The Breeders' Cup is a two-day event that in many ways serves as horse racing's final exam. Given that many owner and trainers many times use the Breeders' Cup as a final race of a year or a career, we fans get one last chance to see our stars. Horse of the Year voting (on a state, and national level) weights performance here (for better or worse) heavily. For those handicapping the Breeders' Cup, it feels like a final exam as a year's worth of notes and materials is pored over.
This year, Picks and Ponderings will tackle the thirteen Breeders-Cup (that's BC for short, readers) branded races as well as an additional seven undercard stakes races on both days. Both halves of the dynamic duo have dissected the stakes, and a full grid from both authors is available at the bottom of the page. Authorship (split to maintain sanity and eliminate redundancy) of each race is denoted by initials, PM for Paul Mazur and NN for Nicolle Neulist.
On Twitter, the weekend is branded with the hashtag of #bc14. NBC Sports will televise all the BC-branded Friday races, races six through nine (from BC Juvenile Turf to BC Distaff), live from 2:00 pm PT to 5:00 pm PT. The races will also be available on radio through HRRN and streamed live on breederscup.com as well.
We remind that in races carded for the turf, selections are made "turf only" with the rail in the zero setting. All races analyzed below are slated to take place at Santa Anita on Halloween, Friday, October 31.
Updated on October 30 to reflect the scratch of AKTABANTAY in the BC Juvenile Turf.
Race 2: Las Vegas Marathon Stakes (GII), three-year-olds and up, one and three fourths miles on the dirt, post time 12:00 PDT
Though there is no longer the Breeders' Cup imprimatur, Santa Anita is still running this anomalous (and, in the eyes of this scribe, delightful) affair: a mile and three fourths over the dirt for $200K. This race is not only interesting by virtue of the fact that it is a marathon in dirt, but also because of its pace scenario. There is a ton of early speed in this race: BIG KICK and MYSTERY TRAIN both love to be on the front end, and BIG CAZANOVA, PATRIOTICANDPROUD, and even IRISH SURF have shown some affinity toward being a bit snappy early. This pace scenario sets up nicely for the closest thing this race has to a dirt marathoner: CARY STREET. Though his pedigree does not scream stamina (Smarty Jones out of a Sultry Song mare), he sprung an upset over Ever Rider and Micromanage in the 1 1/2 mile Greenwood Cup (GIII) at Parx two starts back. He stretched out to 1 5/8 miles for his next start, the Temperence Hill at Belmont, and finished a well-beaten third in the slop. He should get fast dirt here, and should be well set to stay out of the early speed and move in later. His speeds are strong, he gets rider Miguel Mena back from his Greenwood Cup win, and things look good for CARY STREET to win another dirt marathon. SKY KINGDOM was involved in a bit of controversy last out, with Victor Espinoza aboard him in the Awesome Again (GI) floating Shared Belief out, and almost costing him the race. Here he faces softer company. He does have some marathon experience, having finished second in each of the last two editions of the Cougar II Handicap at a mile and a half over the polytrack at Del Mar. He has tried a mile and three quarters once before, in the San Juan Capistrano (GII) last year. He finished a distant sixth, but that was also his only turf race. He does have four wins in eight starts over turf, and should handle the distance better on his preferred surface. There are questions surrounding IRISH SURF, but they have more to do with the surface than the distance. He won the mile and a half Cougar II over poly at Del Mar three starts back, and also has an allowance win at a mile and three eighths. He has only started twice on dirt, but neither run was particularly good. However, those were both a long time ago: they were both maiden races, and were both at distances that were likely a little short for him. Two of his half-siblings have won on the dirt, suggesting he is worth another try. Finally, pacewise, IRISH SURF has won from either on the lead, closely off it, or farther back. Given the early speed here, the off-pace style should serve him best here, but it helps to know he has a bag of tricks.
