While this is the closing weekend of the Arlington International meet, the Chicago circuit is in the midst of an eight week period where not a single stakes race will be contested. Even though the venues switch after this weekend from Arlington to Hawthorne, the Picks and Ponderings duo will also switch to Hawthorne. Moreover, the duo maintaining the handicapping focus on out-of-town races beyond Arlington and Hawthorne.
The other half of our team is on a working vacation this week, and she’s off to Churchill Downs for the Homecoming Classic and Jefferson Cup. There will also be a look at the graded stakes from Belmont Park, too.
But in this piece, it’s off to the Great Race Place, Santa Anita Park. On Halloween and the first of November they will stage the Breeders’ Cup, but the races on Saturday September 27 from Santa Anita (and Belmont) are quality races in their own right that also double as steppingstones to the Breeders’ Cup. Even if these are local preps, they also happen to be Grade Ones too.
Santa Anita has five Grade One races on its card, each with a $300,000 purse, and each offering its victor a spot in the Breeders’ Cup starting field as a “win and you’re in” qualifier. The card has six stakes in total, with the $75,000 Unzip Me Stakes sandwiched between the fourth and fifth of the Grade One Stakes. All six stakes are in a row, carded as races five through ten on the September 27 Santa Anita card.
NBC Sports will televise these Breeders’ Cup prep races, along with the Belmont Park races, in a program from 5:30 PM ET to 8:00 PM ET (2:30-5:00 PM PT). For races carded for the turf, the rail at publish time is set to the zero position and selections are made turf only.
Morning line odds for the Unzip Me Stakes were not available at original publish time.
Updated on Sept. 26 to include morning line odds for the Unzip Me Stakes.
Santa Anita Park — Race 5 — G1 Zenyatta Stakes — 1 1/16 miles on the dirt — post time 2:30 pm PT
Perhaps the first great horse of the Youtube generation, Zenyatta won nineteen in a row before losing her twentieth and last race in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup against males at Churchill. She won this race thrice, back when it honored Lady’s Secret, the 1986 Horse of the Year. Run for the third time as the Zenyatta (coinciding with the end of Oak Tree’s nameplate on fall racing at Santa Anita), this race through its various nameplates dates back to 1993. Its first and second winner were Hollywood Wildcat, champion sophomore filly of 1993 who also won the Distaff. Azeri pulled the Lady’s Secret-BC Distaff double in 2002 and became Horse of the Year. BEHOLDER pulled the same double as a three-year-old last year and would be named champion sophomore filly.
The winner gets a free pass to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. This is a tricky race to figure as the main contenders are all upfront types that make the pace, and the deep closers in this race offer nothing. The speed of the speed may be TIZ MIDNIGHT or the classy BEHOLDER, but I’m going to go with a runner who can go fast yet can pull back a touch if the pace gets wicked quick upfront. IOTAPA did that last time out in the G1 C. L. Hirsch at Del Mar, yet Talamo was shrewd enough to throw her on the lead two back in the G1 Vanity over this surface. I think she’s more tactical than BEHOLDER, who may need a race after the cuts and scrapes she had in her battle with Close Hatches on Belmont Stakes Day. She missed training at Del Mar, and while she could be keen on the front, that puts her into a potential duel with TIZ MIDNIGHT. Still, BEHOLDER won this race last year and turned the Zenyatta-Distaff double last year. However, trainer Dick Mandella on the NTRA conference conceded how BEHOLDER could be less than 100% for this race, and I think that tips the scales to IOTAPA, who is more likely to be at 100% for this effort. The speed of the speed could be from TIZ MIDNIGHT, who graduated at today’s distance in June at Santa Anita and ticked off the allowance conditions downstate at Del Mar. With her sire and dam being both Baffert trainees and this one in the Baffert shedrow, TIZ MIDNIGHT has intrinsic experience with a trainer familiar with temperment. And the switch to Victor Espinoza has brought out what was advertised on the pedigree pages, as all three career wins come with him in the irons, and Espinoza has a return call today. If everyone flinches and this one is allowed to set pokey fractions up front, she could steal the Zenyatta.
