By Margaret Ransom
Saturday’s main event at Santa Anita is the 10th race, the $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes (G1), a “Win & You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge event that guarantees a winner a spot in the gate for the $6 million BC Classic (G1) at Del Mar in five weeks.
The 9-furlong main track test drew a field of eight of the best runners representing the older division — all are significantly accomplished runners – and will provide a significant final look at who the top West Coast contenders are for the Classic.
This year’s renewal also marks the return of Zedan Racing Stables’ still reigning Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Medina Spirit — until the courts say otherwise — off a win in the Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar. The Protonico colt will also be racing a week after he was withdrawn from the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (G1) at Parx in favor of this race, trainer Bob Baffert reasoning the colt’s front-running style would be hindered by his outside post position.
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. Two years ago, champion and Horse of the Year finalist Accelerate (he lost the honor to Triple Crown winner Justify) used the Awesome Again as a springboard to Classic glory at Churchill Downs 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 Breeders’ Cup Classic prep in 1998 when Kentucky Derby winner and reigning Dubai World Cup winner Silver Charm won it enroute to a second in that year’s Classic. Lord at War, Pleasantly Perfect and Game On Dude earned two victories each in the race since it was first contested in 1982 and Lava Man, Shared Belief and California Chrome are also on the list of previous winners.
Last year WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and SF Racing’s Improbable took the Awesome Again stakes in front of an empty grandstand due to the COVID-19 pandemic and went on to finish second to stablemate Authentic in the Classic.
Hall of Famers Baffert (Medina Spirit and Azul Coast) and Charlie Whittingham were tied for having saddled more winners of this race than any other trainer with five each heading into the 2020 renewal, but Baffert claimed top trainer honors thanks to Improbable’s victory. His other winners are Silver Charm (1998), Richard’s Kid (2010), Game On Dude (2011, 2012) and Mubtaahij (2017).
Other trainers with runners this year who have saddled winners in previous runnings include Richard Mandella (1995, Soul of the Matter; 2002 and 2003, Pleasantly Perfect; 2005, Rock Hard Ten), John Shirreffs (2007, Tiago), John Sadler (2018, Accelerate) and Richard Baltas (2001, Freedom Crest).
Mandella tightens the girth on Tizamagician this year, Shirreffs on Midcourt and Express Train, Sadler on Tripoli and Baltas on Idol. In fact, of all the trainers sending out runners in this year’s Awesome Again Stakes, only Ed Moger, Jr. (Stiletto Boy) has yet to reach the winner’s circle with one of his charges.
Hall of Famer Gary Stevens is still the most successful jockey, having guided home five winners – Cutlass Reality; 1988; Bertrando, 1994; Silver Charm, 1998; Rock Hard Ten, 2005; and Mucho Macho Man, 2013. Of the eight jockeys this year, only Kent Desormeaux has reached the winner’s circle previously, having booted home four to victory – 1992, Reign Road; 1993, Lottery Winner; 1995, Soul of the Matter; and 2001, Freedom Crest.