ARCADIA, Calif. – The $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic will be run for a record 10th time at Santa Anita Park, and it should provide a climactic stamp on a two-day weekend of championship racing beneath the beautiful San Gabriel mountains.
The feature event will be run in prime time on the East Coast on NBC on a one-hour program at 8 p.m. It will be the ninth and final Breeders’ Cup race Saturday with the biggest purse and year-end divisional titles potentially on the line.
NBC Sports Network will televise the eight undercard races from the Great Race Place starting at 3:30 p.m. and lasting until 8 p.m.
The sport’s insiders will be holding their collective breath, hoping the horses all come home safe, after a rash of deaths this year caused by a confluence of events, mostly due to the rainy winter/spring meet at Santa Anita.
After receiving a vote of confidence from the Breeders’ Cup board in June and the establishment of various safety and drug testing protocols by track management, Santa Anita still will serve as host, albeit with some trepidation and fear of an accident on one of racing’s biggest weekends.
The field of 11 set for the Classic includes winners of some of the biggest races of the year. A mix of 3-year-olds that include the Preakness, Travers and Pennsylvania Derby winners and elders that have won the Whitney, Woodward, Awesome Again and Pacific Classic make this one of the most competitive fields in recent years.
The tepid favorite McKinzie (3-1) was upset in his final prep in the Awesome Again and questions surround his ability to navigate the mile-and-a-quarter distance. His favoritism is likely in part due to the Bob Baffert factor, the trainer who has dominated the California and national scene over the past few years.
Baffert holds the record for most Classic wins with three, all in a row from 2014 to 2016. He makes a jockey change from Mike Smith, who rode Justify to a Triple Crown last year, to Joel Rosario, who will ride McKinzie for the first time. Baffert cited riding issues in the Met Mile and the Awesome Again and said he expects the change to Rosario will suit the son of Street Sense.
“He's never been on him before so I know I'm probably taking a little bit of a chance here,” Baffert said. “But I made that call because I just wanted to, he hadn't won here [at Santa Anita] this winter so I want to see how he does.”
Typically, the East Coast horses struggle with the Santa Anita surface and haven’t fared well, a reason Todd Pletcher is still looking for his first Classic training win. He brings a viable candidate in Vino Rosso (4-1), whom he shipped to Santa Anita in late May to win the Grade 1 Gold Cup.
“He was doing well and we felt getting a race over the track would let us see where we are as far as the Breeders’ Cup,” Pletcher told the BC Notes team. “It gives us encouragement. He has a good race over the track at the distance. It’s good to know that.”
He was disqualified to second in the mile-and-a-quarter Jockey Club Gold Cup last month, which gave Travers winner Code of Honor the win. The bumping incident in the stretch cost him his second Grade 1 win of his career. With the victory over the local track and the ability to get the distance, he looks to be ready to roll Saturday. In addition, his sire, Curlin, won the Classic in 2007 at Monmouth, an angle not to be dismissed.
Trainer John Sadler, who got off the BC duck last year winning the Classic with Accelerate, sends Pacific Classic winner Higher Power (6-1) to post after a third-place finish in the Awesome Again. Higher Power stumbled at the start before rallying. The 4-year-old son of Medaglia d’Oro out of a Seattle Slew mare pounded the field at the classic distance at Del Mar and has top California jock Flavien Prat in the irons.
“He still got around there third with a big excuse so hopefully we’ll get a good do-over here,” Sadler said. “He’s a Medaglia d’Oro, he can run a mile and a quarter, he’s got a really good family and they kind of improve over time as they get older.”
In hopes of a repeat of 2009, a 5-year-old mare named Elate will try to mimic the accomplishment of the great Zenyatta, by becoming the second female to capture the Classic. She won’t have the hometown fanaticism that Zenyatta enjoyed as she thundered down the stretch 10 years ago to a shaking Santa Anita grandstand, but she has the stamina to endure the 10 furlongs. Jose Ortiz has the mount on the big mare, who also gets a three-pound weight break from the elder horses in the race.
Trainer Bill Mott is confident that he has the daughter of Medaglia d'Oro placed correctly in the Classic, avoiding the well-regarded Midnight Bisou in the Distaff at 9 furlongs. The former Alabama winner is 3-for-3 at the distance and Mott knows the Classic field is wide open and ripe for the taking.
“You know she’s a Grade 1 winner at both distances (9 and 10 furlongs) and it just seems like for whatever reason she just cruises along very well and she still has run in her going a mile and a quarter,” Mott said. “Some horses seem to flatten out a little bit at that distance, but she always seems to be coming on strong.”
A horse who almost stole the Preakness with a late run, Owendale (15-1), is my longshot play who should be running late and could join the fray for trainer Brad Cox.
Post Time Outlook: 1. Vino Rosso; 2. Higher Power; 3. Elate; 4. Owendale
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.
POST POSITION CHART
$6 Million Breeders’ Cup Classic – Santa Anita Park - Post Time: 8:44 p.m. EDT
|1||Math Wizard||Saffie||Santana, Jr.||30-1|
|2||Seeking the Soul||Stewart||Hernandez, Jr.||20-1|
|4||War of Will||Casse||Gaffalione||20-1|
|10||Vino Rosso||Pletcher||Ortiz, Jr.||4-1|
|11||Code of Honor||McGaughey||Velazquez||4-1|