“It was a nice easy gallop in 1:10,” said Nobutaka Tada, racing manager for owner Hidetoshi Yamamoto, following the 7 a.m. drill. “He went the same pace. It was perfect. It was just what Mr. Fujisawa (trainer Kazuo Fujisawa) wanted. We wanted to let him feel well. He’s fit enough.”
“He went too slow, like an open gallop,” explained track clocker Russell Hudak. “He was going a two-minute clip.”
Casino Drive, a chestnut unbeaten in three starts, comes off an allowance victory at Santa Anita Oct. 12. He drew post two.
“Victor (jockey Victor Espinoza) said he likes the post,” said Tada. “It was the same post he had in his last race.”
Asked about early position, Tada replied, “This horse can do anything. He is adjustable to any situation.”
Tada expressed confidence in Espinoza. “He has done a great job for us in previous races,” said Tada, citing a victory aboard Dance in the Mood in the 2005 CashCall Mile at Hollywood Park for Fujisawa.
Tada said the colt will train at Hollywood Park Thursday morning before being shipped to Santa Anita. Fujisawa and Yamamoto, who is in the entertainment and gaming business, are scheduled to arrive Thursday from Japan.
Champs Elysees (Tr: Bobby Frankel; ex. rider: Goncalino Almeida) – Trainer Robert Frankel had Champs Elysees out for a jog of about 1 1/4m Wednesday morning at Santa Anita. The son of Danehill from the Irish mare Hasili had put in his final serious exercise for Saturday’s $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic two days earlier when he went 5f in 59 3/5 in company while wearing blinkers for the first time.
The Hall of Fame trainer chatted trackside with the media about why he chose to run a horse who has made 18 of his 19 starts on turf in the main-track Classic.
“His race here (Mar. 1) in the Santa Anita Handicap (on Cushion Track synthetic in which he ran third) was good,” he said. “Imagine if he wins that race. He’s already got a Grade 1 win on the grass, so if he wins one he’s worth a fortune. He’s the best bred horse in America. He’s a half-brother to four Grade 1 winners (including two Breeders’ Cup winners – Intercontinental and Banks Hill) and his full brother (Dansili) is one of the top sires in Europe.
“If the turf here might have been soft, I could have thought about running him in the Turf, but that course is nothing but hard and the Classic is a good fit for him. He handles this track good and I’m thinking the blinkers might move him up, get him more focused. If he gets the good trip and we get a little lucky, good things can happen.
“The 12 post is OK for him. You might be concerned about him breaking out from the outside, but they’ve got a mile-and-a-quarter and he should be fine.”
New York-based Alan Garcia will come in to ride Champs Elysees for the first time in the Classic.
Colonel John (Tr: Eoin Harty; ex. rider: Iggy Puglisi) – The Santa Anita Derby and Travers Stakes winner galloped 1m with the stable pony and Sue Casner, who co-owns the 3yo son of Tiznow with her husband Bill (WinStar Farm is the stable name), was pleased.
“He’s doing well, he looks good, he’s feeling well, and I think he’s spitting fire,” she said.
When asked if winning the prestigious Travers at Saratoga this past August was a watershed moment in their lives, Bill Casner said that even winning the Kentucky Derby could never compare to their first victory with a bottom level claimer named Wardine’s Gem back in 1974 when they hadn’t been married very long.
“I was working on the gate crew in Nebraska and I bought him and took him to New Mexico,” he said. “He was the first horse we had. Sue owned him and I trained him. He was an old, bowed horse and as luck would have it, his race came up in the mud. You’re never supposed to run a bowed horse in the mud but we had no choice. If we wanted to eat that night, we had to run him.”
The horse won that first race for the Casners, and the $600 share of the $1,000 purse kept them going.
“I cleaned the stalls and walked horses back then,” Sue said. “That $600 meant the difference between being able to stay in our apartment and eat or not.”
Wardine’s Gem won again in the mud in his next start back at the New Mexico track. Bill, who started galloping horses at Sunland Park when he was a teenager, said with a big smile, “Even if we win the Breeders’ Cup, those two wins are the biggest wins we’ll ever have because we really needed the money back then.”
Curlin (Tr: Steve Asmussen; ex. rider: Carlos Rosas) – Reigning Horse of the Year Curlin galloped at Santa Anita on Wednesday morning, the day after drawing post nine in the Classic and being installed as the 7-5 favorite on the morning line.