#9 CARY STREET (10/1)
#7 SKY KINGDOM (5/1)
#3 IRISH SURF (4/1)
Longshot: With all the early speed in this field, a long shot who can come in from off the pace, and stands some chance at getting fourteen furlongs looks quite attractive. Enter #8 VOLKONSKY (20/1). This will be the five-year-old Vronsky gelding's first career stakes attempt, and first race past a mile and an eighth. Still, he is out of a Perugino mare, giving him a stamina influence on the bottom side of his pedigree. Volkonsky has done most of his running on turf, though has been second in two of his three dirst starts, all over the Santa Anita main. That shows some ability to handle the surface. Furthermore, the humans behind him bode well: trainer Kristin Mulhall is 31% (with a +$6.09 ROI!) second off the claim, and jockey Martin Garcia wins at a solid 23% going a route of ground. This is the toughest field VOLKONSKY has ever faced, but there's a chance he will have enough in the tank if BIG KICK and MYSTERY TRAIN ride this affair off the rails. - NN
Race 3: Golden State Juvenile Fillies, two-year-old fillies, California-bred or California-sired, seven furlongs on the dirt, post time 12:35pm PDT
MY FIONA looks like the one to beat in this field chasing a pot of $200K, and there are good reasons for that. Her speeds are consistently good for this field, and she gets a jockey upgrade to Rafael Bejarano. In terms of pace, she has shown the ability to come from off it, useful with speed-liking types like STORMY ADIEU, EASTER FEVER, and JOYLICIOUS there. She has never gone seven panels before, but her breeding (Ghostzapper out of a Two Punch mare) suggests it should be right up her alley. Still, she has not raced in two months, which raises a bit of a question. She is working well enough, but trainer Walter Solis has won just one of his last 34 starts off of similar-length lays. This makes her worth trying to beat, and TATUM'S GOLD looks like the one with the best chance to do it. She drew the outside post in the field of nine, but won last out at six and a half furlongs over the Santa Anita dirt from the nine-hole. That was her maiden win, but her trainer wins at a cracking 23% with last-out maiden winners. She is another one who will be able to stalk or chase off the speedy types, let them do the dirty work, and come in late. Though she loses Bejarano to MY FIONA, she gets jockey Joel Rosario, who should be more than able to give her a good stalking trip. Finally, ASHLEY'S SASSY sails into this race on a two-win streak, and makes her first attempt in stakes company. Her maiden win was over dirt, but last out she won an allowance at six furlongs over the Santa Anita dirt. She stretches past that for the first time here, but had plenty left after going six, and also had breeding to suggest seven furlongs is in her wheelhouse (by Decarchy out of an Urgent Request mare). She has shown versatility in pace: she was very close to the front in her maiden win, but closed to win her allowance. Trainer Peter Eurton's record in non-graded stakes (one for his last 39) is a bit worrisome, but pace, speed, and form fit well enough here to suggest this is an excellent spot for ASHLEY'S SASSY.
#9 TATUM'S GOLD (8/1)
#4 MY FIONA (2/1)
#7 ASHLEY'S SASSY (3/1)
Longshot: It took a little while for #2 TAKE BACK SPRING (15/1) to wake up, but she finally broke her maiden in her last start: her sixth time out. That was her first race off a two-month lay, and more importantly, her first stretch out from a dash distance to a mile. She cuts back to seven furlongs here. That is shorter, but not the 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 furlong baby races she had been faltering in before. In terms of pace, she can stalk off of the early pacesetters, and make a move later. She will need to improve from her last out to be quite on par with this crowd, but TAKE BACK SPRING has a shot: her last outing was her best to date, she is second off the lay here, and Elvis Trujillo returns from her maiden win. - NN
Race 4: Twilight Derby (GII), three-year-olds, one and one eighth miles on the turf, post time 1:10pm PDT
There seems to be a dearth of early speed in this year's $200K Twilight Derby (which used to be the Oak Tree Derby back in the Oak Tree at Santa Anita days). In this restricted-to-sophomores prep for the G1 Hollywood Derby on Thanksgiving weekend (now part of the Del Mar fall meet), FLAMBOYANT gets our nod. Recruiting Joel Rosario to return west, this one had no pace to run at in the Del Mar Derby and the thinking is that race is a toss-out. Circle back to the earlier in the year form, where this one won the La Puente over today's oval and distance and was second beaten a head in a slow-paced nine-furlong race at Belmont. The third behind Adelaide (G1 Secretariat winner, Group 1 Cox Plate winner) in the Belmont Derby shows his kick is intact if the pace is slow or honest, and that dearth of early speed should play to his hands. Maybe Rosario got lulled to sleep in the Del Mar Derby, and the once-bitten twice shy approach might have him making a move sooner. RING WEEKEND led the field on a merry chase earlier this year in the G2 Tampa Bay Derby, and had matured from a need-the-lead mentally unstable Tapit offspring to a pressing grass runner who took down a pair of G3s in New York over ground with give. The turf is likely to play firm out here, and he's stuck in the eleven post. The firm turf question remains, but trainer Graham Motion has had a solid year and has gotten a Tapit to be on good behavior. The post is the rub here. The Del Mar Derby back in late August produced a lot of runners that have come back, having skipped the month of September to avoid facing elders. The aforementioned Del Mar Derby was won by Midnight Storm, who put the field to sleep that afternoon in a relatively affair, and that compromises the likes of one-run closers like ENTERPRISING and LONG ON VALUE, who need some fireworks up front. On paper it seems no one wants the lead. That didn't bother TALCO, who was zooming at the end, being on the wrong end of a photo to SAWYER'S HILL. Six of seven in the money on the grass, this John Sadler trainee had no pace to chase last out in San Diego and gets Corey Nakatani to cowboy up again. In six European starts, this one was only off the board once, a winner at ten furlongs, and answered the question of handling American racing with the podium finish. Sadler in the last two weeks has gotten warm (six wins, ten money finishes, eighteen outs) and does well in medium-length layoffs.
