Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith has seen plenty of big races in his day, but even he couldn’t contain his excitement over the record six Grade I stakes races being run Saturday at the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita Park. Five are Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” races, adding an even greater measure of fanfare to the big day.
“It’s a great day for racing,” Smith said. “But in saying that, they’re also major preps for the Breeders’ Cup. You want to perform well in them. It’s the last step before the Breeders’ Cup, so everything’s got to work out right.
Smith has mounts in three of the races. In the $500,000 Goodwood Stakes, Smith rides Tiago. In the $250,000 Lady’s Secret Stakes, he is on Zenyatta, and in the $250,000 Oak Leaf Stakes Smith is aboard Stardom Bound.
Smith’s biggest challenge could come in the Goodwood, where he is looking for a resurgent effort from Tiago, the defending Goodwood champion who hasn’t won since April 5 and hasn’t started since June 28, nearly three months ago.
“We didn’t run him the whole Del Mar meet – he didn’t seem to care for that track much,” Smith said. “We brought him back to Hollywood Park and started gearing him up, and I’ll tell you what, he actually looks better than he ever has. He worked really well the other morning, so we’re hoping we’ve got him back on the right track. He seems to be.”
Smith is looking for positive signs out of the 2007 Santa Anita Derby winner and, if all goes well, hopes for a return engagement in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in less than a month.
“(The Goodwood) is a very tough race, and it’s his first race in a while, so we don’t necessarily have to win, but we’re hoping for a real good performance,” Smith said. “In doing that, he could certainly jump up and win – I’m not saying he can’t. We’re looking to run a big race and head on in to the Breeders’ Cup.”
Smith has experienced plenty of success with Tiago’s connections – owners Jerry and Ann Moss and trainer John Shirreffs – aboard Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo. He’s happy to be aligned with the same group again in this situation.
“I think it makes it easier to perform well, just because you’re comfortable,” Smith said. “I’m not worried about what John is going to say or think, and he’s not worried about how I’m going to ride the race. And it’s the same way with the Mosses – they know I’m going to go out there and do the right thing, give 110 percent.”
In that same vein, Smith is thrilled to be riding undefeated Zenyatta in the Lady’s Secret.
“I kind of ran out of words after the first four or five times riding her,” Smith said with a laugh. “She’s just an incredible creature, and I’m just blessed to be a part of that.”
On Stardom Bound for trainer Christopher Paasch in the Oak Leaf, Smith sees plenty of promise in the two-year-old filly. “She just gallops back there last, and when she goes, she just has an incredible turn of foot,” he said. “She seems to catch horses with such ease. At that age, it’s really amazing.”
The Goodwood field: Zappa, Joel Rosario; Tres Borrachos, Tyler Baze; Informed, Martin Garcia; Surf Cat, David Flores; Slew’s Tiznow, Alonso Quinonez; Albertus Maximus, Garrett Gomez; Well Armed, Aaron Gryder; Tiago, Mike Smith; Spirit One, Ioritz Mendizabal; Mostacolli Mort, Martin Pedroza; and Mast Track, John Velazquez. Each horse is assigned 124 pounds, except 3-year-olds Tres Borrachos and Slew’s Tiznow, who gets 121.
The field for the Lady’s Secret: Super Freaky, Martin Garcia; Wake Up Maggie, Tyler Baze; Hystericalady, Garrett Gomez; Zenyatta, Mike Smith; and Santa Teresita, Michael Baze. Each carries 123 pounds.
The field for the Oak Leaf: Will O Way, Joel Rosario; Stardom Bound, Smith; Candilejas, Martin Garcia; Palacio de Amor, Victor Espinoza; Montana Fields, John Velazquez; Magic Roberta, no rider; Empressive Lady, Tyler Baze; Oro Blanco, Martin Pedroza; Toro Bonito, David Flores; Black Magic Mama, Garrett Gomez; Kinesiology, Michael Baze; and Malusita, Brice Blanc. Each is assigned 122 pounds.
Oak Tree presents five “Win and You’re In” Grade I races Saturday: the $500,000 Goodwood Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles; the $400,000 Yellow Ribbon Stakes for fillies and mares, 3 years old and up, at 1 ¼ miles on turf; the $250,000 Oak Leaf Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles; the $250,000 Lady’s Secret Stakes for fillies and mares, 3 years old and up, at 1 1/16 miles; and the $250,000 Ancient Title Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at six furlongs. A sixth Grade I race, the Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship at 1 ¼ miles, also will be decided Saturday.
Winners of Breeders’ Cup Challenge Cup races will earn the right to start in the championship race corresponding to the Breeders’ Cup division of the Challenge Races known as “Win and You’re In” events.
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.
For the third straight year, ESPN will televise the Breeders’ Cup live.
$1-MILLION GUARANTEED PICK SIX, OAK TREE POLOS AVAILABLE SATURDAY
Oak Tree offers 11 live races Saturday and 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 is 12:30 p.m.