Trainer Steve Asmussen is pleased with the draw, noting afterward, “It’s a decent spot and gives him plenty of time to the first turn. Robby (jockey Albarado) should be confident enough to get him into position early.”
The Classic’s defending champ and racing’s “$10 million man,” Curlin is horse racing’s rock star and, as such, he has his own bodyguards. They are not your typical night watchmen, though.
Amy Kearns has dedicated the past 17 months of her life to Curlin and thinks she took one day off in all that time. She has been all over the country with “Team Curlin,” even making the trip of a lifetime to Dubai for the World Cup. She’s also working on her doctorate degree in criminal justice.
Spending about 12 hours each day with Curlin, she believes she has the greatest job in the world. She is employed by owner Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stable to ensure the champion’s safety.
“People stop by [the barn] all the time,” said Kearns, 33, “but especially after he’s won a big race. Sometimes they don’t understand, though. They can’t just go up to him in his stall.
“Mr. Jackson cares about the fans. It’s not like we’re hiding him…we’re proud, but protective. Curlin is a gift,” she said.
The other 12 hours, mostly overnight, Curlin enjoys the companionship of Abe Marler, who has a military background after serving seven years in the United States Marine Corps.
Kearns and Marler admit they’ve learned a lot about horsemanship working with Asmussen and his crew. “I’m ‘chief bandage roller,” Kearns said, raising her hand and smiling. “Really though, we try to know as much as we can, so we can be helpful in the barn.”
Duke of Marmalade (Tr: Aidan O'Brien) – After clearing quarantine Wednesday morning, the 4yo son of Danehill made his first visit to the Santa Anita track with the group of eight Breeders’ Cup horses trained by Aidan O’Brien.
“They all traveled well. Everything went according to plan so far,” O’Brien said.
“They trotted and they seemed to be lovely on it. They will canter tomorrow (Thursday) and will canter the next day.”
Duke of Marmalade and Henrythenavigator are multiple Group 1 winners on grass in Europe this season, and would have been among the favorites in the Turf and the Mile, respectively. However, O’Brien said the Classic – to be run on Santa Anita’s new Pro-Ride synthetic surface – has been target for both colts.
“If Duke and Henry were still standing at this stage, we were always going to let them have a shot at the Classic,” O’Brien said. “Obviously, they’ve had both very long, busy seasons, but they seem to be fine.”
Duke of Marmalade reeled off five consecutive victories under regular rider John Murtagh this season before finishing seventh, 3 ¾ lengths behind Zarkava in the Prix de l’Arc de Triopmphe, Europe’s biggest race, on Oct. 5.
“The Arc was a mile-and-a-half and it was slow in the middle of the race,” O’Brien said. “Duke of Marmalade is one of those horses who likes a strong tempo through the race. He’s another horse that likes fast ground. He’s very dour and very tough, a good cruiser with a great constitution. If he gets a good break and gets a good position, he’ll be tough.”
O’Brien and the colt’s owners, Mrs. John Magnier and Michael Tabor, had been considering a race on a different surface prior to the Classic before settling on running in the Arc.
“A lot of the thinking was the Arc is such a prestigious race worth so much money and it was a shame to have a horse like Duke to be giving it a miss,” O’Brien said. “If the ground had come up slow, it would have have been an easy decision, we would have missed it. But the ground didn’t and we were kind of preparing him for a run on the dirt or the Polytrack as a prep for the Classic, rather than preparing him for the Arc, as if the Arc was the end of the road.
“His Arc run was a grand run, but he was kind of having that run in between on the way to here. It will be interesting. But he certainly came out of the Arc well and John was very happy with him, the way he pulled up.”
Fairbanks (Tr: Todd Pletcher) – Fairbanks jogged and was schooled at the gate on Wednesday. Team Valor president Barry Irwin waited until the 11th hour before making a decision between the Marathon and Classic. The final determination, trainer Todd Pletcher said, was based upon distance and money.
“The strategy is simple,” Pletcher said. “We’re going to the front.”
That scenario would have also made Fairbanks dangerous in the 1 1/2m Marathon, but, Pletcher said, “That purse had one less zero.”
Go Between (Tr: Bill Mott) – A 5yo son of Point Given, Go Between will be making his sixth start of the year, all on artifical surfaces including a win and a second at Santa Anita this winter before the Pro-Ride surface was in place. He is listed at 8-1 behind reigning Horse of the Year Curlin.
