“Look at the places he's taken us,” added Finley. “It's really been fun to be part of the ride.”
The chestnut son of Awesome Again, purchased for $150,000 as a 2yo at a Barretts sale, has taken his owners from California to New Jersey to Hong Kong to Washington to Illinois while earning $1,695,682 in 30 starts for trainer Craig Dollase.
“You'd like to be a little more inside,” said Finley. “But the post isn't going to get us beat. The competition is.”
Colonel John – Colonel John, the only Classic contender returning from last year’s edition of the race, jogged 1m this morning under Paul Turner rather than regular exercise rider Yutta Lang.
“When he breezes, Lang is on him because he’s lighter,” Turner explained. “The horse is doing just great. He went as good as ever this morning. You’d never know he was sick.”
A 4yo son of Tiznow, Colonel John was extremely sick earlier in the year and that was only one of the setbacks that sidelined him for the first half of his 2009 campaign. While training for the Santa Anita Handicap on Mar. 7, he pulled a muscle that knocked him out of the race. To make matters worse, he came down with a fever that morning that ultimately turned into pneumonia and put his life in jeopardy.
Colonel John’s recovery lasted until July, but trainer Eoin Harty’s patience and excellent horsemanship paid off.
In the first start back for the WinStar Farms homebred on July 31, Colonel John closed strongly on Del Mar’s turf course to capture the Wickerr in 1:32 3/5. His final time was just 2/5 off the course record.
Einstein – Trainer Helen Pitts-Blasi was relaxed and happy as she held her Santa Anita Handicap winner while he had his feet washed following a 1m gallop on Wednesday. Einstein also stood in the gate before his morning exercise.
“It’s going to be a tough race, but with a good trip, I think we can get a piece of it,” said Pitts-Blasi. “I love our post and I think we’ll be fine.”
“I don’t know what the plans will be for him after the race, but I hope if he wins they retire him. He deserves it. He deserves to have a good race. He ran good in the Pacific Classic and needs to take a shot here.”
Einstein, a 7yo Spend a Buck horse, has won 11 races from 28 starts over four seasons of racing. In addition to winning the “Big ‘Cap”, he also won the Turf Classic at Churchill and most recently finished second in the Pacific Classic. When asked what makes him so special, Pitts-Blasi replied “It’s his personality and heart, his will to win. He just loves to run.”
Gio Ponti – After arriving on a flight from New York yesterday, Classic hopeful Gio Ponti went to the track Wednesday morning to gallop 7f under Christophe Lorieul, the assistant to trainer Christophe Clement.
“He shipped well and is in tip-top physical shape,” said Lorieul. “Shipping was a problem with him when he was younger and he would get nervous, but now that he is a four-year-old, he handles the travel much better. His coat, his weight, and all else looks very good since he’s arrived.”
The son of Tale of the Cat, widely regarded as one of the top turf horses in North America during his 2009 campaign, had no problem with the synthetic surface of the main track this morning even though his regular exercise rider, Jerry Fogarty, did not make the trip with him.
“I got on fine with him today,” said Lorieul. “He handled this surface very well.”
Gio Ponti, who drew post 7 in the 13-horse field and is a 12-1 morning line choice, competed at Santa Anita twice before and won the Sir Beaufort on Dec. 26, 2008 when the race was taken off the turf and moved to the main track.
He has won four of his last five races and finished a solid second in the other. All were Grade I events, but all were on the grass and at different distances ranging from 1m to 1 3/8m.
“The distance and the synthetic here at Santa Anita were why we chose the Classic instead of the Turf,” Lorieul said. “He’s won here before and the mile-and-a-quarter is probably his best distance of all.”
Clement is scheduled to arrive from New York Thursday to supervise final preparations.
Girolamo – The 3yo son of A.P. Indy headed out with the second set of Godolphin Stables’ U.S.-trained Breeders’ Cup starters at 5:50 a.m. on Wednesday, galloping around the Santa Anita track ahead of the Classic.
Winner of the Jerome Handicap last out on Oct. 9 at Belmont, Girolamo stretches out to the 1 1/4m distance of the Classic for the first time in his six-race career, and will also be making his first start on a synthetic surface. He comes off a trio of victories in New York, two at one mile and another at 7f, and breaks from post nine in a field of 13.
“He’s coming out of those one-turn races where he’s stalked 45 and change; he’s not usually quick coming out of the gate,” said Rick Mettee, United States assistant to trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
“In a big field like that you don’t know if they’re standing in the gate longer how they’re going to break out of there, but once he does get out I expect him to be forwardly-placed.