OAK TREE LEADER FRANKEL SEEKS TO ADD VICTORIES IN ABSENTIA
Humberto Ascanio has deputized well for Bobby Frankel since 1973, acting as his alter training ego during the Brooklyn native’s Hall of Fame career. Ascanio will continue in that role Saturday at Oak Tree, where four horses trained by Frankel are entered, including Out of Control in the Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship; Valbenny in the Yellow Ribbon Stakes; and Hollywood Gold Cup winner Mast Track in the Goodwood.
Frankel, Oak Tree’s career leader in wins with 266 and runner-up to Charlie Whittingham in stakes wins with 48, will be at Belmont Park Saturday to saddle Ginger Punch in the $600,000 Grade I Beldame Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles.
“All three horses are doing well here,” Ascanio said Thursday morning. “I don’t think Out of Control could handle that track (when he finished seventh and last by 40 lengths behind champion Curlin in the Woodward Stakes on dirt at Belmont on Aug. 30). “But Bobby had enough faith in him to send him to me, so that’s good enough in my mind. The horse has been here for three days and galloped good this morning.”
Out of Control, owned by the Stud TNT, registered his last victory on Oct. 7, 2007, when he defeated Zann by a nose in the Grade II Oak Tree Mile.
Valbenny, formerly trained by Michael Matz, has been with Ascanio at Santa Anita for “maybe like two weeks,” he said. “She worked well here, but otherwise, I don’t know too much about her.” An Irish-bred daughter of 2001 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Val Royal, Valbenny has a 5-4-1 record from 14 starts, with earnings of $557,453 for owner Roy Jackson of West Grove, Pennsylvania, who races as Lael Stables.
Mast Track, third in the Pacific Classic after his front-running score in the Gold Cup, figures to be a pace factor from his outside post under John Velazquez, who will be riding him for the first time. A 4-year-old son of Mizzen Mast also owned by Frankel, Mast Track has a 5-2-1 record from 11 starts, with earnings of $734,622.
The field for the 40th Hirsch: Ferneley, Victor Espinoza; Transduction Gold, Jon Court; Bonjour, Martin Garcia; You Got Me Rocking, Joel Rosario; Out of Control, Garrett Gomez; Red Giant, John Velazquez; and Spring House, no rider. Each horse is assigned 124 pounds.
The field for the Yellow Ribbon: High Heel Sneakers, Victor Espinoza; Vacare, Corey Nakatani; I Can See, Joel Rosario; Black Mamba, Garrett Gomez; Valbenny, Alex Solis; Solva, Aaron Gryder; Gula Gold, Michael Baze; Marzelline, Tyler Baze; Live Life, Julien Couton; and Wait a While, John Velazquez. Each carries 123 pounds.
STRONG EXPECTATIONS FOR STREET BOSS IN ANCIENT TITLE SATURDAY
Few would argue with the credentials of Street Boss, who has won five straight races--including a pair of Grade I stakes races and a Grade III. Jockey David Flores, who rides the 4-year-old son of Street Cry in Saturday’s $250,000 Grade I Ancient Title Stakes, sang his praises Thursday.
“He’s just a good horse,” Flores said. “I don’t think I’m going to change anything; I’ll just keep it simple. He’s got so much ability. He accelerates like no other horse I’ve been on.”
The field for the 24th running of the Ancient Title at six furlongs: Street Boss, David Flores; Delta Storm, Aaron Gryder; Decado, Alex Solis; Idiot Proof, Garrett Gomez; Sailors Sunset, Martin Pedroza; In Summation, no rider; Esperamos, Julio Garcia; and Cost of Freedom, Tyler Baze. Each horse is assigned 124 pounds.
DOLLASE TO RUN TROPIC STORM IN OAK TREE MILE, SEND AWESOME GEM NORTH
Trainer Craig Dollase has decided to forego Sunday’s $200,000 Grade I Oak Tree Mile for Awesome Gem, even though he had officially entered, and instead start the 5-year-old at Golden Gate Fields in the All-American, a Grade III with the same purse.
Dollase will run Tropic Storm in the Oak Tree Mile instead.
“He’ll run on the dirt (Tapeta synthetic) up there,” Dollase said. “He’ll probably be 3-5 up there against a weaker field. If he can’t win up there, then we’ll see.”
Aaron Gryder will ride Tropic Storm on Sunday. Dollase liked the spot for Tropic Storm, as well as the distance. The four-year-old son of Stormy Atlantic is 2-2-3 from eight starts this year and has fared well against strong competition in graded stakes races.
He was third in the Grade III Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs on Aug. 17 and in the Grade I Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 5. He ran second in the Grade III Ack Ack Handicap at Hollywood on June 7.
“If he runs a good race here, then we might have Breeders’ Cup plans,” Dollase said of Tropic Storm. “We have a lot of options.”
