By Margaret Ransom
The main event on the first Saturday of the fall meeting at Santa Anita is the $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes (GI), a “Win & You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge race that guarantees a winner a spot in the gate for the BC Classic in five weeks at the same racetrack.
The 1 1/8th-mile Awesome Again drew a field of six, including Horse of the Year contender McKinzie. All six are significantly accomplished runners, and though three of them have already qualified for the Classic with previous wins, the result should provide a significant look at the top West Coast contenders for the $6 million Classic on Nov. 2
The Awesome Again was contested originally as the Goodwood Stakes in honor of the Oak Tree Racing Association’s sister track, Goodwood Racecourse in England, and has been contested in the name of Frank Stronach’s 1998 BC Classic winner, who only raced twice in California and only at Hollywood Park, since 2012. Last year, champion Accelerate used the Awesome Again as a springboard to BC Classic glory and joined Mucho Macho Man (2013), Pleasantly Perfect (2003) and Tiznow (2000) as Awesome Again-Breeders’ Cup winners.
Ferdinand and Super Diamond won this race in the 1980s and though champion Bertrando won in 1994, the race became a significant BC Classic prep when Kentucky Derby (GI) winner and reigning Dubai World Cup (G1) winner Silver Charm won en route to a second in that year’s Classic. Lord at War, Pleasantly Perfect and Game On Dude both earned two victories since the race was first contested in 1982 and Lava Man, Shared Belief and California Chrome are also on the list of previous winners.
Bob Baffert and the late Charlie Whittingham have saddled more winners of this race than any other trainer with five each and the recently retired fellow Hall of Famer Gary Stevens is still the most successful jockey, having guided home five winners. Of the six jockeys this year, only Mike Smith has previously won this race when he partnered with Shared Belief five years ago.
Fresh off his win in the Whitney (G1) at Saratoga almost two months ago, Watson, Weitman and Pegram’s McKinzie returns home to Santa Anita for his final Breeders’ Cup prep. The colt has finished first or second in every race except one is his 12 career starts — 12th in the 2018 Classic at Churchill Downs. His numbers overall indicate he should have little trouble with a win if he runs the race. Smith chose to ride this son of Street Sense instead of Midnight Bisou in New York, which says a lot about how he feels about this colt and a patented stalking trip should be all he needs.
Higher Power burst onto the handicap division scene with his impressive 5 ¼-length Pacific Classic (G1) score at Del Mar and represents the Hronis Racing/John Sadler team that delivered Accelerate for a win in this race a year ago. He’s pretty consistent, having only finished worse than third three times in his 13-race career, and though he’s never even tried this distance, he handily won at two furlongs farther, which is also the distance of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. This well-bred son of Medaglia d’Oro earned a career-high and field-high 110 BRISnet speed figure for his Pacific Classic win, which was so much higher than anything he had ever posted previously in his career, one has to wonder as the significant chink in his armor if a bounce may be possible. But Flavien Prat has kept the faith and will be back aboard. The pair will no doubt be gunning it to a preferred spot pressing the past from the inside post position.
CRK Stables’ Grade 3 winner Draft Pick finished second to Higher Power in the Pacific Classic and has been working exceptionally well for trainer Pete Eurton since. Though the son of Candy Ride has done most of his running at shorter distances he has picked up a couple of runner-up finishes at nine furlongs. He may be just a tad below the top of this division, but his best is certainly good enough to get a bigger piece of this purse. Joe Talamo will be back aboard.
Seeking the Soul, who qualified for the Classic via a win in the Stephen Foster (G1) at Churchill in June, was a well-beaten seventh in the Pacific Classic last out, but trainer Dallas Stewart decided he deserved another chance in the California older horse division. When he’s right, he’s right and either wins or picks up a solid placing, but when he’s not he defines the word clunker. Hard to say which Seeking the Soul shows up Saturday, unfortunately. Brian Hernandez Jr. will be in town to ride.
Mongolian Groom was third in the Pacific Classic before shipping East to run in the Woodward (G1), where he finished fifth after a troubled trip. This hard-trying son of Hightail is always so close but hasn’t yet been able to upset and win a significant race.
Isotherm hasn’t won a race in a long, long time and doesn’t figure to change that pattern here.
Post time is 5:13 p.m. PT.
Rodeo Drive Winner Earns Spot in Breeders’ Cup
Slam Dunk Racing and Medallion Racing’s Irish-bred Beau Recall is the early 9-5 favorite in a field of six fillies in the $300,000 Rodeo Drive (GIT) at Santa Anita. The 1 ¼-mile turf test is a “Win & You’re In” Challenge event for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1T).
The Brad Cox Jr.-trained daughter of Sir Prancealot, who will stand his first North American season at stud in California next year, has won four of her last six starts, including the Yellow Ribbon Stakes (G2T) at Del Mar last out. Drayden Van Dyke will be back aboard in the 5-year-old mare’s first attempt at 10 furlongs.
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Ciaglia’s Paved hasn’t won since taking the Honeymoon Stakes (G3T) over this course nearly 18 months, but the has put in some decent finishes, including a second in this race last year. Mike McCarthy trains and Victor Espinoza will be back aboard the 4-year-old daughter of Quality Road all looking to better a fourth last out behind local division leader Vasilika in John Mabee (G2T) at Del Mar last out.
Though it was inaugurated in 1977 as the Yellow Ribbon Stakes, it’s only been since champion Estrapade won the race for the connections of Charlie Whittingham, Allen Paulson and Bill Shoemaker in 1985 that the event rose to prominence. Some really good turf distaffers have returned the winner of the Yellow Ribbon/Rodeo Drive, including Brown Bess, Kostroma, Possibly Perfect, Ryafan, Fiji, Spanish Fern, Golden Apples, Megahertz, Wait a While (twice), Nashoba’s Key, Marketing Mix, Avenge (twice) and Vasilika a year ago.
The field for the Rodeo Drive (post time 4:41 p.m.), with post position, horse, jockey, odds:
- Mirth, Mike Smith, 6-1
- Beau Recall, Drayden Van Dyke, 9-5
- Elysea’s World, Flavien Prat, 6-1
- Siberian Iris, Rafael Bejarano, 6-1
- Excellent Sunset, Abel Cedillo, 7-2
- Paved, Victor Espinoza, 5-2b