David Hofmans hopes to use the Grade III Morvich Handicap on opening day at Oak Tree Wednesday as a steppingstone to the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint for Desert Code, a 4-year-old son of E Dubai.
Desert Code has been working well for the race at about 6 1/2 furlongs on the turf since finishing fifth in the Grade I Triple Bend Handicap on Hollywood Park's Cushion Track July 5.
He worked really well on the grass here (six furlongs Sept. 17 in a bullet 1:13 3/5) and it looks like the race sets up nicely for him," Hofmans said. It's a wide open race. I think any one of six or seven horses could win it."
Get Funky, a 5-year-old Florida-bred trained by John Sadler for Keith Abrahams, is unbeaten in two starts over Santa Anita's downhill grass layout. He drew post position No. 4 and carries high weight of 121 pounds. Regular rider Jose Valdivia Jr. will be aboard.
The winner of last year's Morvich by a neck, Get Funky could become the third horse to win back-to-back runnings of the event while joining El Cielo, 2000-01, and Impressive Luck, 1977-78.
The son of Straight Man, who has earned $604,757 from seven wins in 16 starts, will be seeking his third straight stakes victory after taking Hollywood Park's Robert K. Kerlan Memorial Handicap and the Green Fish Handicap at Del Mar.
Get Funky will have to contend with British-bred Rebellion, a multiple-stakes winner in the East, who will be making his first start over Santa Anita's unique downhill turf course.
With Rafael Bejarano to ride for trainer Graham Motion, Rebellion is coming off a fast-finishing second to Lewis Michael in the Grade II Pat O'Brien Handicap at seven furlongs over Del Mar's synthetic surface on Aug. 24.
The Hickory Tree Stable runner has posted a 7-3-4 record in 18 career starts for earnings of $533,367. Rebellion has won three of nine starts on grass. He was assigned second high weight of 120 pounds.
The field for the 35th Morvich: Rebellion, Rafael Bejarano; Siren Lure, Alex Solis; Soul City Slew, Martin Garcia; defending champion Get Funky; Jose Valdivia Jr.; Ten Meropa, Tyler Baze; Easy on the Eye, Corey Nakatani; Five Star Thief, Joel Rosario; One Union, Victor Espinoza; California Flag, Joe Talamo; Tropic Storm, Aaron Gryder; Matto Mondo, Mike Smith; and Desert Code, Garrett Gomez.
GOODWOOD STAKES SATURDAY HAS HARTY "WELL-ARMED"
Trainer Eoin Harty got right to the point when asked his thoughts on Saturday's Goodwood Stakes, the premier event on an Oak Tree card at Santa Anita featuring six Grade I stakes races that could lead to berths in the Breeders' Cup World Championships XXV at Oak Tree on Oct. 24 and 25.
"It's a good stepping stone," Harty said of the $500,000 test at 1 1/8 miles, whose winner will gain automatic entry into the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic Oct. 25 at Santa Anita via the Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" arrangement.
"It's a month out from the big one, so you ought to be plenty fit now and easy to keep fit between now and the big day," said Harty, who also plans to run Santa Anita Derby and Travers winner Colonel John in the Classic. "The Goodwood is a good spot for Well Armed. It's an important race, and it's a Grade I. Everybody wants to win a Grade I."
Well Armed is a son of Tiznow, the only back to back winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic (2000 and 2001).
While Goodwood competition is assured, Well Armed could be poised for a strong performance. The 5-year-old has been in the money each of his five races this year and is coming off a second-place finish in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 24. He won the San Diego Handicap July 19 and was also victorious on Santa Anita's synthetic surface in the San Antonio Handicap last Feb. 9.
He also shipped well in March, when he ran third to 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin and Asiatic Boy in the $6 million Dubai World Cup.
"He's certainly well-traveled," Harty said.
Well Armed worked for the Goodwood Monday, covering five furlongs in 1:00.60. Harty was pleased with the results.
Harty said that, in his opinion, competition in the Goodwood "isn't anything to be really scared of," and he's excited about the big day. Well Armed has a reputation as a speed horse, but Harty wasn't ready to label him as such.
"There's plenty of speed in the race," Harty said. "But he doesn't necessarily need to be on the lead. In the Pacific Classic, he wasn't on the lead. There's a French horse (Spirit One, who won the Arlington Million last month) " if he runs, it's going to be interesting."