#2 IOTAPA (2/1)
#5 BEHOLDER (1/2)
#1 TIZ MIDNIGHT (8/1)
Longshot: #6 TIZ THE KEY (12/1) chased around quality grass three-year-olds like Room Service, Diversy Harbor, and Istanford in her last two starts, but the grass three-year-olds have been a deep bunch this year. However, one of TIZ THE KEY’s wins came on the dirt at Santa Anita, while the best of her race career came with Tyler Baze in the irons two back in the G1 American Oaks. Here in the Zenyatta, both factors are in play as she’s on the Santa Anita dirt and Tyler Baze is aboard. A three-year-old who gets weight for being younger, she’s the “other” one in here trained by Dick Mandella, who sends out the more ballyhooed BEHOLDER. Even though Mandella (on the same teleconference) felt TIZ THE KEY isn’t in her league, she’s not completely hopeless in this spot and her chances move up if her stablemate throws a clunker or sandbags for the Distaff next month.
Santa Anita Park — Race 6 — G1 FrontRunner Stakes — 1 1/16 miles on the dirt — post time 3:00 pm PT
The FrontRunner room at Santa Anita is on the fourth floor of the grandstand, and functions a climate controlled place to watch and wager while also providing postcard views of the track. Like the Zenyatta, this race got a new nameplate when Santa Anita took over the fall meet from Oak Tree. In the Oak Tree Days, it was the Norfolk Stakes. Notable Norfolk/FrontRunner winners include Chief’s Crown (1984), winner of the first Breeders’ Cup Juvenile; Snow Chief (1985), who won the Preakness at three, Capote (1986) who also annexed the BC Juvenile, Del Mar stakes namesake Best Pal (1990) and Champion three-year-old Lookin at Lucky (2009).
The winner of this race gets a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile starting gate. Aside from SKYWAY, everyone in the field is eligible for a first level allowance, and some of these runners (like AMERICAN PHAROAH) broke their maidens in stakes victories. Nearly everyone in the field is trying two turns for the first time. If AMERICAN PHAROAH runs back to his Del Mar Futurity win in his first try around two turns, this race is his. But that’s a big “if” as he’s not the only one stretching out to two turns for the first time. Let’s try CONQUEST PANTHERA in a mild upset, as he goes from sprint to route. He was off the pace in a slower paced maiden special down at Del Mar, and forced to the back thanks to an awkward break. He pressed and then rallied to win by a length and a quarter, putting up a figure on par with the rest of the field. Yet, that was in the debut and if he moves forward he could do what AMERICAN PHAROAH did in the Del Mar Futurity. That’s the thinking on this runner. Even though he’s by turf sire Kitten’s Joy, they can do just fine on the dirt. It also means routing is well within the scope. The aforementioned AMERICAN PHAROAH tries two turns for the first time off his eye-popping figure in the G1 Del Mar Futurity at seven panels. Trainer Bob Baffert has the quick works on this horse owned by Zayat Stables. Victor Espinoza takes the call. Pedigree is fine, but that figure in the Del Mar Futurity came out of nowhere and it’s possible he could regress of it. Still, Espinoza/Baffert are effective when together, and it’s possible he could blitz the field off its feet. Not surprised if he wins, but this seems like the right time to take a stand against. One of the few in this field with two turn experience is TEXAS RED, who closed off a quick pace to graduate at Del Mar. The Desormaeux brothers team up here, Kent riding and Keith training. Worth noting the training half is 20% wins in twenty outs when going from all-weather to dirt, and with the Afleet Alex-Northern Afleet sire line, dirt should be well within his ability. Thinking here is this could duplicate the winning effort at Del Mar with things looking awfully similar in this spot.
#8 CONQUEST PANTHERA (8/1)
#7 AMERICAN PHAROAH (8/5)
#1 TEXAS RED (8/1)
Longshot: AMERICAN PHAROAH may be one in here from Baffert, but let’s try the old uncoupled entrant trick (we’re using it in the first race on the card) with #2 LORD NELSON (8/1). He has Baffert’s go-to rider, Martin Garcia, which is usually a 20-30% proposition (though it has gone cold in the last two months). He comes off a layoff after graduating at five furlongs at Del Mar in a figure that isn’t far apart from many of these. That however is the only start, so like CONQUEST PANTHERA he could make a progression from start one to start two. Two turns should be fine with him thanks to the Pulpit-A. P. Indy sire line and being out of a Seeking The Gold mare. Quality humans and pedigree, yet he like his stablemate is first two turns. But LORD NELSON could be ten times the price of AMERICAN PHAROAH while offering some plus points.