#8 FLAMBOYANT (6/1)
#11 RING WEEKEND (3/1)
#2 TALCO (8/1)
Longshot: The Del Mar Derby where everyone seems to be coming from saw a speed and a semi-speed go 1-2 all the way around. #1 SAWYER'S HILL (12/1) was the semi-speed who chased the Del Mar Derby winner around and still had enough in the tank to hold off TALCO for the runner-up spot. Nine furlongs isn't an issue for him on the pedigree side, nor was it in San Diego despite the runner-up finish. While Martin Garcia has had the best success with him pressing, perhaps he'll put this runner on the lead in a race where no one seems to want it. Maybe he plays the lead role instead of the understudy this time around, leading the field through slow fractions. As perhaps the most legitimate speed in the field, he can grab a check in this spot. --PM
Race 5: Damascus Stakes, three-year-olds and up, seven furlongs on the dirt, post time 1:45pm PDT
The name of the game here in this stakes for a hundred grand is speed, speed, speed. Almost the entire field likes being on or near the front, and there is no clear and controlling speed. BROADWAY EMPIRE probably has the best chance to be fastest out of the gate, but the rest won't be far behind, and he won't get to set the slow fractions he will need to have a chance. With all this early speed here, let's look to someone who has been significantly improved this year, and who has a good shot of coming in from off the hot early pace to take it down: LIL BIT O'FUN. This one is trying the dirt for the first time, having run 32 times on turf and once on dirt. However, he has improved in both speed and class this year under his new ownership, and with Aaron Gryder aboard. The first-time dirt ensures a good price, and his dam Dash of Humor was a stakes winner on the dirt. He is working regularly and well, he is third off a lay, and the distance should be right up his alley. With the perfect pace scenario her, LIL BIT O'FUN has more than a lil bit o'chance to get his picture taken. MIDNIGHT HAWK resurfaces here for the first time since his second-place finish in the Illinois Derby (GIII) back in April. After running in routes all year, he cuts back to a sprint distance first off the lay. No matter what side of the "MIDNIGHT HAWK is a sprinter, period" debate you may fall on, he has more than enough speed to make sprinting worth a try, and did break his maiden going seven and a half last December at Hollywood. Here he cuts back to the shortest distance of his career. He has been working all summer, so he should be fit to run here. Pacewise, he usually sends, but survived an early contested pace in the Sham (GIII) in January and won at a mile. This Baffert trainee gets Santa Anita wizard Mike Smith back, and should be ready to try older here. DECLASSIFY comes into this race off of a disappointing sixth-place run in the Bing Crosby (GI) at Del Mar, and an ensuing three-month layoff. Still, he should be more than ready to get back to his better form here. He has a pile of sharp workouts since that last race, he has run well off of layoffs before, and trainer Bob Baffert wins at 28% off lays of three months or longer. DECLASSIFY has enough speed to contend with anyone here, and showed in his Triple Bend (GI) win that he can survive seven furlongs on a contested pace and get the best of it. He gets Martin Garcia back, who has been aboard for all three wins. The biggest question is the pace scenario, since there is so much early speed in this race, and he strongly prefers to be close to the action. Still, his class and his affinity for the course cannot be denied.
