“He is still fresh after the five-furlong work here yesterday and happy,” said Nobutaka Tada, racing manager for Hidetoshi Yamamoto.
Tada said that trainer Kazuo Fujisawa is scheduled to arrive from Japan today and will be here to supervise Casino Drive’s training Friday for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.
He trained from the isolation barn at Hollywood Park the last few weeks, where he was joined by stablemate Champagne Squall, a maiden 3yo.
“He’s calm, relaxed, very professional and experienced with travel,” said Tada. “He is very elegant in the way he behaves.”
Tada concedes the colt faces a major challenge.
“He has only raced three times and his biggest win was a Group 2 (Peter Pan) against 3-year-olds,” said Tada. “He faces the champion (Curlin) and several Group 1 winners.
“But on the good side, he is still fresh and hasn’t had too many hard races. We believe in his potential and ability.”
Champs Elysees (Tr: Robert Frankel; ex. rider: Goncalino Almeida) – Trainer Robert Frankel sent his Danehill horse Champs Elysees through a 1 1/4m gallop Thursday morning as he moved toward his date Saturday in the Classic at Santa Anita.
The Hall of Fame trainer likes the way his $1.2-million earner has adapted to the Arcadia track’s Pro-Ride synthetic surface.
“He likes this track; there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “He trains good here. He strides right out. He lowers his body and really stretches out. I know that Curlin has a long stride, but I think this horse reaches longer.
“I tried to train him in New York on the dirt and he wouldn’t go faster than 1:03 (for 5f). But he handles the main here just fine.”
Of Champs Elysees’ 19 starts, 18 have been on grass courses. His other outing was a troubled trip and a third-place finish in the Santa Anita Handicap last March when the track had a form of Cushion Track synthetic, which has since been replaced.
New York-based Alan Garcia will mount the 5yo horse for the first time and they’ll break from the outside post 12. They are listed at 15-1 on the morning line.
Colonel John (Tr: Eoin Harty; ex. rider: Iggy Puglisi) – Owen Costello, assistant to trainer Eoin Harty, reported on Thursday morning that Colonel John is training brilliantly as they make their final preparations for the Classic.
While the 3yo son of Tiznow, who won both the Santa Anita Derby and the Travers Stakes this year, has to take on a world class field stocked with older horses, Harty is convinced that his charge has earned the right to go to the gate.
“I would not have entered him if I did not believe with all of my heart and soul that this horse has the ability to run with these horses,” said Harty.
Colonel John hasn’t raced since winning the Travers by a nose at Saratoga on Aug. 23, but he has tuned up for the Classic with a pair of bullets among a solid set of works at Santa Anita in October.
“He bounced back over the summer and has matured over the course of time,” said Harty.
Colonel John galloped over the Pro-Ride surface and stood in the gate this morning.
Curlin (Tr: Steve Asmussen; ex. rider: Carlos Rosas) – Stonestreet Stables’ Curlin galloped at Santa Anita Thursday morning, stood in the starting gate, and came home through the paddock accompanied by Pancho the pony and assistant trainer Scott Blasi, pretty much a routine morning for the defending Classic champion.
Exercise rider Carlos Rosas was aboard as usual and commented afterward, “He’s a superstar. He’s getting over the ground here very well. I know there’s a big difference between the mornings and afternoons, but he’s showing us very good signs. I don’t think the surface (Pro-Ride) is going to be a problem at all.”
Trainer Steve Asmussen has been pleased with Curlin’s training all week but said, “The synthetic track is the question.”
A win in the Classic would certainly secure Horse of the Year honors for Curlin, who earned the accolade last year. If so, he would join an elite list of two-time Horses of the Year: Cigar (1995-96), John Henry (1981, 1984), Affirmed (1978-79), Forego (1974-76), Secretariat (1972-73), Kelso (1960-64), Whirlaway (1941-42), and Challedon (1939-40).
“Right now we’re very happy with what he’s done so far,” said Asmussen. “I’m very excited for the opportunity to run him in the Classic again.”
Duke of Marmalade (Tr: Aidan O'Brien) – While he didn’t predict a victory over Curlin, trainer Aidan O’Brien handed out high praise Thursday for his Classic starters, Duke of Marmalade and Henrythenavigator, both Group 1 winning turf runners.
“These two colts are as good colts as we’ve ever had,” he said. “They have tough constitutions. They both handle fast ground. Obviously, the Duke stays very well. We’re not sure about Henry, but he looks like he could get a mile-and-a-quarter.
“I don’t think we’ve had two better colts than those. But they’ve raced hard all season and they haven’t missed a dance and they haven’t sidestepped a race. Even with Henry when the ground was on the slow side, and we maybe should have pulled back, but he still ran and ran well.”