Santa Anita Park — Race 7 — G1 Rodeo Drive Stakes — 1 1/4 miles on the turf– post time 3:30 pm PT
First run in 1977 and graded two years after, the Rodeo Drive has always been a G1 and always at the ten furlong turf distance. And aside from the 2010 running at Hollywood (the other four graded stakes also shifted across town to HollyPark in 2010), always at Santa Anita. The current name of this race comes from the famous shopping street in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. In the Oak Tree years this race was known as the Yellow Ribbon (with an allusion to the Tony Orlando version of the song), but the Yellow Ribbon nameplate was applied to the former Palomar Handicap at Del Mar. Winners of note of the Yellow Ribbon/Rodeo Drive include Sabin (1984), a Gulfstream stakes namesake; Estrapade (1985), who beat males in the Arlington Million the next year; Possibly Perfect (1993), who would be Champion grass female and a Beverly D. winner two years later, and two time winner Wait A While (2006, 2008).
A free place in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf goes to the winner. There’s a full field of fourteen here, as the female turf group this year has had the charm and warmth of a tire fire. So, if you’re a female with any hint of grass ability, step right up and take your best shot. IRISH MISSION goes third off the layoff and shortens up a furlong. Winner of the G3 Glens Falls at the Spa around three turns at eleven furlongs, it’s a slight turnback to ten furlongs and two turns for this Christophe Clement trainee. Like her credible second in the Matchmaker on Haskell Day on a Jersey course similar to the one she’ll get today, and that race had much quicker opening splits than the Saratoga race. The thinking is the pace will be honest from (2013 Chicago Handicap winner) COZEE UP LADY, who may have found second life as a turf router despite being a Grade Three winner at seven panels. Also think IRISH MISSION’s best races have been on firmer ground, as the better races were the “firm” turf Matchmaker and Glens Falls as opposed to her non-firm turf races (2013 G1 Taylor, for one). PARRANDA was a fine G3 level turfer in Florida, but since coming to California and getting in Jerry Hollendorfer’s barn, she’s become a Grade One-placed (third in the Gamely) and Grade Two winner (Royal Heroine Mile). Maybe it’s a soft grading scale, but maybe PARRANDA’s form went a touch sour down state at Del Mar, with only two checks cashed in the Mabee and the Yellow Ribbon, but they were at shorter distances. She’s never been the ten furlong trip, but with English Channel in the sire line that’s no problem. She’ll likely swing wide at the top of the lane, but if the trip is clean she can get a piece. Jockey/trainer Team at Santa Anita is four-of-thirteen in the win column. MOULIN DE MOUGIN might have found a mile too short two back in the Royal Heroine over this course, as she scored at 8-1 odds downstate in the G2 Mabee. Two back she won over this course at nine panels and cleared the twice-other-than condition. In fact, three of her wins have been at nine panels (including the G2 Mabee) and perhaps she can take to ten panels better than others in this field. Interesting that Mike Smith, who rode EMOLLIENT in the past, doesn’t get off this Dick Mandella trainee and stays on this one rather than going back to EMOLLIENT. Worth noting the M. Smith/R. Mandella jockey/trainer team in the last sixty days is two out of three in the win column with a superb ROI. Even though Grade One winner EMOLLIENT, who has a credible fourth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf is in this field, it’s worth taking a stand against her as she’s zero-for-five with three out-of-the-money finishes against elders this year at four and tends to be way too headstrong for her own good.
#9 IRISH MISSION (6/1)
#8 PARRANDA (6/1)
#3 MOULIN DE MOUGIN (5/1)
Longshot: Chances are IRISH MISSION is sharing a flight west with #6 RUSTY ZIPPER (15/1), who won the G3 Violet on the Jersey Shore last time and was fourth in the G3 Eatontown behind a next out winner. Graham Motion is at the controls of this four-year-old who also tries ten panels for the first time. Four of seven lifetime, she appears fine for ten furlongs with distance influences on both sides of the gene pool. She’s also going second off the layoff, a 21% wins/54% top three proposition as well. Don’t think Graham Motion is coming out here to sandbag a race before the Breeders’ Cup, he’s here to play and he quietly had a strong Saratoga meet. Maybe the momentum is on that flight to SoCal, too.
Santa Anita Park — Race 8 — G1 Awesome Again Stakes — 1 1/8 miles on the dirt — post time 4:00 pm PT
Known in the Oak Tree days as the Goodwood Stakes to honor the English racecourse, this race (for the 3rd year in a row) now honors Awesome Again, who won the Hawthorne Gold Cup and Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1998 as a four year old. Though he had a solid race record (twelve starts, nine wins, two seconds), he would have success as a sire with three-time Santa Anita Handicap winner Game On Dude (who won this race in 2011 and 2012), and Breeders’ Cup Distaff winners Ginger Punch and Round Pond. Goodwood/Awesome Again winners who also annexed the Breeders’ Cup Classic include Ferdinand (1987), Tiznow (2000), Pleasantly Perfect (2003, also won this race a year before) and Mucho Macho Man (2013).