Probable for the 27th running of the Goodwood: Albertus Maximus, Garrett Gomez; Mast Track, John Velasquez; Mostacolli Mort, no rider; Spirit One, Ioritz Mendizabal; Surf Cat, David Flores; Tiago, Mike Smith; Tres Borrachos, no rider; Well Armed, Aaron Gryder; and Zappa, no rider.
Oak Tree will card 11 races Saturday and offer a $1 million guaranteed pool in the Pick Six. The first 25,000 fans in attendance will receive a freshly designed Oak Tree polo shirt, free with paid admission. First post time Saturday is 12:30 p.m.
Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface was installed in mid-July and completed late last month, when horses began galloping over the newly reconstituted surface. Oak Tree will be hosting the Breeders' Cup for the fourth time and the first time under its two-day format, which features 14 races with total purses of $25.5 million. Oak Tree will also be the first-ever venue to host the Breeders' Cup in consecutive years. It will present the Championships in 2009 on Nov. 6 and 7.
First post time Wednesday is 1 p.m.
CLEMENT L. HIRSCH LURES IRISH IMPORT ON SATURDAY
Among the 15 horses nominated to Saturday's $250,000, Grade I Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship, a 1 1/4 -mile test on turf, Irish import Ferneley is a bit of an unknown. Six of the horses nominated are from overseas, and Ferneley is making just his second start on U.S. soil.
In the 1 1/8-mile Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar on July 20, Ferneley finished fifth.
"He had quite a long trip coming from Ireland before that first race, so I thought he ran well considering," trainer Ben Cecil said. "Hopefully, if he can improve a little bit, he'll have a bit of a shot. He ran off the plane (at Del Mar). He arrived and ran five days later so I gave him a bit of time after that."
Ferneley had his final work for the Hirsch last Saturday, going seven furlongs in 1:24. Cecil said Ferneley, who finished in the money twice in five starts this year, worked well.
"The Hirsch is a Grade I, so it's not an easy race, but I don't really have anywhere else to run him, so we thought we'd take a shot," Cecil said.
Probable for the 40th Hirsch: Bonjour, Martin Garcia; Ferneley, Victor Espinoza; Out of Control, Garrett Gomez; Red Giant, no rider; Spring House, no rider; Transduction Gold, no rider; and You Got Me Rocking, no rider.
SUPER FREAKY TACKLES HEAVYWEIGHTS IN SATURDAY'S LADY'S SECRET
Trainer Doug O'Neill got a good effort from Super Freaky last time out, when the 3-year old filly ran second in the Adoration Handicap on Aug. 28 at Del Mar. That performance, plus the prospect of a small field, gives him enough confidence to enter the 4-year-old filly in Saturday's $250,000, Grade I Lady's Secret Stakes at 1 1/16 miles, against the undefeated Zenyatta and multiple graded stakes winner Hystericalady, winner of her last three races by a combined total of nearly 20 lengths.
"You're definitely not going to get a lot of people wanting to take her on," O'Neill said of Zenyatta. "It's going to be tough, but we're up for it.
"Super Freaky is training phenomenal, really well. She ran a much improved race at Del Mar, and we're looking to build on that.
Martin Garcia has the mount.
SATURDAY'S YELLOW RIBBON HAS BLACK MAMBA POISED TO STRIKE
John Sadler, the leading trainer at Del Mar and Hollywood Park this season, hopes to continue in a successful mode during the Oak Tree meet, starting with the consistent mare Black Mamba in Saturday's $400,000, Grade I Yellow Ribbon Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/4 miles on turf.
Black Mamba, a 5-year-old New Zealand-bred bay owned by Double Down Stables, Inc., won the Grade I John C. Mabee Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 3, her second straight stakes victory, after losing seven consecutive races while never finishing worse than third in any of them.
She was close a lot of times," Sadler said, "and she had two good trips in her last two races, and they were very key wins, because one was a Grade I and one was a Grade II, so we're feeling very good right now. She worked really well on the turf yesterday (seven furlongs in 1:28.20).
"Overall, I'm excited about this meet. We're looking forward to it. We should be well-represented (in the Breeders' Cup)."
Probable for the 32nd running of the Yellow Ribbon: Black Mamba, Garrett Gomez; I Can See, Joel Rosario; Solva, Aaron Gryder; Vacare, Corey Nakatani; and Valbenny, no rider.
IDIOT PROOF DRILLS UNDER GOMEZ FOR SATURDAY'S ANCIENT TITLE
Garrett Gomez, well en route to his third straight year as the nation's leader in purse money earned, expects to add to his bankroll Saturday at Oak Tree where he is named on
horses in each of six Grade I stakes races.
