance. Watch the post times carefully.

Also, we have a little time to tell you about Santa Anita whose surface has changed so remarkably in the past three years or so.  At first a Cushion track was constructed when the traditional dirt track was abandoned but it suffered with a bad drainage problem so it was taken up and a Pro-ride surface (the only one in North America) substituted.  This Pro-ride Main Track (one mile around) rides a lot like turf and the races are usually run at a slower pace than on dirt or polytrack so that it definitely favours turf specialists over dirt specialists.

It is still a small circuit with sharp turns so, except on the Pro-ride at distances of 6.5 or 7 furlongs, low number draws are markedly favoured.  On the turf (7 furlongs around with a switchback chute for long races and the turf sprint) the tightness of the circuit is emphasized even more and the turf spring course closely resembles Epsom or Brighton.


THE CLASSIC (1 ¼ Miles; Pro-ride; 6:45 p.m. ET)

A most competitive renewal of a fantastic race that promises to be a thriller from the word “Go”.  The shape of this race will be interesting as there’slots of early pace but mostly drawn wide.  Chief among these include ante-post favourite Rip Van Winkle (10) who is likely to be forcing the pace but may prove best at a mile on a right handed track and who will be a short price for a horse looking to break his trainer’s awful run of bad results in this race.  To add to his woes, he has suffered a recurring foot problem which will just not help.  In his favour is that his profile is the same as last year’s winner Raven’s Pass but this is not a race that you can win at less than 100%.  He is the LAY OF THE DAY.

Also likely to be pressing the pace is Quality Road, another coming off repeated foot troubles (cannon bone fracture) but he is steadily returning to his best and will be one of the freshest in the field.  Remember, he was the Kentucky Derby favourite.  Yet, his is a dirt track profile so it’s left to be seen if he will act on this unique synthetic surface.  Einstein, Regal Ransom and Girolamo (the latter two from Godolphin) will also be forcing what should be a generous pace even for the Pro-ride so I am confident that the race will be won by a closer able to save ground from a good low number draw.

What are the odds that Calvin “Bore-Rail” Borel’s prayers would be so perfectly answered by Derby winner Mine That Bird securing the plum number one hole?  One thing you can bank on is that Calvin will be glued to that inside rail throughout and will be storming at them from the 3 furlong pole.  The problem is that both his starts on the Pro-ride have been abysmal (4 for 5 on other synthetics).  The first such was as a juvenile before he came to hand (born May 10) and the second was his latest outing after a break for surgery on a trapped epiglottis.  He recorded a bullet work on the surface over 5f (58.1) on October 26.

Folks, this guy won the Kentucky Derby by 7 lengths; just failed to catch Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness; and should have won the Belmont but for an ill-timed ride.  He is running against better, more seasoned horses here but three year olds have a great record in this race and he is the best American three year old present.  Only nagging doubts about his ability to handle the sharp turns of this small circuit and his (explainable) failures on Pro-ride have me by-passing him but he is a huge threat to all and sundry.

Belmont winner, Summer Bird, is more easily by-passed as he has raced exclusively on dirt on the East Coast despite starting his juvenile career in California but being relocated for the very reason that he was not adapting to the synthetic surfaces.  He is working ok on it this week.  I will not be on the Zenyatta wagon either as she will find this a different proposition indeed from the fillies and mares she has been beating up relentlessly in slow times.

The three to concentrate on are Twice Over (a big threat who will get the perfect stalking trip but who will not be the freshest); Colonel John (fit and fresh after only 3 runs this year and his effort in the 9f Goodwood confirmed that he will be cherry ripe for this trip on his favourite surface); and RICHARD’S KID (nap) who has thrived since being switched to the great Bob Baffert and fitted with blinkers this year.  Each of his 2009 runs have been better than the one before; he is best in the Autumn; and was closing hand over fist in the Goodwood to be only 3/4l behind Colonel John in the end.  I confidently expect these two to hook up again from the distance and make this race a head bob at the line but it is the superior stamina of RICHARD’S KID (nap) that I will take to give Bob Baffert (whose stable is flying at the moment) his first win in this prestigious race.


THE TURF (1 ½ miles; Turf; 5:57 p.m. E.T.)

Europe has owned this event ever since Teleprompter set an audacious pace for the great filly PEBBLES to run at in 1985.  Last year, it was CONDUIT’s turn and there can be no better example of a horse trained all year with one race in mind than the magnificent way that Sir Michael Stoute has programmed him to defend his crown.  The masterful strategy has also won a Group 1 race on the way but is superbly timed for this.

All that was left to be done was to ensure a strong pace that he loves and Spanish Moon, no rabbit on his own account, will make sure that the American speedster, Presious Passion, does not have things his own way up front.  Da Re Mi will be in the cat-bird seat throughout but, at the top of the stretch, look for Spanish Moon to kick for home only to be mowed down by the finishing burst of CONDUIT (BANKER BET).  It should be a 1-2-3 for Europe as Spanish Moon and Da Re Mi fight it out to fill the Exacta.


THE JUVENILE (8.5f; Pro-ride; 3:49 p.m. E.T.)

Nobody bothered to inform the God of Post Positions that unbeaten Lookin At Lucky was a cinch in this race since he has been handed post position 13 of 13.  At this distance on this track, draws 12 and 13 are a combined 0 for 28 so, all of a sudden, we have a race.  The favourite comes from the high-flying Bob Baffert camp and is ridden by that excellent jockey Garret Gomez so it remains his race to lose but at least there is now value in opposing him.