This the local feeder to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, with the winner assured a spot in that field should he or she want it. And the day before, on the 26th, they’ll give away posters featuring one of the entrants of this race, SHARED BELIEF. The poster subject is a logical choice in this field, as he defeated elders last out in the Pacific Classic, and the pace player that made the crazy-go-nuts pace, MYSTERY TRAIN is back again. SHARED BELIEF beat Candy Boy and other sophomores like a drum in the G2 over at Los Alamitos, and he’s been hibernating at Golden Gate since the Pacific Classic. He has shown solid races over the synthetics of Golden Gate and Del Mar, but he handled the Los Alamitos dirt fine. He’ll be a short price south of even money, but he makes sense. If you think SHARED BELIEF is being sandbagged for the Breeders’ Cup Classic in a month, then try FOOTBRIDGE, who closed off an honest pace from FED BIZ in the G2 San Diego down at Del Mar on their polytrack. Two back he was second in a six figure stakes on the NoCal fair circuit, and he runs to his figure most of the time. Not sure if it’s good enough against the sophomore elephant in the room, but it could get a piece of the pie. Six of seven lifetime in the money over today’s course, and that stakes placing two back upstate was at today’s nine panels. IMPERATIVE got a Grade Two win on the bullring of Charles Town in the springtime and clunked up for third behind SHARED BELIEF and poly-loving sophomore Toast of New York last time in the G1 Pacific Classic. Like SHARED BELIEF, he benefits if MYSTERY TRAIN whistles on the front end like he did in the Pacific Classic and if someone (FED BIZ?) goes out and makes the train get off track. He needs a set up also seen by his third in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita, but it could be there once again.
#4 SHARED BELIEF (3/5)
#5 FOOTBRIDGE (15/1)
#8 IMPERATIVE (6/1)
Longshot: Choo choo! Sent off at an honest 25-1 last time in the Pacific Classic, #6 MYSTERY TRAIN (15/1) enticed Game On Dude to come and try to catch him. And that did not work out at all, as the Dude folded like a cheap tent. MYSTERY TRAIN folded as well, but no one in this field wants to go sub :46 for the first half, and he can do that easily. The Pacific Classic showed that his South American form is legit, and he’s one way speed. The pressured MYSTERY TRAIN allowed for SHARED BELIEF to make his middle move, but he won’t have a one-way ‘Dude to fight him and might get home free. Worth a flutter if the track carries front speed.
Santa Anita Park — Race 9 — Unzip Me Stakes — About 6 1/2 furlongs on the Downhill Turf — post time 4:30 pm PT
Before Mizdirection want on a tear on the downhill course, there was California-bred Unzip Me. Winner of notable female turf stakes on the downhill, she took her game on the road and won the G3 Royal North at Woodbine in 2010, the same year she was third against males in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. And she scored wins at now-shuttered crosstown Hollywood Park too. Campaigned for five years, she won nearly a million dollars, mainly by annexing G3s and state-bred races whose purses rarely went over $200,000. In its third running (unlike the other races that have Oak Tree roots), the prior two winners were Byrama and Pontchartrain in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
The only one of the stakes races on this card to not provide a Breeders’ Cup spot. Strictly sophomore fillies see the starter for a purse of seventy-five grand. Not going to try to shock the world as ON THE BACKSTREETS, a double stakes winner over the downhill and three-for-three over the course is the choice here. Put on the shelf after winning a small stakes in the Springtime, she returns after a train of recorded works at San Luis Rey. The thinking is Miller knows that ON THE BACKSTREETS likes the downhill and this one was shielded from Del Mar. She may be keen off the summer vacay, but that could help in a field without a one-way speed. A Bejerano/Miller production, the training half of the equation is 19% wins on 90+ day layoffs. ALEXIS TANGIER graduated over this course three back. Now eligible for a twice-other-than, she cleared the a-other-than last time and two back on the Del Mar synthetic wasn’t that far behind fellow entrant KOOL KAT and Personal Diary, a next out winner of the G1 Del Mar Oaks. Even though she cleared the N1X condition at a mile, she gets a pass for her synthetic try. Shortens up route to sprint to try the downhill here, and is out of Cambiocorsa, who once upon a time ruled this course. The jockey/trainer team have two wins and two more podium finishes in the eight times they’ve worked together. CAL GAL hasn’t gotten the picture taken since October of her two-year-old year. But that was on the downhill course, and after that came three tries at a mile. She chased around double stakes winner Swiss Lake Yodeler and hit the superfecta tickets in some a-other-than allowances downstate. While it’s fair to ask if she’s progressed from two to three, I’ll give her one more chance as she gets back over the course where she got her diploma.