With nearly $16.3 million in earnings through Sept. 19, $3 million-plus more than runner-up Edgar Prado, Gomez has 54 stakes wins, and at the end of September last year, he had 57. He broke Jerry Bailey's record of 70 last year when he won 76 stakes races.
"I'm on some live horses and that's always exciting," said Gomez, after working Idiot Proof five furlongs Monday morning in 1:00.60 for trainer Cliff Sise Jr. Idiot Proof is set to defend his title in Saturday's Grade I, $250,000 Ancient Title Stakes at six furlongs.
At the conclusion of Del Mar, Gomez flew to Chicago and Toronto for stakes engagements, then went to New York before taking off last week for some well-deserved R&R.
"Idiot Proof worked really good," Gomez said. "It was the first time I was on him so I was glad to get acquainted with him a little and see what kind of horse he is. Good horses aren't all the same, and it's good to get to know them a little if you have the opportunity, and that's what we did this morning.
I've only worked horses (over Santa Anita's new Pro-Ride surface) by themselves, so I don't know what the track feels like working a horse in company," Gomez continued. "Since all I worked are good horses, it's hard to get a real good bead on it, because good horses will travel pretty much over any surface.
You hear some horses go by and it sounds really quiet . . . This track feels good underneath you, but it's just a matter of what it's going to be like on race day."
Probable for the 26th running of the Ancient Title: Delta Storm, Aaron Gryder; Idiot Proof, Gomez; and Street Boss, David Flores.
BAFFERT SEEKS EIGHTH OAK LEAF VICTORY WITH TORO BONITO
Bob Baffert says he'll have to beat "the best filly in California" to win Saturday's Grade I, $250,000 Oak Leaf Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. The trainer, who won last year's Oak Leaf with Cry and Catch Me, and who has seven career victories in the race, was referring to Stardom Bound, trained by Chris Paasch.
Baffert plans to run Toro Bonito in the Oak Leaf. The homebred daughter of El Corredor, owned by Hal and Patti Earnhardt, broke her maiden at Del Mar on Aug. 24.
Probable for the 40th Oak Leaf, for 2-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles: Black Magic Mama, Garrett Gomez; Malusita, Brice Blanc; Oro Blanco, no rider; Palacio de Amor, Victor Espinoza; Stardom Bound, Mike Smith; and Toro Bonito, David Flores.
SUNDAY'S NORFOLK COULD LURE DESERT PARTY
Eoin Harty said he would decide Tuesday on whether Desert Party would be entered for Sunday's Grade I Norfolk Stakes for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles. The trainer won the race in 2003 with Ruler's Court and in 2001 with Essence of Dubai.
Probable for the 39th Norfolk: Believe In Hope, Coronet of a Baron, Midshipman, Silent Valor and Street Hero.
POPULAR OAK TREE STEIN GIVEAWAY ON OPENING DAY
All fans in attendance at Santa Anita on opening day will receive a free commemorative Oak Tree stein with paid admission while supplies last. This is the 22nd consecutive year of the popular promotion, the longest running and most popular in Oak Tree history.
This year the steins, which have become prized collector's items, feature the likeness of Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella, who won an unprecedented four Breeders' Cup races at Oak Tree in 2003. His four winners, Halfbridled, Pleasantly Perfect, Johar and Action This Day, will also be depicted. In addition to the stein, fans will receive two coupons redeemable for reduced admission this Saturday. Opening day patrons also will receive two coupons good for free admission on weekdays.
FINISH LINES: Bob Baffert was undecided Monday on which Breeders' Cup race champion Indian Blessing would run in after her 6 1/4 length victory in the 6 1/2 furlong Gallant Bloom Stakes on Saturday at Belmont Park. "As we get closer, we'll know what's going on," Baffert said . . . Trainer Doug O'Neill is pointing Thor's Echo to the Breeders' Cup Sprint, and will be sure not to work the horse too hard leading up to the race. "We'll probably work him eight days apart," O'Neill said. "We want to have him nice and fresh.". . . Sunday night was emotional for trainer Jim Cassidy, a native of the Bronx who watched the elaborate and nostalgic ceremonies on ESPN of the final game at storied Yankee Stadium, which closed after 85 years. "I was supposed to go to dinner last night, but I canceled," Cassidy said. "I taped it anyway, but I had to watch the whole thing live, including the game, of course. I got choked up a bit. It's been like a family thing for years. Unfortunately, my first year at Yankee Stadium was 1955 (the year the Brooklyn Dodgers defeated the Yankees in the World Series)."