Among O’Brien’s 44 Breeders’ Cup starters is the two-time winner High Chaparral, Classic runner-up Giant’s Causeway and Mile runner-up Rock of Gibraltar.
“I don’t think we’ve probably ever had two better colts as racehorses,” he said. “Look at their records, both of them. They’ve run in Group 1 after Group 1 after Group 1. Henry was a Coventry winner and the other horse ran with an injury all last year, and was just beaten in the Queen Elizabeth. I couldn’t say, we’ve had two horses with constitutions and ability better than those.”
O’Brien did not predict that either would defeat Curlin, the 7-5 morning line favorite and defending champion.
“We don’t expect anything to happen,” he said. “Usually when you expect something to happen or really want something to happen it usually doesn’t happen. If it happens it will be great. They are two very serious horses.”
Duke of Marmalade carried a five-race winning streak into the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. O’Brien said the tactics to ensure a strong pace did not work out and the Danehill colt and jockey John Murtagh finished seventh, 3 ¾ lengths behind the winner, the unbeaten filly Zarkava.
“Obviously, you’d say a mile-and-a-half on the grass might not be an ideal (prep) for the Classic, but the Arc was there and it’s such a prestigious race and worth so much money, we felt we had to let him take his chance when the ground was OK,” O’Brien said.
“He’s in good form and the minute Johnny (Murtagh) came in after the Arc he said he pulled up real good. Always, the lad’s first impressions are what you like to hear. He was very happy. He didn’t come in for one minute and say he was gone or down. If he did, you’d be worried. He said he never really got into top gear.”
Duke of Marmalade cantered 1m on the main track Thursday morning.
Fairbanks (Tr: Todd Pletcher) – The 5yo Hawthorne Gold Cup winner Fairbanks galloped 1 1/4m in advance of the most demanding assignment of his career and his first test on a synthetic surface. Team Valor’s son of Giant’s Causeway, the anticipated pacemaker in the Classic, has worked steadily over Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface, most recently a 5f move in 1:00, but, trainer Todd Pletcher said, he has no feel for Fairbanks’ affinity for the course.
“If he’s struggling to make the lead – that would be a very bad sign,” Pletcher said. “Training on dirt, you know exactly where you are going into a race. Synthetics? They all seem to train well over it but they don’t all run well. So, it’s a question mark.”
Go Between (Tr: Bill Mott) – The most experienced runner in the Classic (26 career starts) had a leisurely gallop of 1 3/8m Thursday morning in preparation for his seventh start on an artificial surface (3-3-0).
“We haven’t put him back on the dirt and the turf to see how it would compare to his recent races,” said trainer Bill Mott, whose mot recent Classic starter was Vision and Verse (seventh in 2000). “You’ve got to lock and load ’em and go around there and hope you have a good trip.”
Mott, who won this race with Cigar in 1995, considers this to be a solid field.
“We’ve got to beat everybody, not only Curlin,” he said. “He’s a very good horse, there’s no question about that. They’re lining up a number of good horses. It’s certainly not a one-horse race.”
Mott said he believes Go Between has found his niche on the new surfaces after spending most of his career on turf.
“I think between conformation and pedigree and the way they move, I think those are all indicators that they’ll like the synthetics,’’ said Mott, a five-time Breeders’ Cup winner.
“I think for a real good turf horse there might be a tendancy to like it or be able to adapt to it, but I think it’s an individual thing. It’s trial and error. It’s just one more thing on the list you’ve got to check off when you go through the process of trying to find out what these horses want to do best.”
Garrett Gomez will be aboard the son of Point Given, who drew the rail in the field of 12.
Henrythenavigator (Tr: Aidan O'Brien) – Trainer Aidan O’Brien said Thursday that running the Kingmambo colt in the Classic is a test to see how Henrythenavigator will perform at the highest level over a different surface and a longer distance.
Henrythenavigator, owned by Coolmore principal Mrs. John Magnier, is a proven mile turf runner with four Group 1 victories this season. He and stablemate Duke of Marmalade, who won five Group 1 races on turf at distances of 1¼ m and longer, will run on the Pro-Ride synthetic track in the 1 ¼ m Classic. Though they have trained on them, neither one has raced over synthetic surfaces.
“We always try to do what we think is the right thing for the horses and the system,” O’Brien said. “We felt that he didn’t have anything to prove by running in the Mile. Obviously, the Classic catches everyone’s imagination. We’re just trying to expose him a little bit more, like we’ll find out if he gets a mile and a quarter. We know he gets a mile.
“Listen, if we wanted to be safe and not to explore him, we’d have stuck to the Mile and he probably would have been a short-priced favorite. It’s exciting to see what’s going to happen. We’re going into the unknown a little bit and he seems to be in good form.”
Henrythenavigator cantered 1m on the main track Thursday morning. American jockey John Velazquez will ride him for the first time Saturday.
