“I was an Arcadia Apache,” said Dollase Thursday from Barn 7 as he waxed nostalgic about his scholastic days at Arcadia High School a few furlongs away.
“I played a little basketball and graduated in 1990. I wanted to be an athlete. I'm training the four-legged kind now.”
Dollase made headlines when he became the youngest trainer to win a Breeders' Cup race at 27 with Reraise in the 1998 Sprint at Churchill Downs, a record that still stands.
“Hopefully Awesome Gem will run his race,” said Dollase of the West Point Thoroughbreds millionaire who finished third in the 2007 Classic at Monmouth Park. “I'm not excited about the post, the 13 hole, but we're in our back yard here.”
Awesome Gem galloped 1 1/4m on the main track with exercise rider Juan Olivera.
Colonel John – Trainer Eoin Harty, who sent Colonel John out for a gallop this morning and then had the 4yo colt stand in the gate, remains optimistic about the horse’s chances in the Classic.
“I’m very confident that he’s going to run a good race,” he said of the WinStar Farm homebred who finished sixth in the 2008 Classic and is the only returning starter. “He’s a very good horse and he does everything right.”
But ‘The Colonel’, as he is affectionately known around the barn, is not Harty’s all-time favorite.
“All of the good ones I’ve had are my favorites. I love Colonel John. He’s a really cool horse. He always aims to please,” said Harty, who has had nine Breeders’ Cup starters and won the 2001 Juvenile Fillies with Tempera while Imperial Gesture finished second behind her. “But my favorite horse is Dubai Escapade. She’s just like Colonel John in that she always gave you everything she had.”
Colonel John, a son of back-to-back Classic winner Tiznow, is proven on the synthetic surface and the 2008 Travers winner is certainly proven at the 1 ¼ m Classic distance. He’s got a versatile running style along with home field advantage. But will that all be enough to get him to the winner’s circle on Saturday?
“We’ll find out,” said Harty. “There’s not just one horse to beat in this race, there are 12 more. This is a great field in the Classic this year. He’s coming up to the race in great shape and Garrett (Gomez) knows him well and knows how to ride him. Now we’re hoping for a clean trip and racing luck.”
Einstein – Trainer Helen Pitts-Blasi had sore arms after putting her Classic hopeful through his paces on Thursday, galloping 1 ½ m over the main track.
“He galloped strong,” said Pitts-Blasi, who is seeking to become the first female trainer to win the Classic. “He was very strong. My arms were burning by the time we got through.”
Pitts-Blasi will give jockey Julien Leparoux a leg up on Einstein for the seventh consecutive time on Saturday and said she plans to give him very few instructions.
“I’ll just tell him to sit behind the speed and have a good trip,” she said. “With this kind of race, anything can happen.”
Einstein will school in the paddock during the third race.
Gio Ponti – “He’s a very good horse. I am sure of that. This is the best horse I have ever trained,” Christophe Clement said of his Classic hopeful on Thursday morning.
That is high praise indeed for Gio Ponti as he will be the 18th horse that the trainer starts in Breeders’ Cup races when he leads the 4yo colt over on Saturday. While Clement has a long list of Graded stakes winners on his resume and is the only trainer to have won the prestigious Beverly D. at Arlington Park three times, he has yet to add an Eclipse Award to his trophy case
“I’m a lucky guy. I’ve had many, many good horses but I have never trained a champion,” he said.
Clement, who has also never won a Breeders’ Cup race, has high hopes that all will soon change.
“This horse has overcome so much. He won four Grade I races this year on different turf courses and in different conditions, and at different differences of one mile, a mile-and-three-eighths, and a mile-and-a-quarter, and he raced in Chicago, New York, and California,” he said.
“He should have won a fifth Grade I (in the Turf Classic at Belmont on Oct. 3). I’m the one who got him beat that day. It was my fault. The turf was extra soft that day, the worst I have seen at Belmont, and he just got tired in the last 75 yards.”
The winner of this year’s Arlington Million, Manhattan Handicap, Man o’ War, and Kilroe Handicap is widely hailed as North America’s best turf horse, but Clement remains solidly convinced that his decision to run Gio Ponti in the Classic on the synthetic track is the right one.
“Of course he has done so well on the grass and the question mark is the surface,” Clement acknowledged. “But he has been able to overcome all year long and we have one more race to go. We have nothing to lose and can only gain by running in the Classic.”
Adding the Classic victory to the multiple Grade I grass stakes he has won would make Gio Ponti an even more valuable commodity as a stallion, but he may not be quite ready for his next career.
