June 6, 2023

Breeders’ Cup implications: California prep races

Accelerate and jockey Joel Rosario win the Awesome Again Stakes (G1) on September 29, 2018, at Santa Anita Park © BENOIT PHOTO

Pre-entries will be released next week for the 14-race Breeders’ Cup program and this is a good time to review the final round of prep races stateside. Here are some quick thoughts on the California races (listed chronologically):

Breeders’ Cup California Implications

Santa Anita Park

Eddie D (G3), September 28: Solid tune-up for last year’s Turf Sprint (G1) winner. Following back-to-back wins at five furlongs, Stormy Liberal stretched back out to about 6 1/2-furlong distance and proved best by a head. He upset last year’s Turf Sprint at 30-1, returning from a five-month layoff after an unplaced effort, and six-year-old will bring improved form to his title defense.

Awesome Again (G1), Santa Anita, September 29: Top two have serious Classic (G1) aspirations. Accelerate notched his fourth Grade 1 victory in Southern California this year, scoring by 2 1/4 lengths, and it was more of a workmanlike performance than his smashing wins in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1), Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) and Pacific Classic (G1). He’s a deserving Classic favorite (registered a 114 BRIS Speed rating in the Pacific Classic) but I’m concerned by his tendency to break slowly in recent starts. That hasn’t hurt him in short fields with mostly overmatched rivals, but a tardy beginning in a large Classic field could prove detrimental. West Coast desperately needed a race making his first start since a runner-up finish in March’s Dubai World Cup (G1) and was headstrong early racing on the lead. It looked like he was going to be third turning for home and I liked how West Coast dug in gamely through the stretch to hold runner-up honors.

American Pharoah (G1), September 29: Probable Juvenile (G1) favorite made short work of rivals. Game Winner prompted the pace and drew off nicely entering the stretch, equaling his 97 BRIS Speed rating from his Del Mar Futurity (G1) while making his two-turn debut. Unbeaten from three starts, the Candy Ride colt has proven tractable and gives Bob Baffert an excellent chance for his fourth Juvenile win.

Chandelier (G1), September 29: California-based runners have captured four of the last six editions of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) and Bellafina will be one of the betting favorites this year. By Quality Road, who sired 2017 Juvenile Fillies heroine Caledonia Road, Bellafina romped by 6 1/2 lengths, recording her third straight convincing stakes score for Simon Callaghan. But she needed :33.47 to complete her final five-sixteenths in the Chandelier, coming home nearly two seconds slower than Game Winner a couple of races earlier, and received only a 68 BRIS Late Pace rating when finishing slowly in the Del Mar Debutante (G1) in her previous outing. Vibrance finished second in her stakes debut but will need to improve upon her last two Speed figures (87 and 86).

Rodeo Drive (G1), September 29: May not produce any Filly & Mare Turf (G1) runners. Vasilika, who was claimed for $40,000 earlier this year, notched her seventh straight win for Jerry Hollender, but the four-year-old filly isn’t Breeders’ Cup eligible ($100,000 supplemental fee) and the 1 3/8-mile distance doesn’t look like a good fit. Cambodia showed more speed than usual and weakened late to be third. She was also third in the 2017 Filly & Mare Turf when it was contested at 1 1/8 miles over a Del Mar turf course she relishes.

Zenyatta (G1), September 30: Stunning result for a leading Distaff (G1) contender. Abel Tasman broke slowly as the 1-9 favorite and lacked interest the rest of the way, finishing more than 10 lengths back in fifth. Bob Baffert said she wasn’t herself heading into the race and believes she’ll bounce back. The four-year-old filly, who was exiting an outstanding win over the now-sidelined Elate in the Personal Ensign (G1) and romped in the Ogden Phipps (G1) two starts previously, returned quickly to the worktab with a five-furlong drill 12 days later. Vale Dori, who was exiting a pair of odds-on losses versus restricted stakes foes, snapped a six-race losing skein but garnered only a 94 BRIS Speed rating.

John Henry Turf Championship (G2), September 30: Not a viable Turf (G1) prep. Liam the Charmer earned his first stakes win with the half-length decision but will be an enormous longshot if he ships to Churchill Downs.

Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1), October 6: Important race for the Sprint (G1). Roy H has followed the same pattern from last year, finishing second in the Bing Crosby (G1) prior to winning the Santa Anita Sprint Championship, and he’ll make a Sprint title defense off a sharp 2 3/4-length victory that netted a 105 BRIS Speed rating. Ransom the Moon raced up close from the start and made an early move to challenge for the lead before winding up a well-beaten third in an effort that helps his price next time. He’s better dropping off the pace and making one run (see the Bing Crosby) and should receive the proper set-up at Churchill Downs.

Speakeasy, October 6: May produce some outsiders for the inaugural Juvenile Turf Sprint. Its Gonna Hurt, who graduated in his second start versus maiden claiming rivals at Del Mar, posted an 8-1 upset in his turf debut. Whooping Jay, who was exiting a slow maiden win versus state-bred rivals at Los Alamitos, also jumped up while trying turf, finishing second at 10-1. Mae Never No could be given another chance by Wesley Ward after a close third as the 6-5 favorite.

City of Hope Mile (G2), October 6: Likely no impact upon the Mile (G1). Sharp Samurai prevailed by a nose as the 6-5 favorite against a suspect cast.

L.A. Woman (G3), October 7: Useful prep in a competitive division. Following a third in the Rancho Bernardo (G3), Skye Diamonds exacted a measure of revenge upon Anonymity and Yuvetsi by rallying to win going away by 1 1/4 lengths and the five-year-old California-bred mare will ship to the Breeders’ Cup in peak form for Bill Spawr. She finished fourth in last year’s Filly & Mare Sprint (G1). Anonymity dueled through an opening quarter-mile in :21.51 and will be a pace factor off her runner-up finish; the lightly-raced daughter of Tapit look intriguing for her third stakes attempt.

Zuma Beach, October 8: Top two confirmed themselves as leading American-based contenders for the Juvenile Turf (G1). King of Speed recorded his second straight turf stakes win for Jeff Bonde, rallying from well off the pace to win going away by 1 1/4 lengths. The Jimmy Creed colt broke his maiden in good fashion when taking the September 2 Del Mar Juvenile Turf. Much Better ran well in his turf bow for Bob Baffert, showing good speed from the start and checking in a clear second as the 6-5 favorite. By Pioneerof the Nile, Much Better is out 2012 Filly & Mare Sprint runner-up Dust and Diamonds.

Surfer Girl, October 8: Skeptical of its value for the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). Lakerball, a Cal-bred daughter of Lakerville who broke her maiden for a tag at Del Mar, sprung a 33-1 upset leading wire-to-wire on slow fractions and will be up against it if she proceeds to the Breeders’ Cup. Lady Prancealot offered a decent closing kick for second; she’ll face a steep class hike but merits a look for the vertical exotics if ships in for Richard Baltas. Summering didn’t experience the best trip but appeared to regress after a pair of solid wins at Del Mar.