#4 ON THE BACKSTREETS (9/5)
#3 ALEXIS TANGIER (5/2)
#2 CAL GAL (20/1)
Longshot: #1 WONDERFULLY (12/1) breaks from the one post, and that can spell doom on the downhill thanks its to elbow in the course configuration coming out of the gate. While she had the lead in slow paced races overseas and in the G1 Belmont Oaks (nee Garden City), she was much further back in a faster paced listed stakes at Del Mar where G3 winner Istanford outclassed the bunch. I don’t think the one post is that much of a demerit given a lack of one-way speed as she can either gun for the lead and try to stack them up behind her. Trainer Proctor won this race last year and brings in D. Van Dyke. Another plus point is that the worst showings in Europe were on “soft” turf, which won’t be in the forecast as perhaps the firmer turf she’ll see here is what she needs.
Santa Anita Park — Race 10 — G1 Chandelier Stakes — 1 1/16 miles on the dirt — post time 5:00 pm PT
Named for the members-only room on Santa Anita’s third floor of the grandstand, this race is in its third running with this namesake but dates back to 1976 as the Oak Leaf stakes when Oak Tree operated the fall racing at The Great Race Place. Both Halfbridled (2003) and Stardom Bound (2008) annexed both this race and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Other notable winners include SoCal stakes namesakes like B. Thoughtful (1977) and Landaluce (1982 and Churchill stakes nameplate Chilukki (1999).
The winner of this race gets a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies gate. Like the FrontRunner, this race contains a hodgepodge of stretchouts and first-level-allowance eligible types. Here, the selection is the Bob Baffert trainee in MAYBELLENE, who stalked a slow pace last time to graduate going a mile on the Del Mar poly. It’s first time dirt (a 29% win proposition), but being by Lookin at Lucky means dirt should be no issue. Think the tricky six-and-a-half distance got her last time at Del Mar, and going first time two turns while also showing not being a crazy-go-nuts front runner helps out. She lures Rosie Napravnik to come in and ride. Think she’s live in this spot as she proved tactical ability while also getting off a surface that may not be her best. The price will make you blush, too. Discard the last start for ANGELA RENEE in the sloppy G1 Spinaway. That race saw a runaway winner in the slop and perhaps everyone in the field, including her, just didn’t like it. ANGELA RENEE goes first time two turns in the Chandelier, after winning at five panels during the Belmont meet. While this could be the typical Bernadini “win a maiden then flame out” type, she does get a get-out-of-jail card for her Spinaway and worth noting Pletcher puts Bejerano in the irons. One last chance for this runner who was second in the G2 Adirondack, the Spinaway’s local prep. CONQUEST ECLIPSE graduated on debut two back at Churchill and then trained out at Del Mar in preparation for the G1 Del Mar Debutante, where she checked in third. She will go first time two turns, with breeding on the sire line saying it’s within the scope. Trainer Mark Casse (who trains the squillion Conquest-named horses) goes second off the layoff in this situation after last month’s Del Mar Debuntate, and 18% wins in that scenario. While she dueled to a win early in the year at Churchill, she did take back off the wicked fractions in the G1 Debutante and perhaps that ability to rate will help her in this spot.
#8 MAYBELLENE (8/1)
#4 ANGELA RENEE (3/1)
#2 CONQUEST ECLIPSE (7/2)
Longshot: Two sprints to a route is the angle in play, and #8 MANAHATTA (12/1) has that just like CONQUEST ECLIPSE. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer (one of two in here), she set the pace in a quicker-paced six and a half furlong race down at Del Mar, then was wide and showed nothing in the Del Mar Debutante. Granted, she was ten lengths behind CONQUEST ECLIPSE that day, but MANAHATTA could make up those ten lengths here in the G1 Chandelier. At the beginning it was said this was a two sprint to route scenario, and Hollendorfer is 22% wins with these. I like the switch to Tyler Baze in this spot, as he graduation at six and a half shows some ability, and think Baze can revive the form on this one before it goes horribly wrong.
All images courtesy Santa Anita Park.
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