“I don’t know if he will race again next year,” said Clement. “Shane Ryan (the owner) will make that decision in the next few weeks. But I hope to have him back next year. He is such an important horse in the barn.”
Gio Ponti, who was bred by the Ryan family, galloped 1 ¼ m this morning with assistant trainer Christophe Lorieul up and will school in the paddock this afternoon.
“I am very happy with the way this horse is training and his condition,” Clement said. “I am delighted.”
Girolamo – The 3yo son of A.P. Indy galloped at Santa Anita Thursday morning leading up to his big test in the Classic. Trainer Saeed bin Suroor was on hand to track his progress after arriving the day before.
“This is a tough race, hard race to ask of him, but we’ll give him a chance,” he said of the Godolphin runner, who comes into the Classic off a three-race win streak that includes an Oct. 11 victory in the Jerome.
Mine That Bird – For the second straight morning the Kentucky Derby winner jogged once the wrong way around track and then galloped 1 ½ m and trainer Chip Woolley continues to gain confidence in his charge
“He looked good,” said Woolley. “We’re ready.”
Woolley has been saying all week that he believes Mine That Bird’s best chance on Saturday will be to drop back early, stay covered up behind horses and make one run at the end.
“I was pretty down after the Goodwood and I think (jockey) Calvin (Borel) felt the same way,” said Woolley. “But, when you analyze the race, you see that the fractions were just too slow and he was too far back. He still may be further back, but they will be going a lot faster this time. And, it’s an eighth of an mile farther, which is key for this horse.
“I’m just going to tell Calvin to ride him like he did in the Derby -- to sit back and make one run. I’d rather be too far back early and finish third than to be too close (to the pace) and run fifth.”
Mine That Bird will be seeking to become the fifth Kentucky Derby winner and first since Unbridled in 1990 to win the Classic. The other three were Ferdinand, Alysheba and Sunday Silence, although Ferdinand and Alysheba were both four when they won.
Quality Road – The colt who enjoyed the lion’s share of the Triple Crown buzz in the springtime could salvage his sophomore season with a victory in the Classic for trainer Todd Pletcher. He galloped 1 ¼m on the main track Thursday morning.
“I think he’s coming up to the race really well,” said Pletcher, who took over the training of the Elusive Quality colt after a quarter-crack in his right front hoof sidelined plans for the Kentucky Derby. “He’s had a good series of prep races, and I thought he galloped over the track really well this morning.”
After missing more than four months and the entire Triple Crown series, Quality Road came back with a record-setting performance in the 6 1/2f Amsterdam at Saratoga, a blistering 1:13 3/5 outing that indicated the quality displayed in winning the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby was still very much present. He lost his next two starts, but both were on drenched dirt surfaces.
“We’re been a little frustrated at having to run on sloppy tracks the last two times, but that’s the way it goes,” Pletcher said of his third in the Travers and second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
“We’re hoping this surface is something that he likes. Based on his pedigree being by Elusive Quality out of a Strawberry Road mare, there’s some turf influence there and usually that’s helpful on synthetics.
“This is an ambitious spot,” Pletcher said. “It’s typical of this type of race, loaded with the highest caliber of horse. We obviously believe he fits.”
John Velazquez rides for owner Edward P. Evans.
Regal Ransom – Trainer Saeed bin Suroor kept a close eye on his United States-based Godolphin runners -- including Classic contender Regal Ransom -- while he watched them gallop at Santa Anita Thursday morning after he arrived Wednesday afternoon.
The Godolphin trainer viewed his colt’s chances realistically considering the tough competition, but remarked upon how well the 3yo son of Distorted Humor has been training over the surface under the supervision of United States assistant Rick Mettee.
“It depends on how the pace goes,” said bin Suroor. “If they go a nice pace and he sits in nice position, I think he will be happy with this. He’s improving all the time; he’s in good form and working well.”
Regal Ransom last worked a handy 5f in 59 1/5 at Santa Anita Nov. 1. Coming off a win in the Sept 18 Super Derby, he’ll break from post 11 in the Classic’s 13-horse field under Richard Migliore. He ran eighth in this year’s Kentucky Derby.
Richard's Kid – The Pacific Classic upset winner galloped at Santa Anita Thursday morning, gearing up for his longshot tackle of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Trainer Bob Baffert didn’t have much to say about his 4yo son of Lemon Drop Kid that hasn’t already been said.
“Things have to go right for him, he’s a horse that you’re in there and you’re just hoping you might be lucky enough to hit the board,” he said. “But then, you never know what’s going to happen.”
Richard’s Kid, who comes off a third-place finish in the Oct. 10 Goodwood here after winning the Pacific Classic at odds of 24-1, will gallop Friday leading up to his Saturday start.