“He likes the surface and he's also matured over time and he's probably a better horse now,”' said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. “I guess he's able to propel himself well over it. Sometimes you can't explain it. He's also won a million dollar race on the turf (2006 Virginia Derby), so I guess we really couldn't say he doesn't like the turf. His only start on dirt was disappointing on a wet track (2005 Pilgrim off the turfer).”
Go Between hasn't raced since winning the Pacific Classic at Del Mar in late August, and this will be the fifth artificial surface he's run on this season. It will be his first meeting with Curlin.
“He couldn't be training any better than what he's training,” said Mott, who has five Breeders' Cup wins including the 1995 Classic with the great Cigar. “His works have been good and he hasn't missed a step.'”
Garrett Gomez, who rode Go Between sporadically during his previous three seasons of racing, has been aboard all five starts this year and will ride Saturday.
Henrythenavigator (Tr: Aidan O'Brien) – Mrs. John Magnier’s 3yo colt Henrythenavigator cleared quarantine Wednesday morning and was sent out for a trot around the main track with the seven other Breeders’ Cup horses trained in Ireland by Aidan O’Brien.
The son of Kingmambo will be racing on a synthetic surface for the first time in what will be his first try at the mile-and-a-quarter distance of the Classic. Henrythenavigator has been competing in the top mile races in Europe this season and had a four-race winning streak in Group 1 races from early May through late July. Over softer ground he was fifth in the Prix du Louilin de Longchamp on Sept. 7 and second to Raven’s Pass in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Sept. 27.
O’Brien said that Henrythenavigator’s running style may help him handle the stretch out to the Classic distance.
“He has loads of speed,” O’Brien said. “One thing that is very important is that Henry is one of those horses who likes to get up on his toe when he gallops. When people or horses are like that they are very nimble and very quick. When the ground is slow, they’re inclined to be down flat. He likes to be on his toe and on a fast, level surface if the season hasn’t been too long, he would be able to do that.
“When you watch him racing in Europe on slow ground, he’s much more sluggish and he’s more dour than quick. Usually, on fast ground he’s quick rather than dour.
O’Brien nodded when asked whether he hoped the colt will be able to skip over the Pro-Ride synthetic surface and get the mile and a quarter.
“We think that,” O’Brien said. “When you go past a mile, he’s never been there before, so we have to take a lot of that on trust and hope.”
American jockey John Velazquez will ride Henrythenavigator.
Raven's Pass (Tr: John Gosden) – Trainer John Gosden, said the new synthetic Pro-Ride surface had everything to do with the decision to run the 3yo Elusive Quality colt Raven’s Pass in the Classic. Raven’s Pass made the first 11 starts of his career on turf in Europe, most of them in top-level mile races.
“I wouldn’t be running in the Classic if it was still on the dirt,” Gosden said. “The problem with the dirt is not the surface you’re going on, it’s the kickback. European horses have never, ever, ever suffered kickback in their face.
“Let me tell you, it will put you right out of your stride. That’s why when I trained here, you could have a horse that could work a mile in 1:37 and change on the dirt breezing, you take them out in the afternoon they couldn’t go a mile in 1:40 because they spend all their time avoiding the kickback. That’s the issue.
“With this, I think it’s a level playing field. It also makes it incredibly exciting because the top horses from all around the world can come together and meet. You’re not going to find a dirt or a turf champion, but you’re going to find a champion. I think that makes it truly exciting. It’s bringing together the breed, really.
“We need a little unity these days don’t we? We’ve had enough negative press this year.”
Raven’s Pass cleared quarantine Wednesday morning and made his first visit to the track. He will be ridden in the Classic by the top European jockey Frankie Dettori.
Gosden said he has a great deal of respect Curlin, the reigning Horse of the Year and the 7-5 morning line favorite in the Classic.
“I think he’s a superb horse,” Gosden said. “I love the way he travels in a race. I love the way he won his trial in the Dubai World Cup. He’s a very, very superior mile-and-a-quarter, old and tough horse. He sets the benchmark and he would hold his own in most generations. He’s a fabulous horse.
“I think it’s so exciting. Someone has got to come and take him on. We can’t all be wimps and hide. It’s great to take him on. And he’s going into a little unknown territory. They say he breezed brilliantly around here the other day. He’s a machine. He’ll probably go on anything.”
