By Margaret Ransom
The Breeders’ Cup will certainly be the focus of the racing action on the opening weekend of the autumn race meeting at Santa Anita Park. Among the five Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” events scheduled are two set for opening day – the $300,000 American Pharoah Stakes (G1) for juvenile colts and geldings and the $300,000 Chandelier Stakes (G1) for juvenile fillies.
The Southern California weather has remained very warm, leftovers from the summer no doubt, but Saturday should be a bit cooler with highs reaching into the lower 70s. While rare rain is in the local forecast, there’s actually a chance for showers on Saturday morning. Not sure about accumulation, but it’s a good idea to be prepared for both fast and off conditions.
The first big event of the day is the Chandelier Stakes, now in its 51st year. Formerly known as the Oak Leaf Stakes before The Stronach Group took over the Oak Tree Racing Association’s fall dates in 2012, this race has traditionally been a showcase for some of the best fillies in history, let alone the West Coast.
Some of the most notable names on the winners’ list includes Hall of Famers, champions, Breeders’ Cup winners, millionaires and standout broodmares like It’s In The Air, Bold ‘n Determined, Landaluce, Life’s Magic, Sacahuista, Lite Light, Pleasant Stage, Phone Chatter, Serena’s Song, City Band, Excellent Meeting, Composure, Halfbridled, Sweet Catomine, Stardom Bound, Blind Luck, Songbird, Moonshine Memories and Bellafina a year ago.
Trainer Bob Baffert has saddled a record 10 winners, one more than fellow Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, who hasn’t raced horses on the Southern California circuit regularly for almost two decades. Retired jockey Chris McCarron was aboard five winners over his illustrious career and Mike Smith trails with four winners so far in his Hall of Fame career.
Baoma Corporation’s undefeated Bast is the 3-5 favorite off her impressive Del Mar Debutante (G1) win and will get the services of Hall of Famer John Velazquez for the first time, substituting for Drayden Van Dyke, who has been injured and unsure of a return date, though he will be back riding Friday. This $550,000 daughter of Uncle Mo is one of several making her two-turn debut, but her pedigree suggests it shouldn’t be a problem, as does her nice mid-pack, off-the-pace running style.
KMN Racing’s California homebred Been Studying Her makes her first start for Jerry Hollendorfer assistant Dan Ward off a win in the state-bred Generous Portion Stakes last out. The two-time winning-daughter of Fast Anna has a similar off-the-pace running style as the favorite and is improving, her last being good enough to be competitive in open company. In this class jump and first start around two turns, she gets the services of Smith once again and certainly will like the pace in front of her.
In the two starts since EJR, Kenney and Barber’s Schuylerville Stakes (G3) winner Comical came back to California she’s had trouble being even competitive, let alone reaching the winner’s circle. Dismissed at 25-1 in the Del Mar Debutante last out, she finished third after a ton of trouble, though she was soundly defeated by nearly double digits. More distance should help her and she will carry hot jock Abel Cedillo, who picks up the mount on the daughter of Into Mischief for trainer Doug O’Neill.
Bloodstock agent Bob Feld went to $170,000 to secure K P Dreamin for Karl Pergola out of the April Ocala Breeders’ Sales 2-year-old in training sale six months ago and since then the daughter of Union Rags has raced twice for trainer Jeff Mullins, winning her last around two turns at a mile by 1 1/4 lengths from off the pace. This is certainly her acid test, but she has room to improve and has been training great in the month since her win. Ruben Fuentes rides.
Leucothea looked tremendous when breaking her maiden at Del Mar by 14 lengths at 5 ½ furlongs despite wearing a $62,500 price tag for Peter Miller, where she earned a huge BRISnet speed figure of 105, the highest for all runners here. It seemed the next logical step was stakes company, but she bombed in epic fashion in the Del Mar Debutante and finished a very disappointing last. Certain there was a good explanation for the poor performance, she’s back to try two turns and turn around her form to earn a stakes win. She has a lot to prove, but room to do it and there’s little doubt she’ll be heading right to the front from the break. Norberto Arroyo Jr. rides.
O’Neill, who has yet to saddle a winner in this race in his career, sends out maiden Buyer’s Remorse for Paul Reddam. He’s had success with maidens in winning graded stakes (Irap in the 2018 Blue Grass Stakes) but this one has her work cut out for her.
Post time for the Chandelier Stakes has been set at 3:10 p.m. PT.
