by Jeff Siegel
October 3, 2018
XBTV Senior Racing Analyst Jeff Siegel recaps last weekend's action from Santa Anita Park and identifies horses to watch going forward. Follow Jeff on Twitter, @jsiegelracing.
SANTA ANITA – SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2018
Today’s third race was supposed to be a hot maiden sprint for juvenile fillies primarily due to the presence of the debuting Inshannity, a daughter of Ghostzopper who had been impressive in the morning for a barn (Baffert) that, at least in recent months, hardly ever loses with well-meant first-timers. However, Inshannity turned up a vet scratch in the morning – there’s a flu bug going around Baffert’s barn - leaving the race to two other highly-regarded newcomers, It’sjustanillusion and Enamored. The former, a daughter of Uncle Mo from the Jerry Hollendorfer barn left at 4/5 and never looked like losing after quickly establishing the lead in hand and dominating throughout while earning a strong speed figure. Meanwhile, the Richard Mandella-trained Enamored (Curlin) didn’t get the clearest of runs inside and but kept on steadily to be second, beaten just under three lengths. It was a promising effort for a filly who isn’t bred to sprint and really doesn’t want to. Good things can be expected from both down the road.
As if we needed a reminder, there is no such thing as a sure thing in thoroughbred racing. Now, with that disclaimer out of the way, it was truly shocking to see how poorly 10-cents-on-the-dollar Abel Tasman performed in the Zenyatta Stakes, a Breeders’ Cup win-and-you’re-in prep for the BC Distaff that was in somewhat embarrassing fashion won by her stablemate, Vale Dori (herself a beaten favorite in her last pair). As brilliant as she can be when she’s in the mood, Abel Tasman simply didn’t feel like competing today, and nobody – most notably jockey Mike Smith – was going to have any luck changing her mind. First, she didn’t want to be loaded into the gate. Then, once loaded, she didn’t want to come out. When she was asked to join the party, she never really did, falling behind by 10 lengths during the early stages despite slow early fractions and then pretty much staying there throughout. While it’s entirely possible that she went into race sick (tests were taken but have yet to be disclosed), this marked the fourth time in her 15-race career that she’s failed to win as an odds-on favorite and it makes one wonder which version of Abel Tasman we’ll see next month’s BC Distaff at Churchill Downs, where she finished off the boards at 3/5 in the La Troienne Stakes in May.
Liam the Charmer made it two-for-two since being gelded with his win in the 10f John Henry Turf Championship Stakes, rallying against the grain to be up in time in a race that lost the likely heavy favorite, Fashion Business, who came up with a problem after entries were taken and reportedly is done for the year. The Mike McCarthy-trained son of Smart Strike – fittingly bred by John Henry’s trainer Ron McAnally and his wife, Debbie - originally sold as a yearling for $500,000 and then went through the auction ring again for $200,000 last November as a “racing or stallion” prospect. McCarthy, who has trained Liam the Charmer all along, said after the race that the Breeders’ Cup Turf – which clearly would be a mammoth step up competition, will be given some consideration.
SANTA ANITA – SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2018
Improbable was this week’s “Baffert’s best 2-year-old” appointee and was bet accordingly (2/5) in the six-furlong opener that also featured another hot first-timer, the Simon Callaghan trained, Stretford End, plus the recent Eclipse Thoroughbred private purchase Gray Magician, who’d had a couple prior decent runs. This could easily wind up being the most productive juvenile races this meeting. Improbable had to be ridden early to stay within range of the lead and then was put to a drive at the quarter pole, but close home he exerted his superiority to win by a measured neck while giving every indication that he’ll need a route of ground before truly showing his best. “I was thinking about running him on the turf going a mile (as a precursor to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf),” Baffert said after the race, owning to the colt’s sire, City Zip. “But Elliott (Walden) said that was too crazy.” What’s next? We’ll just play it by ear. Stretford End (Will Take Charge) lost little in defeat, has the benefit of facing maidens again next time to gain added experience (he’ll be odds-on), and has a chance to win an important race or two down the road himself.
The first five-furlong turf race beginning on the backstretch of the course proper was taken by the class dropper Forest Chatter, who had won five previous Hillside turf sprints. The veteran gelding rallied from about five lengths back at the 3/8ths pole to win the second race going away. We’ll need a lot more than just one race to determine if this course produces any kind of pace bias, but It was good to see that a closer will have a chance to win in these newly-created abbreviated turf sprints.