#10 LIL BIT O'FUN (12/1)
#2 MIDNIGHT HAWK (7/2)
#7 DECLASSIFY (6/1)
Longshot: #11 BAHAMIAN SQUALL (4/1) is a short price on the morning line, but he is one on whom it would be worth it to watch the tote. Given what he is up against, it would make sense to see him drift; if he drops down to something like 6/1 or lower, he is worth considering. He takes a significant class rise from last out, when he won an allowance optional going this distance at Gulfstream. Still, that could very well be the confidence builder BAHAMIAN SQUALL needed, and the speed he fired there puts him right in range of what he showed last year. Pacewise, he is normally right near the front, but showed in his Smile Sprint Handicap (GII) win last year that he could come from off the pace and win. That should help him here, especially as he is marooned in the 11 hole. Finally, 22% sprint jockey (and 20% jockey on this Santa Anita meet!) Rafael Bejarano has the call, further suggesting BAHAMIAN SQUALL is live. - NN
Race 6: Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (GI), two-year-old colts and geldings, one mile on the turf, post time 2:25pm PDT
All of PM's selections in BC-branded races are jointly submitted for Hello Race Fans! as he is contributing the top selections given below for BC Friday. Analysis of this race is jointly submitted for Thorofan's Handicapper's Corner.
You’ll be bombarded with facts and figures, numbers crunched (they never seem to be chewy), and all kinds of notes during the lead-up to the Breeders’ Cup. This space presents one number: zero.
That’s the number of Americans that have won this race when Santa Anita has held the Breeders’ Cup. Zero.
COMMERATIVE won a Group 3 at Newmarket at today’s eight furlong distance last out and comes across the Atlantic. Conditioned by Charles Hills, he brought Chriselliam over to win the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf under similar circumstances. This one is a Euro that makes sense, but the lead won’t be a kind place for this one, who was forwardly placed two back and in the G3 last out. However, those forward runs were in more slow-paced (to American standards) races. Perhaps in this spot, this one can tuck behind and stalk. Stalking was what the horse tried earlier in the career in the debut at Sandown, but it's possible there's been some maturity since then. WAR ENVOY ships over for the potent humans of Ryan Moore and Aidan O' Brien and gets first time lasix. Those humans will attract the cash, but this one had the better of the trips on Arc Day when fifth in a G1 there, where the now-scratched AKTABANTAY was sixth. Although the formula is there: get defeated in a Euro stakes and try lesser American types, his fifth is better than it looks. WAR ENVOY had the clear run and covered trip while AKTABANTAY had to rally wide. That trip nugget makes WAR ENVOY more of a defensive use among the Europeans. LUCK OF THE KITTEN will be a squarely priced horse and one to consider. A graduate at Arlington over the summer, LUCK OF THE KITTEN won the local prep over today’s course and is the less likely on tote but more likely to finish higher on tote of the two conditioned by Wesley Ward. He projects the speed of the speed over this course, and a two-year-old Kitten’s Joy baby speedball didn’t do so bad last year over these weeds.
#4 COMMERATIVE (4/1)
#7 WAR ENVOY (9/2)
#8 LUCK OF THE KITTEN (8/1)
Longshot: #1 WET SAIL (15/1) is another European, who draws the rail and lures Jamie Spencer to ride. In a race with a few legitimate speeds, he could take back easily and get the coveted covered trip. With the rail moving back to zero (after being out last weekend) , he could also get fresh sod to play with in the lane that’s firmer. Only a maiden winner, but he’s won over six panels and was third behind a next out winner in a rich handicap for frosh turfers across the pond. In a race where European imports have a strangehold, anything on the flight over deserves a look. --PM
Race 7: Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (GI), three-year-olds and up, one mile on the dirt, post time 3:05pm PDT
GOLDENCENTS looked pretty good on paper even before the draw of this $1M race. He drew the rail, and that post only makes the defending champion look better here. He is the speed of the speed if he wants to just send, which is how he won the Dirt Mile last year. That's what he will probably do, and GOLDENCENTS is fast enough that any other horse sending against him would be doomed to fail. Still, if he has some trouble at the start and is outgunned by the likes of FED BIZ or VICAR'S IN TROUBLE, he should be fine. He showed in the Bing Crosby (GI) that he could overcome early adversity, stay interested, and get rolling late. He was second beaten half a length by Big Macher in that race -- but it was only six furlongs. A mile is GOLDENCENTS's gig, and he looks to be the most likely 2013 Breeders' Cup winner to defend their crown. FED BIZ comes into the Dirt Mile off of the nine-furlong Awesome Again (GI), in which he was on the front early and beaten a neck by Shared Belief. It's feast