Rip Van Winkle – Trainer Aidan O’Brien said Thursday that he is pleased with the way the 3yo son of Galileo looked during his visit to the track. Rip Van Winkle, who has had foot issues all year, cantered on the main track.
Rip Van Winkle’s feet were affected by a severe infection last winter. Both front feet and the left rear had problems during the year. In mid-October, the colt had some trouble in the right rear. However, O’Brien said the problems areas have responded to treatment – which include patches on the hoofs - and Rip Van Winkle is ready to compete Saturday in the Classic.
“What happened in the spring we couldn’t undo and the only way we could have was not to race this year,” O’Brien said. “The issue we had with him a week or two ago, was the last that we’ve had with him.”
O’Brien liked what he saw of Rip Van Winkle Wednesday morning and had the same opinion Thursday.
Rip Van Winkle has only raced five times this year. He returned to competition on May 2 with a fourth-place finish behind the now-retired standout Sea the Stars in the 2000 Guineas. He was fourth again in the Epsom Derby and was beaten a length by Sea the Stars in the Eclipse Stakes. Rip Van Winkle completed his spring and summer campaign with a win in the Sussex Stakes on July 29. He returned in September to win the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot.
“I’m amazed really that ‘Rip’ has been through the season that he has and run in the races. He’s run in all top races all the time,” O’Brien said. “Usually when a horse suffers those things, the season does catch up to them. I was obviously a bit worried and when he was asked to travel he was a little bit dejected looking. Yesterday (Wednesday) and again this morning he was very happy on the track.”
O’Brien described the colt as “a beautiful mover,” and after the trip to the track Wednesday ranked him at the top of his 52 Breeders’ Cup starters.
“There's no doubt that this is a very special horse and we haven't come here with a horse of this caliber before,” O'Brien said. “But he's had a lot of issues and he's swum against the tide all season.
“He's the most natural athlete and you could see that this morning, the movement and athleticism and enthusiasm. George Washington was like that, but this one maybe doesn't have the attitude issues that George Washington had.”
Rip Van Winkle will be ridden by jockey John Murtagh.
Summer Bird – The Belmont Stakes winner will school in the paddock at Santa Anita along with the field for the second race, trainer Tim Ice said Thursday morning.
They have all that stuff that they put up for the Breeders’ Cup and I just don’t want it to be something new for him,” Ice said. “He’s been to the paddock before, schooling here in the mornings, but now they have everything set up in there and I just want him to see it before he’ll have to see it on raceday.”
The 3yo son of Birdstone has been to the paddock about 10 times after training on his way back to the barn, but hasn’t gone home that way since preparations for Breeders’ Cup began.
“I didn’t want to take him through there while they were still working on it,” Ice said. “Basically today what it’s going to be is just let him get up there, look around, see all the new stuff that they’ve done – not that it’s going to bother him – but I don’t want to take any chances come raceday.”
Summer Bird jogged 1m and stood in the gate Thursday after the break. He will gallop Friday in preparation for his Saturday test, when he seeks a third straight victory off wins in the Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup. The Classic will be his first start on a synthetic surface.
Twice Over – Trainer Henry Cecil sent the 4yo Observatory colt out to the main track for some light exercise Thursday morning.
“He just had an ordinary canter of seven furlongs,” Cecil said.
Twice Over earned a trip to the Classic with a victory in the Champion Stakes, at odds of 14-1, at Newmarket on Oct. 17. It was this third consecutive victory and first in Group I company. He finished second in the Champion last year.
Irish jockey Tom Queally, 25, making his debut in the Breeders’ Cup this year, is Twice Over’s regular rider.
Zenyatta – The unbeaten champion mare galloped on the main track early Thursday with regular exercise rider Steve Willard after arriving from her training base at Hollywood Park on Wednesday.
“We went out at 6:20 and she stood around and looked around,” said Willard. “She jogged off and galloped once around and came back through the paddock. She did it really terrific. Just superb.”
Trainer John Shirreffs said the 5yo mare, unbeaten in 13 starts, will gallop again on Friday before her date with destiny when she attempts to become the first female to win the Classic.
“Optimism is high,” said owner Jerry Moss with his wife and co-owner, Ann, and racing manager Dottie Ingordo-Shirreffs, wife of the trainer.
“She's ready,” said Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. “If she fires, she's certainly going to be the one to beat. I think you're going to see something amazing.”
Smith, tied for second in Breeders' Cup wins with Pat Day with 12, seeks to move closer to leader Jerry Bailey with 15.