By Margaret Ransom
A field of 11 is set for the $300,000 Shoemaker Mile (G1) at Santa Anita on Monday, including last year’s Preakness (G1) winner War of Will, who hasn’t raced since a ninth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) nearly seven months ago.
The son of War Front joined stablemate March to the Arch and Chad Brown trainees Raging Bull and Without Parole, and a few others, on the Tex Sutton plane bound for California earlier this week and all will be part of a talent-filled field for Memorial Day feature.
The Shoemaker Mile is the first of the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series in the United States, providing the winner with an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). The challenge is an international series of stakes whose winners earn automatic berths (and fees paid) into a corresponding race for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Keeneland on Nov. 6-7.
Named for Hall of Fame jockey Bill Shoemaker, who for nearly three decades was the world’s top jockey, the race has been a mandatory spot for many of the best turf milers in the country. The legendary rider won just about every race in North America and was aboard some of the most significant horses in history, including Kentucky Derby winners Swaps, Tomy Lee, Lucky Debonair and Ferdinand, as well as Gallant Man, Silky Sullivan, Exceller, Spectacular Bid, Forego and John Henry, just to name a few. He was inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame in 1958.
In 1990, Hollywood Park changed the name of the Premiere Stakes to the Shoemaker Handicap shortly after his retirement and though it underwent several slight name changes, it’s been stuck at the Shoemaker Mile since moving to Santa Anita when Hollywood Park closed in 2014. The more recognizable names to have earned a spot in the record books over the years include Exbourne, The Tin Man, Obviously and Bolo a year ago.
Now the connections of 11 older horses hope to add their names to the record books, too.
War of Will made his first four starts on the lawn as a 2-year-old without a win before being switched to the dirt by trainer Mark Casse, after which the Gary Barber-owned colt had a roller coaster sophomore season. He won the Lecomte (G3) and Risen Star (G2) before suffering a slight injury in the Louisiana Derby (G2), was a victim of a swerving Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby (G1), won the Preakness and then could only finish third in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) in his four remaining races of 2019.
He was set to make his return before the coronavirus pandemic shut down almost all of racing and run at Gulfstream Park two weeks ago when Casse called the audible and decided to ship him to Santa Anita.
“War of Will’s been training exceptionally well,” Casse said. “He’s a Grade 1 winner on dirt (Preakness), so we’ll see if we can make him a Grade 1 winner on the turf.”
War of Will drew the No. 5 post will have jockey Flavien Prat, subbing for regular rider Tyler Gaffalione, aboard for the first time.
Stablemate March to the Arch isn’t as accomplished as War of Will, but he won the Sunshine Millions Turf back in January and was third in the grassy Appleton Stakes (G3) in his last start in March. He also won the Wise Dan Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs last June.
“March to the Arch has been unlucky in his last couple starts,” Casse said. “He’s a pretty good horse in his own right. He’s going to run well.”
Peter Brant’s Raging Bull, who won the Hollywood Park Derby (G1) at Del Mar back in December 2018, returns to California and also makes his first start since a fourth-place finish in the Woodbine Mile (G1) more than eight months ago. He likes this distance (6-2-2-1) so it’s a good spot for a return, and he brings regular jockey Joel Rosario out to camp in the parking lot RVs with the rest of the jockey colony for the day.
And he’s a good shipper, so he’s certainly a leading candidate. His stablemate, Without Parole, doesn’t exactly get the luck of the draw for the distance and will break from the inside under regular rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. The 2018 St. James’s Palace Stakes (G1) winner hasn’t exactly burned up the lawn in seven starts since, including two in North America, but his third in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) last November was better than it looks and a repeat performance makes him dangerous. The son of Frankel runs with Lasix here after not receiving it for his 11th-place finish in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) in his last start.
The local threat comes from Kilroe Mile (G1) winner River Boyne, who really likes both this turf course and the one-mile distance. Jeff Mullins trains the ultra-consistent son of Dandy Man for Red Barons Barn LLC and Rancho Temescal, who has only finished off the board four times in his 24 career starts. He didn’t get the best draw of the far outside, but if jockey Abel Cedillo gets out cleanly he should be able to get a mid-pack stalking position in the early going.
Neptune’s Storm is a Grade 2 turf winner with a record of 8-4-0-3 over Santa Anita’s turf and 5-3-0-1 at the distance for trainer Richard Baltas, so he’s certainly capable. The conditioner also sends out Grade 1 winner Next Shares, who won the Seabiscuit Stakes (G2) at Del Mar and was a neck back for third in the Kilroe Mile in his last start.
True Valour won the Thunder Road Stakes (G2) and City of Hope Mile (G2) last fall over this course but hasn’t had a ton of luck since. Grade 1 winner Voodoo Song makes his second start in California for trainer Richard Mandella and his connections are no doubt hoping he will improve on his sixth-place finish in the San Simeon Stakes (G3) last out, which may be aided by stretching back out to two turns from the sprint distance in his last.
Grade 3 winner Blitzkrieg returns to California after four starts in Dubai for trainer Doug O’Neill, where he picked up a second and a third in graded company. He has wins at the distance and over the turf course but seems in tough here. He will be back on Lasix for his first start back in America.
Hall of Famer Neil Drysdale has won this race three times (Labeeb, Irish Prize and Aragorn) and this year sends out Majestic Eagle, who hasn’t won in a long time – 22 months – but has been slugging it out against some tough company and graded stakes with some success since.
The Shoemaker Mile is the ninth race with a post time of 4:38 p.m. PT.
The field, by post position, with jockey, trainer, odds:
|1||Without Parole||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||Chad Brown||Siyouni—Milena’s Dream, by Authorized||4-1|
|2||True Valour||Jose Valdivia, Jr.||Simon Callaghan||Candy Ride—Afternoon Stroll, by Stroll||20-1|
|3||Next Shares||John Velazquez||Richard Baltas||Sir Prancealot—Naqrah, by Haatef||12-1|
|4||Voodoo Song||Mike Smith||Richard Mandella||Cairo Prince—Comfort and Joy, by Harlan’s Holiday||12-1|
|5||War of Will||Flavien Prat||Mark Casse||Mucho Macho Man—Not Unusual, by Unusual Heat||4-1|
|6||Blitzkrieg||Drayden Van Dyke||Doug O’Neill||Bated Breath—Darling Grace, by Nayef||20-1|
|7||Majestic Eagle||Jorge Velez||Neil Drysdale||Arch—American Skipper, by Quiet American||20-1|
|8||Raging Bull||Joel Rosario||Chad Brown||Paddy O’Prado—Tenacious Tina, by Benchmark||7-2|
|9||March to the Arch||Victor Espinoza||Mark Casse||Excelebration–Dawn To Dance, by Selkirk||6-1|
|10||Neptune’s Storm||Umberto Rispoli||Richard Baltas||Showcasing—Solfilia, by Teofilo||15-1|
|11||River Boyne||Abel Cedillo||Jeff Mullins||Midnight Lute—Sociable, by Run Away and Hide||4-1|
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