In the fourth race, a decent maiden juvenile turf miler, second-timer Omaha Beach was a beaten favorite again, this time failing to capitalize on a dream run when unable to get past Flying Scotsman despite having the length of the lane to do so. If you’re going to be a good horse, you must win when the race is handed to you on a silver platter, though to be fair Flying Scotsman – featured in a Black Book segment following a promising Del Mar sprint debut – has a chance to be more than useful. Galloping out, the son of English Channel never did allow Omaha Beach to get by him. Baffert’s first-timer Power Player hadn’t shown a thing in the morning on dirt, but his dam (Cambiocorsa) was a turf terror around these parts in her day and is the granddam of the top European 3-year-old Roaring Lion, so it made sense to debut the Distorted Humor colt on turf. Outrun early, he made a mild move into the lane and finished evenly to be third, beaten just over three lengths, without posing a threat. As debut runs go, it wasn’t the best, but not the worst, either.
Game Winner has put together a rather impressive three-race resume. Following a smart debut maiden sprint win, the son of Candy Ride took full advantage of a favorable draw to take the Del Mar Futurity over seven eighths and then was even more impressive when stretching out for the first time in the American Pharoah Stakes, winning by more than four while doing to pacesetter Rowayton pretty much the same thing he had done to him at Del Mar. His Beyer numbers have risen from 83 to 93 to 97, so on paper, he looks terrific, and there’s a strong likelihood he’ll be the favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. But is he Baffert’s next American Pharoah or Justify, or even Mastery? Not ready to go there just yet.
It took Bellafina 28 seconds to complete the final quarter mile in the 7f Del Mar Debutante (she still won!), so her prospects of improving with added distance didn’t seem particularly bright. But give full credit to trainer Simon Callaghan, who removed blinkers in hopes that it would help the high-strung daughter of Quality Road to relax. Switching leads – something she failed to do in both of her graded stakes winning races at Del Mar – came naturally this time and she couldn’t have looked better winning the mile and one-sixteenth Chandelier Stakes by 6 ½ lengths from a very nice filly, the pacesetting Vibrance, who was more than four lengths clear of the others. A scopey, lengthy sort, Bellafina looks very much like what a top-quality filly is supposed to and earned a legitimate speed figure while coming home mostly in hand. She will take some beating in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile fillies.
First Vasilika had to wear down the high-quality Cambodia, who had taken a clear lead entering the lane, and then she had to withstand the strong late kick from the talented 3-year-old filly Paved. A six-race winning streak appeared in jeopardy, but Vasilika would have none of it, holding sway by a half-length in the win-and-your-in Rodeo Drive Stakes over 10 furlongs on turf. Claimed for $40,000 last February by trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, Vasilika now has won nine of her last 10 but wasn’t nominated to the Breeders’ Cup and is no sure thing to be given the chance in the BC Filly & Mare Turf. “We’ll think about it, explore our options,” said Hollendorfer after the race.
Accelerate seems certain to be the favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic after he overcame a slow start and a wide trip to win the Awesome Again Stakes from the obviously dead-short West Coast. On pure form, the 5-year-old son of Lookin at Lucky is impossible to fault, though West Coast, who was second in the BC Classic last year, has a chance to produce a significant forward move in Kentucky. What is concerning, though, is the proximity of 57-1 third place finisher Isotherm (beaten less than three lengths) and the sluggish final furlong (13 3/5 seconds) that puts the strength of the race in question. Furthermore, the assigned Beyer figure of 100 was the lowest of the three major BC Classic preps run today when compared with the 108 achieved by Mind Your Biscuits in the Lukas Classic and the 103 earned by Discreet Lover in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Something to chew on.
SANTA ANITA – FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2018
Stormy Liberal captured his third straight added money event when nosing out his Peter Miller-trained stablemate Conquest Tsunami in the Eddie D. Stakes down the Hillside Course. Stormy Liberal now has won his last three races by a combined total of about 12 inches, and that’s not an exaggeration. Both Miller sprinters should be headed to Kentucky for the Breeders’ Cup in peak form but be aware the sand-based grass course at Churchill Downs is an entirely different surface than the pool table tops they’re used to competing over in California. Stormy Liberal has never won outside of California and has finished off the board in three of four starts away from home.
Captivate had to come down in the eighth race. The Mike Puype-trained sprinter clearly drifted over at least a lane to take the path of Saratoga Morning approaching the sixteenth pole, forcing that one to steady sharply, and although Captivate’s margin of victory was more than two lengths it was impossible to state that the incident did not impact the order of finish. This was in direct contrast to the stewards’ inexcusable decision to disqualify 40-1 Gray Admiral, a “much-the-best” winner of the first race. It’s true that Gray Admiral, under low profile jockey Ruben Fuentes, angled out sharply to avoid clipping heels in the upper stretch causing a chain reaction that somewhat bothered Iron Alex (who finished second, anyway, and was never going to win) and Point Guard who was “brushed” (the comment in Equibase) and then had every chance with more than a furlong out but simply got out-finished. The vote in the booth was 2-1.