The field for the 23rd running of the Oak Tree Mile: Awesome Gem, Tyler Baze; Global Hunter, Jose Valdivia Jr.; Hurry Up Austin, Jon Court; Tybalt, Rafael Bejarano; Dilemma, Alex Solis; Ferneley, Victor Espinoza; Hyperbaric, Garrett Gomez; Tropic Storm, Aaron Gryder; and Golden Balls, David Flores. Tropic Gem was a supplemental nominee at a cost of $4,000. Each horse is assigned 119 pounds, except Ferneley, who gets 123.
TALAMO EXCITED ABOUT BRUSHBURN FOR SUNDAY’S NORFOLK
Joe Talamo, who won the Morvich Handicap aboard California Flag on opening day at Oak Tree yesterday, hopes to add to his coffers Sunday when he rides Brushburn in the Grade I Norfolk Stakes for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.
Brushburn, a gelded son of the prolific Unusual Heat, won his debut, then rallied for fourth in the restricted I’m Smokin’ Stakes, each race at six furlongs at Del Mar.
“He won a $100,000 maiden claiming race first time out, coming from way, way back to win by a nose,” Talamo said. “Two weeks later, he ran fourth in a stakes, with an outside trip (breaking from the No. 10 post position). Galloping out, he showed so much, and he worked real well the other day (four furlongs in :48 3/5 on Sept. 17), so I think we’re on track for good effort.”
As for Santa Anita’s new Pro-Ride surface, Talamo said, “The track feels good. It’s real fluffy. There’s a lot of cushion to it, but it’s not as bouncy as Del Mar. I don’t think speed’s going to play a big factor like it did last year . . . the times are very pleasing.”
Talamo said he feels like a veteran on the competitive Southern California circuit, even though he’s been riding here less than two years.
“I feel like I’ve been here 10 years, even though this is my second year and I’m just 18,” he said. “The competition is tough, especially with (Rafael) Bejarano and (Garrett) Gomez. But if you look back this time 10 years ago, you had a lot of Hall of Fame riders here. Everybody was in their prime. I think we’re going to start to see that again, starting now. As for me, I just have to keep working hard and keep my head afloat.”
The field for the 39th running of the Norfolk: Regal Ransom, Alan Garcia; Azul Leon, Rafael Bejarano; Del Conte, Victor Espinoza; Street Hero, Alex Solis; Liturgical, no rider; Midshipman, Tyler Baze; Believe in Hope, Jose Valdivia Jr.; Tiger Blitz, Martin Garcia; Silent Valor, Garrett Gomez; and Brushburn, Joe Talamo. Each is assigned 122 pounds.
NAKATANI OFF MOUNTS AFTER MORVICH MISHAP
Corey Nakatani was scheduled to see his doctor early this afternoon for evaluation of a suspected fracture of his right collarbone suffered after his mount, Easy on the Eyes, went down after the start of Wednesday’s Morvich Handicap down the hillside turf course.
“The collarbone was fractured,” Nakatani’s agent, Ron Ebanks, said Thursday morning. “It’s the same collarbone he broke last year. Right now, Corey doesn’t know if it’s a fracture in the same spot, a new fracture, or aggravated.”
Steve Knapp, trainer of Easy on the Eye, said, “He just clipped heels. I thought the four (Get Funky) came over on the five (Ten Meropa), but that’s not my call to make. The five came on top of our horse, clipped heels, Nakatani fell over the top and rolled two or three times. My horse fell on his head and slid and got right up. He seems to be OK, but you won’t really know until later.”
FINISH LINES: Arlington Million winner Spirit One galloped a half-mile at Santa Anita Thursday and will go out again Friday morning. Ludovic Rovisse, assistant to trainer Phillipe Demercastel, said the French import was doing well. “Arlington was a challenge, and we won it,” Rovisse said. “Now, we want to try a new challenge and do it on a new synthetic. If he wins, maybe we’ll stay and race in the Breeders’ Cup.” . . . Saturday’s average field size for Oak Tree’s 11 races is 10.3, not counting also-eligibles . . .
Chilean-bred Matto Mondo, who finished ninth in his U.S. debut in yesterday’s Morvich Handicap, “tore a shoe off (his left front foot) in the race somewhere,” trainer Richard Mandella said. “By the time he got into the stretch, he looked pretty cattywampus (askew).” . . . ShowVivor, Oak Tree’s popular on-line wagering contest, began yesterday with 2,219 participants, but was reduced to 1,186 starting today . . . Cliff Sise Jr., who trains defending Ancient Title Stakes winner Idiot Proof, will be Jerry Antonucci’s guest Saturday at the Today’s Racing Digest seminar, 11 a.m., in the East Paddock Gardens . . . Jockey Clinton Potts, who was moved from third to first aboard Lardog in Wednesday’s second race thanks to a rare double disqualification of the top two finishers: “I’d rather be lucky than good.”