Smooth Air (Tr: Bennie Stutts Jr.; ex. rider: Sue Milne) – Mount Joy Stables’ Smooth Air galloped at Santa Anita Wednesday morning under exercise rider Sue Milne, who said, “He absolutely loves it.”
It’s been a fairy tale year for Brian Burns, owner of the Mount Joy operation, and trainer Bennie Stutts Jr. A Florida homebred, Smooth Air got his start at Calder Race Course in Miami, Fla., and rocketed to stardom this winter when winning the Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream, finishing third in the Sam Davis at Tampa Bay Downs and then running second behind Big Brown in the Florida Derby.
Those efforts earned the team the trip of a lifetime to the Kentucky Derby in his next start – the first trip for owner and trainer and jockey Manoel Cruz – where he would finish 11th after a troubled start.
Smooth Air rebounded later that month with a resounding victory in the Ohio Derby. It was then that Smooth Air got some much deserved time off, coming back to the races on Sept. 1 to finish a close-up third in the Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park.
In his prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Smooth Air made his turf debut at his home track at Calder, winning the Needles Stakes with ease.
“I think the horse is on the improve,” said Stutts, 70, thoroughly soaking up the media attention on the Santa Anita backstretch. “And he is so fit. I love it here…I’ve never been here before. I like the cool mornings and the horse feels good, so I feel good. I think he’ll have the advantage in the hot afternoons here, coming from South Florida.
“This group will be the best we’ve run against,” said Stutts.
Burns added, “In the Derby, he started last and then got checked. It was big trouble. In this race (the Classic), hopefully there’s some speed and he can be five or six lengths off the lead, have a clean trip and fire when ready.”
Student Council (Tr: Steve Asmussen; ex. rider: Carlos Rosas) – Millennium Farms’ Student Council drew post number seven in the Classic and is listed at 20-1 on the morning line. He galloped at Santa Anita on Wednesday for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Ro Parra, owner of Millennium Farms, purchased the horse privately just before his victory in the 2007 Pacific Classic, run over the synthetic track at Del Mar. The 6yo horse shows another grade 1victory on his resume, this year’s Pimlico Special on a muddy dirt track.
When asked about an apparent lack of pace in this year’s Classic, Asmussen replied, “You have to concern yourself with everything, but at this point you just try to concentrate on the things that are under your control.”
Student Council tends to come from off the pace, which is true for many in this year’s Classic. Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan has ridden Student Council in his past four races, including the win at Pimlico.
“This is a really, really good horse,” said Bridgmohan via cell phone from Kentucky this week. “I got to ride him for the first time in the Pimlico Special where he came from off the pace. He rated a little closer in the Hollywood Gold Cup. I had him too far back in the Whitney, but he was the only horse closing on Commentator that day. In his last race (Pacific Classic), he got rank in the first turn.
“He tends to get aggressive and I have to grab a hold of him. If I have to place him closer, it should not be a problem, but I’d like to have something to run at. That’s where he’s most efficient. I hope somebody goes out there and does something.
“I worked him last Monday (Oct. 13) and I think he’s doing phenomenal. We know he likes the synthetic racetracks and I believe he’s sitting on one of his better races,” he said.
Bridgmohan rode in the Classic once before, finishing fourth aboard Evening Attire at Arlington Park in 2002. He has yet to win a Breeders’ Cup race and has four mounts in this year’s Championships.
Tiago (Tr: John Shirreffs; ex. rider: Frankie Herrarte) – The 4yo colt jogged once and galloped twice around the Hollywood Park half-mile training track Wednesday under exercise rider Frankie Herrarte.
He was shipped to Santa Anita later in the morning and scheduled to school in the paddock during one of the afternoon races.
“He has his ears up; Zenyatta has them down,” observed trainer John Shirreffs of the contrasts in training between the two starts as Tiago galloped past powerfully and purposely.
Shirreffs expects a big effort from the half-brother to 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo.
“A television commentator said he wondered if the Mosses (owner-breeders Jerry and Ann Moss) were disappointed in Tiago,” said Shirreffs. “He won the Santa Anita Derby, the Swaps, the Goodwood last year and the Oaklawn Handicap. How could anybody be disappointed in a horse with a record like that?”
Tiago has earned more than $1.8 million and was a fast-closing second in his Goodwood defense Sept. 27.
“He was carried four-wide, or he might have won that again,” said Shirreffs.