The first two from Keeneland’s prep, the Breeders Futurity, Nobles Promise (marked improvement shifted from dirt to synthetics; got 1st run; 2 1/2l clear a furlong out; just lasted); and Todd Fletcher’s Aikenite (only his 3rd run; 5 wide; closed rapidly; failed by 1/2l); the Aidan O’Brien pair of Alfred Nobel (thought to be high class in the summer; victimized by the Newmarket draw on last) and the Dewhurst winner Beethoven; in-form trainer Brian Meehan’s Radiohead (probably the best chance from Europe though not yet raced beyond 6f) all have a look-in with the last-named son of 2001 Juvenile winner, Johannesburg and Aikenite, preferred of that lot.  Radiohead ‘s late rattle in the Group 1 Middle Park at Newmarket is good enough for this but it is the sharpness of the Santa Anita surface that puts me off.

I can’t stop shaking my head at the awesome arrogance of Rick Dutrow Jnr, trainer of brilliant East Coast shipper D’FUNNYBONE a winner of 3 of his 4 starts in New York who has not even been given one workout on the Pro-ride, shipping in only after his last fast work (at Aqueduct; breezing 5f comfortably in 59.4) on November 2.  He’s bred for the dirt by D’Wildcat out of the Woodman mare, Elbow, herself a winner at 6 – 9.5 furlongs.  He is the controlling speed in a race not exactly brimming over with early pace.  He has a great post (5).  He has Edgar Prado up.  He has the best Beyer Speed Figures in the race including the favourite’s.  Watch out folks as Dutrow introduces the new Big Brown.  It might not be funny to Bob Baffert but take D’FUNNYBONE to make every post a winning one.


THE MILE (1Mile; Turf; 4:28 p.m.)

Make no mistake about it, this will be a scorchingly hot early pace with Cowboy Cal, Karelian, Courageous Cat and Gladiatorus all vying for the lead.  This will be perfect for the top three Goldikova (defending Champ who is a 4yo filly now and must overcome the worst draw); Delegator (perfectly suited by this sharp mile; well drawn; and whose turn of foot could well prove decisive) and COURT VISION who is a changed-up animal under Rick Dutrow after an operation to remove a descended testicle (ouch!) and whose winning effort in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile was his first for Dutrow and shouted out that more was to come.

With Goldikova trapped wide; look for Delegator to hit the front over a furlong out and spend the final furlong (he is really not a true miler; would prefer 7f) trying to fend off the closing COURT VISION. I’m betting he won’t.

THE JUVENILE TURF (1 Mile; turf; 1:45 p.m. E.T)

In a race packed with speedballs, the vote must go to the Aidan O’Brien shipper, VISCOUNT NELSON, who gets the ideal draw (2) for the perfect stalking trip before making his stamina count up the lane.  He’s a half-brother to the very smart 2yo Horatio Nelson (by Danehill) and 2yo Rockfel Stakes winner Kitty Matcham and 1 ¼ mile winner Red Rock Canyon (both by Rock of Gibraltar).  His dam, the Sadlers Wells mare, Imagine, won the Irish 1000 Guineas and Oaks and was herself a half-sister to Generous.

The marked improvement he showed in the Group 2 Champagne Stakes over 7f when a staying on 3/4l second to Poet’s Voice is a better fit for this race than main rival Pounced’s attempt to make all in the Group 1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Longchamp (1 1/2l 2nd to Siyouni; Buzzword further 1/2l 3rd) albeit that effort produced a higher RPR.  Not only will the selection prefer the firmish surface here but also the fast pace won’t suit front runners.


THE TURF SPRINT (6.5f; Turf; 2:23 p.m. E.T.)

Canadian Flag will be all the rage as he looks to have the headline to himself unlike last year when he was pushed to do a 20 second split fading into 10th place in the end.  But it’s left to be seen how well he truly gets this extended sprint trip and whether Canadian Ballet will be able to give him something to do in the earlies.  It’s never good to back a horse at such a short price that must dominate in such a top class race so a chance is taken on LORD SHANAKILL who won the Grade 2 Mill Reef and lost the Group 1 Dewhurst by a nose as a 2yo before being stepped up to a mile as a 3yo and found to be just below top class (nk/ 1 ½l 3rd to Mastercraftsman and Delegator in the Group 1 St James Palace Stakes in June).

He has not raced since July 29 when flopping in the Sussex Stakes (reportedly lame) but has been working brilliantly for new trainer Richard Mandella over the Santa Anita turf and no one knows how to bring them to the wicket fresh better than Mandella.  Worth a shot!!


THE SPRINT (6f; Pro-ride; 3:10 p.m. E.T)

The exuberant front-runner Zensational will be all the rage but this will be his biggest test to date and the crowd might well cause him to get too warm beforehand and pull hard in the race as he has in the past (also inside post not the best with main speed rivals right beside him; could get a tough trip) so this is where I’m expecting the hot, hot Godolphin camp to register a win with GAYEGO who will benefit if there is any sort of speed duel and who has the brilliant Garret Gomez up.


THE DIRT MILE (1 Mile; Pro-ride; 5:12 p.m. E.T.)

Mastercraftsman is the obvious class here and has the plum draw but he’s been on the go for a while and is from the Aidan O’Brien camp who have had no luck at all at this meeting.  Also, he’s dropping back in trip on a very sharp track and will have to get his act together quicker than he has been doing of late so, at likely short odds, I’ll swerve him in favour of the lightly-raced Godolphin runner MIDSHIPMAN who won the Juvenile here last year but who suffered a setback earlier this season in Dubai.  He’s only had one race back in which he won an optional claimer at Belmont easily enough and is taken to confirm his juvenile promise now at the expense of Bullsbay who won two Grade 1s recently but has also had a long season.











Good Luck!

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