Raven’s Pass (Tr: John Gosden) – John Gosden, who has trained in Europe and the United States during his distinguished career, says the synthetic surface at Santa Anita has brought together top dirt and grass runners for a true championship race.
“You have the best from four countries meeting for the belt (championship),” he said.
“The surface (Pro-Ride) makes for a level playing field (for Americans and Europeans) – somewhere between turf and dirt.
“The Europeans are not used to kickback, but there doesn’t seem tobe much on this track. Overall, I’m very impressed with it so far.”
Raven’s Pass has been competing in the top mile races on Europe this season and has won his last two starts, the Celebration Mile at Goodwood and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot.
Gosden is optimistic that the 3yo Elusive Quality colt owned by Princess Haya of Jordan will be able to handle the stretch out beyond 1m.
“He’ll stay a mile-and-an-eighth,” Gosden said. “If you’ve ever walked the old mile at Ascot, you just climb and climb and climb and climb. It’s a really stiff mile up that hill at Ascot. He did that mile comfortably. He’ll get a-mile-and-an-eighth. The last eighth I can’t tell you about. There is only one way to do it, and that’s to race. You can’t rehearse that kind of thing at home.
Gosden said the breeding of Raven’s Pass gives him confidence that the colt can get the 1 ¼m of the Classic.
“He’s got a lot of tough old blood, tough two-turn horses on the dam’s side,” Gosden said. “He should be able to stay it, but his father was a miler. His father was a very fast miler and I always have that in mind.
“If the last eighth of a mile proves too far, that’s life. At least we’re brave and tried.”
Jockey Frankie Dettori willl ride Raven’s Pass.
Smooth Air (Tr: Bennie Stutts Jr.; ex. rider: Sue Milne) – Mount Joy Stables’ 3yo colt Smooth Air went to the track Thursday morning under exercise rider Sue Milne, but the big news of the morning was the change of jockey on Saturday from Manoel Cruz to Rafael Bejarano.
Mount Joy’s owner Brian Burns called it a “personal decision by the owner.”
Cruz, based at Calder in Miami, Fla., had ridden Smooth Air in all 11 of his races, including stakes wins in the Hutcheson Stakes, Ohio Derby and most recently the Needles Stakes on turf. He also rode him to an 11th-place finish in this year’s Kentucky Derby, preceded by a second-place finish in the Florida Derby behind Big Brown.
Trainer Bennie Stutts Jr. supported Burns’ decision and said, “This is the owner’s call.”
Meanwhile this morning, Smooth Air went about his business on the track and later a schooling session in the paddock.
“We ‘two-minute licked’ him and let him finish a little in the end,” said Stutts. “He didn’t blow out a match (breathe heavily) afterward, he’s very fit. And he’s like a daisy-cutter…his action, I mean, so close to the ground. He wastes no action…covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time.”
Student Council (Tr: Steve Asmussen; ex. rider: Carlos Rosas) – Millennium Farms’ Student Council galloped at Santa Anita Thursday morning under regular exercise rider Carlos Rosas.
Rosas, 35, has been with trainer Steve Asmussen for six years now and has the opportunity to get on some of the best horses in training, including stablemates Curlin and Pyro, both Breeders’ Cup contenders this Saturday.
Regarding Student Council, Rosas said, “A monster. He’s really strong. He likes the synthetic surfaces and we expect a big race.”
Student Council shows three wins from nine starts over synthetic surfaces.
Asked about having two runners in the Classic for different owners, Asmussen replied, “They both deserve the opportunity to be here. It’s a very accomplished field.”
Tiago (Tr: John Shirreffs; ex. rider: Frankie Herrarte) – The 4yo colt Tiago galloped once around the Santa Anita main track under regular exercise rider Frankie Herrarte Thursday after arriving from Hollywood Park Wednesday and schooling in the paddock during the afternoon.
“Super; he loves this track,” said Herrarte after the drill.
After finishing a distant fifth in the Classic last year on a sloppy Monmouth Park surface he did not relish, Tiago saw a bright blue sky during his exercise at 9 a.m.
The forecast Saturday is for a warm sunny day. Trainer John Shirreffs would not mind seeing plenty of heat, the kind assuring a fast pace for his stretch-runner who came from behind to win the Santa Anita Derby last year.
Shirreffs made sure that Tiago and stablemate Zenyatta, the Ladies’ Classic favorite who galloped minutes earlier, walked through the paddock before returning to their stalls.
“There is a lot for them to look at with all those signs in the walking ring,” said Dottie Ingordo-Shirreffs, wife of the trainer and racing manager for owners Jerry and Ann Moss.
Giacomo, Tiago’s half-brother and winner of the 2005 Kentucky Derby, finished fourth in the 2006 Classic for Moss, who visited the barn late in the morning.