or famine for this one at a mile: in six tries at a mile over the main, FED BIZ has three wins and three off-board finishes. Last year he flopped in the Dirt Mile, but he came straight in with no races between the seven-furlong Pat O'Brien (GII) and the BC. This time he had the Awesome Again in the middle, and he should be fitter and sharper on the cutback. His affinity for the Santa Anita main also stands to recommend FED BIZ; he is 8-3-1-1 lifetime over it. Pacewise he is usually a speed runner, but he has shown the ability to both stay in the mix on a contested pace as he did in the Awesome Again, or come from off the pace as he did when winning the 2013 Pat O'Brien. There is some versatility, making FED BIZ more dangerous. Finally, consider VICAR'S IN TROUBLE. This one has been dancing on the Derby circuit this year, outrunning his pedigree by garnering two wins at nine furlongs. However, being by Into Mischief out of a Vicar mare, the pedigree screams miler: just like fellow Into Mischief baby GOLDENCENTS. This will be his first run at a flat mile, but he did win the one mile and seventy yard LeComte Stakes by open lengths. Since his second-place finish in the Indiana Derby he has turned out a strong work back. With the often speed-favouring Santa Anita track, he should be right in the mix: he has shown the ability to win from on or just off of the pace. Though he is unlikely to outgun GOLDENCENTS unless the latter has a poor start, he should stay in the mix at the shorter distance. One on the side to consider for undersides, though not necessarily on the front, is PANTS ON FIRE. He appears to have lost a step compared to last year, but may well be finally shaking off the rust from the Dirt Mile flop last year and the trip to Japan. He has consistently been hitting the board this year, and could not have won the Wild and Wonderful Stakes any more easily last out. He is working well, rounding back into form at the right time, and seems a good price for intra-race exotics.
#1 GOLDENCENTS (6/5)
#8 FED BIZ (7/2)
#3 VICAR'S IN TROUBLE (12/1)
Longshot: #7 BRONZO (12/1) has not raced since June, when he won his Breeders' Cup berth in the Copa de Oro (GII) in Chile -- that was a 1 1/8 mile race that won him a berth in the dirt mile. Though most of his running within the last year has been done at longer distances, BRONZO is no slouch at a mile: in six starts at the distance, he has three firsts and three seconds. He has been on the shelf for about four months, but has historically run well off his layoff lines, including breaking his maiden first off an eight-month lay. The Chilean invader has been working since early September at Santa Anita. This includes some longer works, six furlongs and a mile, as well as a sharp four furlongs in 47.1 on October 17. He should be fit to run, he adds Lasix for the first time, and he is cutting back to a distance at which he has succeeded before. Pacewise, he can stalk fairly close to the pace, or come from a bit farther back if it gets too hot. He will not be pace-compromised with that style. BRONZO will go off at a price, and has enough to justify it. - NN
Race 8: Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (GI), two-year-old fillies, one mile on the turf, post time 3:50pm PDT
It took three starts to graduate, but OSAILA did it in a fast paced race at six panels in the UK, and one start later won a G3 at Ascot. This one turned in a fifth two back in an Irish G1 last time, but rebounded with a win last out. The best performances have been when Frankie Dettori has ridden, and Dettori is back aboard for trainer Richard Hannon, Sr. in this one million dollar race. And this is the same Hannon who does well with juvenile turfers and milers (he's the trainer of Toronado). These are solid humans, and with a solid pace from SUNSET GLOW and ISABELLA SINGS, the targets are there as well. The cozy "covered" or "pocket" trip comes from the draw, and she's live in this spot. Euros have done well in the male complement of this race and won the last two times over this BC configuration. Humans like Ryan Moore and Aidan O' Brien make QUALIFY live as well, but she's marooned in post fourteen. One positive is she gets first time lasix for this first start, and last out took down an Irish Group 3. Two back in the Group 1 (IRE) Moyglare Stud, she was sixth (OSAILA was fifth), but the last out G3 win is her only time on the turf. Perhaps two turns brings out the form, but she's got to overcome a very poor draw. The American-style pace is from SUNSET GLOW, yet she was precocious enough to try a Group 3 at Royal Ascot earlier in the summer, finishing behind Cursory Glance (that winner of the Group 1 Moyglare Stud, but she also has a nice distance progression with wins over Del Mar synthetic in the G2 Sorrento and the race it feeds into, the G1 Del Mar Debutanate. She's likely the speed that stays around longest, but the closers should have her number. Victor Espinoza and Wesley Ward are the jockey/trainer team on this runner that will take money off her Del Mar scores and admirable try at Royal Ascot.