Eight For American Pharoah
Also on the Friday card is the second running of the $300,000 American Pharoah Stakes (GI), which is set to be run for the 51st time this year. Originally contested as the Norfolk Stakes when Oak Tree maintained the fall racing dates, then the Frontrunner Stakes for a handful of years, it’s now named for the 12th Triple Crown winner, who was victorious here in 2014 and who was trained by Baffert. It is the main prep for California-based 2-year-olds whose connections hope to make the Breeders’ Cup and this year maybe means more with the event held at Santa Anita for a record 10th time.
Other notable names to have won the Norfolk/Frontrunner/American Pharoah through the years include champion and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Game Winner a year ago, Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Nyquist, and other champions/millionaires Lookin at Lucky, Dixie Union, Free House, Bertrando, Best Pal, Capote, Snow Chief, Chief’s Crown and Flying Paster.
Baffert has saddled a record eight winners and retired Hall of Famer Alex Solis booted home seven over his lengthy career.
Velazquez will be in town to ride favored Eight Rings for the first time for Baffert, picking up the mount from the injured Van Dyke (who suffered an arm injury when this son of Empire Maker ducked in sharply and dropped him at the gap in the chute of the Del Mar Futurity almost a month ago.) Though Van Dyke will ride Friday, his status was uncertain enough for Baffert to call on Velazquez to ride this $520,000 yearling. So because of this colt’s bad luck in his last, all we can go by is his impressive 6 ¼-length maiden win, which is enough to lead anyone to believe he’s deserving of his 9-5 morning line favorite odds. Though he tries two turns for the first time, he is bred for distance and has been training well at Santa Anita for this race. He most certainly will be part of the early pace scenario from the break and will be tough to beat.
CRK’s Express Train lived up to his name when he broke his maiden by a whopping 14 lengths in his second career start on Aug. 28 at Del Mar. The John Sheriffs-trained Union Rags colt, who was a $500,000 yearling a year ago, will surely be on the lead from the gate and will likely show the way under Smith, and he already has a win around two turns, which will only help him here. This colt’s best makes him very dangerous for the mild upset.
Kretz Racing’s American Theorem is another talented son of American Pharoah, who broke his maiden at first asking at Del Mar a month ago. George Papapadromou trains the flashy gray, who was a $190,000 RNA as yearling a year ago and was subsequently purchased privately by his current connections. He’s obviously bred to like the two turns, is a closing type who will get a pace to run at, and if he can overcome the inside post he figures to be a factor for a larger share at the wire. Tiago Pereira will be back aboard.
Best Pal Stakes (G2) winner Collusion Illusion is back after skipping the Del Mar Futurity and a seven-week break, but didn’t miss a beat and has a nice series of works heading into this race. Mark Glatt trains this $300,000 son of Twirling Candy, who will carry jockey Joe Talamo in his first two-turn attempt. He is another who will sit off the early pace and wait for it to back up to him when he launches his best bid.
Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen ships in Hopeful Stakes (G1) runner-up Shoplifted probably with two missions in mind – to win this race and also begin preparations for the Breeders’ Cup, as he’s been known to ship in early and train over the surface for weeks beforehand. This well-bred $800,000 son of Into Mischief has to improve to run with the top here, but he is bred to improve with more distance. Regular jockey Joel Rosario thinks enough of this colt’s chances to ship in to ride so a win would not be a big shock.
Del Mar Futurity winner Nucky was the beneficiary of Eight Rings’ bolting in the race and earned a nice Grade 1, though he absolutely benefited from the race’s change of dynamics when the favorite blew the gap that day. He is a Grade 1 winner nonetheless and is back searching for a third win in a row. Pete Miller trains this well-bred son of Ghostzapper who can only improve with added distance under Norberto Arroyo Jr.
Storm The Court received the short end of the stick in the Del Mar Futurity when bumped hard by Eight Rings and dropped jockey Flavien Prat. However, judging by his maiden win by 1 ½ lengths from just off the pace back in early August, he figured to a least pick up a share that day. Trainer Pete Eurton has kept the horse training well at Santa Anita all month and Prat chooses to roll the dice again with this son of Court Vision.
Reddam Racing’s Fore Left was such a bright star when winning the Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park in June for O’Neill, but has struggled in two starts back here in California since, including a well-beaten fifth by 14 lengths in the Del Mar Futurity. He has to improve a lot to beat the top runners here. Mario Gutierrez will be back aboard.
The maiden Defense Wins, a $175,000 son of Flatter who is trained by O’Neill was a decent third in the Del Mar Futurity, but is still a maiden also making his two-turn debut. He seems to be in a bit tough here, especially if everyone gets a chance to run their races.
Post time for the American Pharoah has been set for 4:40 p.m. PT.