"This is a big talented horse, said Joe Bravo, a nine-time Meadowlands riding champion. "While he was younger he had his mind in other business. If he's happy, he'll overcome everything and hopefully we'll see the same Anak Nakal we saw in his last race."
Friday will be the third time that Bravo and Anak Nakal have left the paddock together on their way to the post. On March 15 they were united in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, where they were a disappointing seventh. However, that effort did not deter his connections as they sent Anak Nakal on to run fifth in the Wood Memorial and then seventh in the Kentucky Derby.
"He was a much younger colt when I rode him in the Rebel," Bravo said. "Last time he pulled it together and showed me and everyone else what a real nice colt he is."
The Meadowlands Cup, at a mile and eighth, will be the first time Anak Nakal faces older rivals and he and Bravo will break from post four in the Grade 2 test.
With $875,416 in career earnings, Anak Nakal is the richest entrant in the Meadowlands Cup. Second on that list is his entrymate, Belmont Stakes winner Da' Tara, who has banked $699,067. Both 3-year-olds are trained by Nick Zito, who, like his riders (Bravo on Anak Nakal and Alan Garcia atop Da' Tara), is seeking his first win in the Meadowlands Cup.
Bravo, who turned 37 on September 10, is the all-time leading money earner at the Meadowlands. He comes off a strong Monmouth meet in which he finished third in wins (95) and earnings ($4,176,458), despite scaling back on his workload.
"I had 100 or so less rides than the top guys, " he noted. "I think I had one of my best summers ever at Monmouth. I took a step backward and told myself there's no way I can ride 10 horses a day anymore. Fortunately, I was in a position to be able to pick and choose my mounts, but you can't do that unless you have the right people backing you. I'm at the point of my career where I am able to do that. It's a really good feeling, to have the connections to be able to ride less often, but still get the quality horses."
The entire field for Friday's Meadowlands Cup, which will go as race eight on a ten-race program is:
1. Da' Tara, Nick Zito, Alan Garcia, 120
2. Timber Reserve, Kent Desormeaux, John Kimmel, 119
3. P V Lightening, Gary Capuano, Travis Dunkelberger, 119
4. Anak Nakal, Nick Zito, Joe Bravo, 120
5. Past the Point, Eoin Harty, John Velazquez, 119
6. Actin Good, Bobby DiBona, Cornelio Velasquez, 123
7. True Resurgence, John Terranova III, Jeffrey Sanchez, 119
8. Arson Squad, Richard Dutrow Jr., Edgar Prado, 119