#2 OSAILA (5/1)
#14 QUALIFY (5/1)
#3 SUNSET GLOW (7/2)
Longshot: Not often humans like Chad Brown (who has won this race before) and Gary Stevens (he's back!) are quoted at 12/1 morning line, but that's the case on #6 SIVOLIERE (12/1). Another European import getting first-time lasix, she has three wins and another podium finish in five starts and her only time out of the top three was a fourth beaten only a length and a quarter. The worst performances were at seven furlongs, but those were on "soft" turf and she's done well on "good" ground overseas. She'll get that firmer ground and has already acclimated herself to the states with a string of works at Belmont. Brown also hits at a scorching 32% wins/59% in the money with these making the first start in the States. --PM
Race 9: Breeders' Cup Distaff (GI), three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 4:35 PDT
CLOSE HATCHES towered over the distaff division for much of the year, but threw a terrible clunker when finishing fourth in the Spinster (GI) last out at Keeneland. This time out, the cards look stacked against her to return to her previous glory: she is not the speed of the speed, and she is mired all the way outside. Though the price will be a little better that it would have been had she aced the Spinster, it will be too short to take in those unfavourable circumstances. There is a lot of early speed in this $2M race: in addition to CLOSE HATCHES, there are BELLE GALLANTEY and TIZ MIDNIGHT who are basically one-way speed, and IOTAPA and UNTAPABLE who stand a chance of being fairly close early. With that much zip on the front end, Spinster winner DON'T TELL SOPHIA should have plenty of pace to attack down the stretch. She spent much of the year on a layoff, but has only been getting better in her two starts this fall. The delta between her Locust Grove win and her Spinster win was not such a quantum leap as to suggest she can't improve further here, third off the lay. Nine furlongs suits her (she has two wins and a second in three starts at the distance), and she is working well: it has been over two years since she has missed the board, and nothing suggests this consistent mare won't be herself again today. As mentioned above, CLOSE HATCHES will not be the speed of the speed. That title most likely belongs to IOTAPA. She loves the Santa Anita course, boasting a 7-3-3-1 record over the dirt there. She has a first and a second at nine furlongs, showing she can get the distance. Pacewise, she has shown some versatility: she will take the front end and run with it when she can, but has also showed the ability to come from off the pace and grit out a win if she needs, as she displayed in the Clement Hirsch (GI) two starts back. UNTAPABLE takes her first swing against older company here. She should fit right in. The odds will be a bit short on her, given that she didn't show the explosive turn of foot in the Cotillion (GI) last out that she had earlier this year. However, that was her first race in about two months, and she should be sharper this time out. She should also have the hang of Santa Anita: trainer Steve Asmussen shipped her there right after the Cotillion, and she has been working well. Her only other race at Santa Anita was a debacle, last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, but that was due to truly extenuating circumstances. She was behind the ill-fated Secret Compass, had to check, and was eased. She did draw outside, but she drew outside in the Kentucky Oaks, too...and Rosie Napravnik still gave UNTAPABLE that perfect stalk-and-pounce trip. That could happen here, too.
#7 DON'T TELL SOPHIA (5/1)
#3 IOTAPA (6/1)
#10 UNTAPABLE (5/2)
Longshot: Say what you will about her questionable placements through the course of the year: #9 RIA ANTONIA (15/1) looks to be rounding back into form at the right time. She put the blinkers back on for the Spinster (GI) last out, did the dirty work as she pressed CLOSE HATCHES on the front end, and survived to finish a clear second behind DON'T TELL SOPHIA. Pacewise, she should be stalking fairly close, but given Santa Anita's recent trend toward the forwardly placed, that should not hurt her. Both of her career races at Santa Anita have been creditable, both her win by disqualification in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) last year as well as her clear second in the Santa Anita Oaks (GI) in April. She can handle the track. She looked good in her last work. RIA ANTONIA showed last out that, against all odds, her heart has not been crushed by her questionable placings earlier in the year...and she stands a chance to at least hit the board at boxcar odds. - NN
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