He’s been stalking in all of his races, albeit at a shorter distance. Since he’s going from a mile to a mile and a quarter, that last quarter you’re going to be holding your breath.”
Mine That Bird – This year’s Kentucky Derby winner back-tracked to the ¾-pole and then proceeded to gallop 1½ m on Wednesday under the watchful eye of trainer Chip Woolley and co-owner Mark Allen.
“He went good and looked good,” said Woolley. “I’m really excited. I guess for sentimental reasons, I would have liked the eight hole like we had in the Derby, but the one is perfect. The thing is this is the Classic and you’re running against the best 13 horses in the world. You could run the best race of your life and still be eighth.
“The thing about the Derby is that it’s the first time the horses are going a mile and a quarter and we had confidence because we knew our horse would love the distance. In the Classic, these are all seasoned racehorses that have gone the distance.”
Despite the fact that Mine That Bird has yet to run back to his Derby performance, Woolley feels he has the Birdstone gelding back in top form. He enters the Classic off a sixth-place finish in the Goodwood Handicap at Santa Anita on Oct. 10.
“When we had to miss the Travers, things started to go downhill. Waiting 10 weeks between races wasn’t good. But, the Goodwood did what it was designed to do and it set him up great for this race.”
Quality Road – The 3yo colt, who arrived on the grounds Tuesday, jogged a mile Wednesday morning in his first visit to Santa Anita’s track in preparation for his date in Saturday’s Classic.
The early favorite for the Kentucky Derby after winning the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park in March before incurring an injury, Quality Road made his first start against older horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 3 and was a solid second to Summer Bird.
“We feel like a mile and a quarter is not an issue,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, who confirmed the Classic was always the target in his comeback that started with a victory in the 6 1/2f Amsterdam at Saratoga after a four-month layoff. “He’s certainly run races that have shown us he can go the distance.”
Quality Road’s last two starts have both come on “off” tracks, an issue Pletcher won’t have to deal with here. It will be his first start on a synthetic track.
John Velazquez will be aboard the son of Elusive Quality, who was moved from trainer Jim Jerkens’ barn to Pletcher’s in April.
Regal Ransom – The 3yo Distorted Humor colt was on the track Wednesday morning with fellow Godolphin starters Gayego (Sprint) and Midshipman (Dirt Mile) at about 6:40 a.m., completing a gallop over the Santa Anita track en route to a start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
The Super Derby winner drew post 11 in a field of 13 at the Breeders’ Cup draw on Tuesday.
“He’s a pretty handy horse around the gate and he usually breaks fairly sharp,” said Rick Mettee, United States assistant to trainer Saeed bin Suroor. “You would think in a race that doesn’t have a lot of speed on paper, he would be forwardly-placed if he breaks good.
“He’s in the 11 hole, but that’s a pretty good run; you’ve got from the head of that chute to the turn so naturally he should be able to get a good spot in there. If not on the lead then he might just sit off it; I don’t know what Quality Road will do and he’s drawn outside of us.”
Richard's Kid – The 3yo son of Lemon Drop Kid galloped the Santa Anita oval Wednesday morning following his final tune-up on Monday for the Classic. He went 4f for trainer Bob Baffert in 47 2/5 in that move in company with stablemate Limestone Edge.
Richard’s Kid is coming off a solid third-place finish in the Oct. 10 Goodwood Stakes here under jockey Alex Solis, who retains the mount in the Classic.
Baffert, watching his runners work from the Santa Anita apron, said he expects the 24-1 Pacific Classic upset winner to come running at the end of Saturday’s 1 ¼m test.
“If he’s in the lead I’ll head back to my car,” Baffert dead-panned. “He’s a horse that falls back and lays off the pace. When he gets a run in he’s got about a good two-and-a-half furlong move, so pace is going to be a factor.
“He’s a small horse so hopefully they don’t jostle him around too much. He’s gotta really step it up in this company. And you know with those European horses, they’re the X-factor, they came in here last year and humiliated everybody and they’re good horses this year too.”
Rip Van Winkle – Trainer Aidan O’Brien said some questions he had about the 3yo colt vanished after Rip Van Winkle went to the track Wednesday morning. He said the son of Galileo showed him he is ready for the Classic.
“It’s his movement and his enthusiasm,” O’Brien said. “The way he was when he came over, he was a bit quiet and maybe a little bit lethargic after the long journey. So it worries you. But the moment he stepped out here it all came rushing back. That’s what makes him different.
“Whatever kind of a mind he has everything else just goes away. He must get a massive rush of adrenaline and then he has the movement to go with it. It’s very unusual.”
