Simon Clare on breathtaking Santa Anita and becoming a Chromie
Everyone will be able to recall places they have visited where they could just sit and stare at the view for hours and never get bored of it. Sitting in the outdoor press box at Santa Anita is one of those places. This is the seventh time I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a Breeders’ Cup at this venue and it still takes my breath away. As we approached the track this morning, Chris McGrath, one of the best racing writers around and a man who made his Breeders’ Cup debut with me at Hollywood Park in 1997, described it perfectly. “If you were only allowed to visit one racecourse ever again in your life you’d choose this place”.
Monday morning is always the calm before the storm in Breeders Cup week. The European horses travelled to the States over the weekend and are in quarantine for 48 hours, so don’t appear on the track until Tuesday morning, and many of the East coast runners haven’t made the trip West yet either. So the main excitement this morning was the appearance of the one-hit wonder Arrogate who did his final piece of work ahead of his Classic clash with the equine giant, California Chrome on Saturday. Despite the defection of Found, which takes away the European interest in the contest, this is a titanic clash worthy of the top billing. Bob Baffert is looking to win his third successive Breeders’ Cup Classic, having taken many years to win his first one and, based on Arrogate’s jaw dropping success in the Travers, he has a horse that may be capable of delivering. The ‘may’ depends on two things. One, was that victory a flash in the pan or the real deal? (The fact he broke a long standing track record makes it hard to discredit). Two, even if he is the real deal, is he good enough to beat California Chrome? And that is the $6 million question.
At the big race draw ceremony this evening, Art Sherman, California Chrome’s trainer, espoused calm confidence in his horse, yet at times got visibly emotional about his charge. “You’ll see him when he gets out on the racecourse. You’re going to say ‘wow’. I get goosebumps when I watch him run”. Art’s confidence in California Chrome is infectious. He talked about how the horse had changed completely, physically and mentally, since his three year old career when he won the first two legs of the Triple Crown and was placed in the Breeders Cup Classic. He sounded at times almost like an awestruck fan not the racehorse’s trainer when he reflected on his successes this year. I went back to the hotel and watched his Pacific Classic win, and I urge you to do that too. And then perhaps you’ll do what I did too and immediately back California Chrome to win the Breeders Cup Classic, and in so doing become a fully-signed up member of the Chromies. It will be some race come Saturday night.
The post-position draw for the races apart from the Distaff and the Classic was held earlier in the Top of the Stretch bar and got off to a slightly shambolic start. You’d think drawing Hydragena out as the first horse for the Juvenile Turf would be bad enough given she’s a filly and is entered in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, but it then got worse. They then drew several horses out for the Juvenile Turf, including all three European horses who received decent draws – Stall 5 (Intelligence Cross), Stall 6 (Rodaini) and Stall 8 (Lancaster Bomber) – only for the draw officials to then draw out the two reserves (or ‘also eligibles’ as they are called here) which was clearly a mistake, and a pretty grim one for connections of the European horses. The Santa Anita staff then decided a redraw was the only option and in the second attempt both Lancaster Bomber (now drawn 1) and Rodaini (now drawn 12) were drawn badly in the context of this one mile turf race. Those draws aren’t insurmountable but both present a far greater challenge in terms of getting a crucial good position at the first turn. On the upside Intelligence Cross drew well for a second time in 8.
The other main news story on the day was the fact that Found was switched at the last minute to run in the Turf. Whilst it was a big surprise to discover (via the betting market activity several hours before it became official) that she was to be declared for the Turf and not in Classic, you can definitely understand their logic. Found was a 14/1 outsider on a track that she’s not remotely bred for, and is now 2/1 favourite for a race that she’s won before albeit at a different track and on different ground. There must however be a worry that her long hard season, and big races in recent weeks, might catch up with her on this lightning fast turf surface. I’m taking her on with Ulysses and her stablemate Highland Reel, although in truth that’s largely because I’d already backed them ante post before she jumped into the race. No way back now!
In other news, the draw ceremony proved good for Joseph O’Brien and bad for his Dad. Intricately was given the seven post and is now 4/1 joint favourite for the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Roly Poly drew ugly in 13 and Hydragena in 1. In the Mile Alice Springs drew 2, with Hit It A Bomb in 12 and Cougar Mountain in 14. In the Juvenile Turf Lancaster Bomber drew 1 while Intelligence Cross drew 8. By my reckoning that means Aidan only got one good draw and six pretty lousy ones in the races where the draw really counts. But then Hit It A Bomb won last year’s Juvenile Turf from the widest post, so listen, nothing’s impossible.
The calm is now over and the Breeders Cup storm is about to step up its intensity on Tuesday.
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