Rip Van Winkle has not competed since winning the 1m Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at a Ascot on Sept. 26, where he edged Zacinto and Delagator, both of whom are entered in the Mile. The colt has had some foot problems in the interim and O’Brien didn’t like the way he looked after the flight from Europe. But his opinion changed once the colt left the quarantine area went to the track.
“This morning going around the track I was very happy,” O’Brien said. “You get that feeling. He won’t do much the next few days and you won’t really know until you run. Listen, I was really happy with him and I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s going to happen.
O’Brien said Rip Van Winkle is completely recovered from problems with his right rear foot.
Summer Bird – The 3yo son of Birdstone blew along through a 2-minute clip at Santa Anita Wednesday morning, breaking off from the quarter pole to the wire in his traditional pre-race training pattern under exercise rider Leo Atempa.
Trainer Tim Ice said he’ll jog Thursday and gallop Friday en route to a start in Saturday’s Classic.
“I’m very happy with how he’s going,” said Ice. “As far as strategy goes, we’ll see how he breaks; hopefully he’ll break how he has in his previous races and be up close. It looks like the other speed is on the outside so I figure (jockey Kent Desormeaux) can get him ducked down there on the rail and maybe start moving his way out to make sure he’s got room down the backside when he asks him to run.”
Summer Bird breaks from post position 3, inside the unbeaten Zenyatta who drew post 4.
“I like our post, I think it’s a good post,” Ice said. “I think it’s great for racing that Zenyatta is in there, but I’m not scared of her. The way I look at it, there’s 12 horses in there that I have to beat. But it’s great for racing that she’s in there.”
According to Ice, Summer Bird heads into the Classic in fine form. He’s been subjected to weekly weigh-ins at trainer Patrick Biancone’s barn (where he is stabled for the Classic) and last Monday he tipped the scales at 1,150 pounds.
“We weighed him the Tuesday after he got here and he was 1,120 pounds,” said Ice. “We weighed him the following Tuesday he had gained 10 pounds, up to 1,130. Then Sunday we worked him in the afternoon between races and the Tuesday after that we weighed him and he was down to 1,119; we gave him Lasix for that work and he drew up a little bit, but they’re going to do that with Lasix. But when we weighed him again this past Monday, he had gained 31 pounds in a week. That’s a horse that’s doing good.”
Summer Bird also received a visit from retired Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day on Wednesday. Day stopped by the barn to drop off a halter for the White Horse Heroes Award Luncheon to be held at Santa Anita on Thursday. Classic contenders wear the halters, which are then auctioned off at the auction honoring horse racing’s unsung heroes. The funds go to the Race Track Chaplaincy of America.
Twice Over – Veteran trainer Henry Cecil watched the 4yo colt make his first visit to the track early Wednesday morning. Twice Over, a Juddmonte Farms homebred, enters the Classic off a half-length victory in the Champion Stakes at Newmarket on Oct. 17 that is the biggest victory of his 15-race career.
Cecil said the Classic was not a target for Twice Over prior to the Champion.
“In the back of my mind I always hoped that he was up to doing that, but having won the Champion Stakes and come back in very good form, I think he’s entitled to take his chance,” Cecil said. “Take a look at the betting. If he’s fourth or fifth favorite, he’s entitled to run, isn’t he? There’s nothing to lose and hopefully everything to gain.”
Regular rider Thomas Queally will be up on Twice Over, who will be competing over a synthetic surface for the first time.
Zenyatta – The unbeaten champion mare was scheduled to arrive in Barn 66 late Wednesday morning after being vanned across town from her training base at Hollywood Park, where she galloped on the main track under regular exercise rider Steve Willard.
In addition to facing males for the first time in her career, Zenyatta will run 1 1/4 m for the first time, a furlong longer than she has ever tried. The added distance should not be a deterrent, according to trainer John Shirreffs.
“A Street Cry won the Melbourne Cup at two miles,” said Shirreffs in reference to the sire of Zenyatta. Shocking, a 4yo son of Street Cry, won the Melbourne Cup, Australia's biggest race, on Tuesday.
Zenyatta, unbeaten in 13 starts for owners Jerry and Ann Moss, will leave from post four in a field of 13 under regular rider Mike Smith.
Zenyatta, a 5yo mare, seeks to punctuate her career by becoming the first female to win the Classic. Three others have tried – Jolypha was the closest, finishing third as a 3yo in 1992. Horse of the Year Azeri finished fifth as a 6yo in 2004, and Triptych was sixth as a 4yo in 1986.