New meet. New track. New confidence.
That optimistic stance sums up the outlook of the Oak Tree Racing Association, which begins its 40th season Wednesday at Santa Anita and for the fourth time in its esteemed history will host the Breeders’ Cup World Championship races.
The 26-day Oak Tree meet will be highlighted by a record six Grade I Breeders’ Cup prep races on Saturday California Cup XIX on Oct. 5, and the Breeders’ Cup World Championships on Oct. 24 and 25.
“We’re very excited and honored to have the Breeders’ Cup here,” said Oak Tree Racing Secretary Rick Hammerle. “To have it here for two days just adds to the excitement, but the Oak Tree meet overall should bring great interest in its own right.
“The timing is ideal to showcase not only our horses from California, but horses from across the country. We have two stakes Sunday (the Grade II Oak Tree Mile and the Grade I Norfolk Stakes) that also could have Breeders’ Cup ramifications, so we hope to start out big.
“Cal Cup is early in the meet this year on the second Sunday. We’re hoping the first two weekends are strong and carry us through to the last weekend, which is the big one, the Breeders’ Cup.” Oak Tree’s meet concludes on Sunday, Oct. 26.
Santa Anita’s new Pro-Ride synthetic main track has been well received on virtually all fronts.
“The horsemen have been great, and we have a lot of confidence in the track,” Hammerle said. “Ian Pearse from Pro-Ride has been here and overseen the renovation of the surface from the bottom up. It’s a brand new race track, and reviews have been just great. The spotlight is on us, and I think we’re going to come through with flying colors.”
As to filling races on a daily basis, as always, the beat goes on. “The Breeders’ Cup will take care of itself,” Hammerle pointed out, “but it will be up to myself, Mike (Director of Racing Mike Harlow) and our staff to fill the rest of the races, and I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t. Del Mar finished strong, and we’ll hope that carries over into the Oak Tree meet, as it did last year.”
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 on 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 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.
For the third straight year, ESPN will televise the Breeders’ Cup live.
First post time tomorrow is 1 p.m.
OAK TREE ENTRY BOX STRONG FOR OPENING DAY
Entries were bullish for the opening day card Wednesday at Oak Tree. Field size for the nine-race program totaled 11.4 horses per race. Additionally, the Turf Club’s Directors’ Room is sold out, believed to be a first for a weekday opener.
POPULAR OAK TREE STEIN GIVEAWAY TOMORROW
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, also are 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.
LONGSHOT MOSTACOLLI MORT SET FOR SATURDAY’S GOODWOOD
Julio Canani knows how to win a major race with a longshot. The colorful trainer from Peru, who turns 70 on Nov. 13, won the 1989 Santa Anita Handicap with 50-1 shot Martial Law. Mostacolli Mort may not be 50-1 when he runs in Saturday’s Grade I, $500,000 Goodwood Stakes, but Canani hopes the gelded son of Hold for Gold at least outruns his odds, which he usually does.
“He walked out of the gate the other day,” Canani said, referring the Grade I Pacific Classic, where he finished eighth by nearly five lengths on Aug. 24. “He spotted those horses 10 lengths. I’m not telling you he was going to win, but he was going to run better. The time before (third in the Grade II San Diego Handicap on July 19), he ran huge with the same horses. He’s training good here.”
Mostacolli Mort, a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred owned by Jeff Nielsen’s Everest Stables, finished behind Breeders’ Cup Classic contender Go Between in the Pacific Classic and Well Armed in the San Diego Handicap. He has never won a stakes race but had two strong wins in his typical come-from-behind style at Hollywood Park prior to the San Diego Handicap.
Martin Pedroza, who was aboard Martial Law for his Big ’Cap upset, rides Mostacolli Mort.
Probable for the 27th running of the Goodwood: Albertus Maximus, Garrett Gomez; Mast Track, John Velasquez; Mostacolli Mort, Martin Pedroza; Spirit One, Ioritz Mendizabal; Surf Cat, David Flores; Tiago, Mike Smith; Tres Borrachos, Tyler Baze; Well Armed, Aaron Gryder; and Zappa, Joel Rosario.
LADY’S SECRET SATURDAY FEATURES ZENYATTA, HYSTERICAL LADY
On paper, the 16th running of the Grade I, $250,000 Lady’s Secret Handicap for fillies and mares looks like a match race between the undefeated Zenyatta and Hystericalady, winner of 11 of 21 lifetime starts, including her last three by a combined margin of nearly 20 lengths.
But someone has to finish third, and Julio Canani hopes it will be a 5-year-old Irish-bred mare he trains named Wake Up Maggie.
“She was training unbelievable at Del Mar (before winning the restricted Adoration Handicap at one mile on Aug. 28),” Canani said. “Her last two works at Santa Anita were sensational. The day she worked a minute and two-fifths (Sept. 15), Tyler (Baze) was pulling on her, and she was just galloping.
“She’s doing very, very good, and she loves this synthetic. If it’s going to be a four-horse field—I won’t tell you she can beat those horses—but if she would run second or third, I would be happy.”
Probable for the Lady’s Secret: Hystericalady, Garrett Gomez; Santa Teresita, Michael Baze; Super Freaky, Martin Garcia; Wake Up Maggie, Tyler Baze; and Zenyatta, Mike Smith.
SATURDAY’S YELLOW RIBBON ATTRACTS TOP MARES, ONE-EYED LONGSHOT
Traditionally one of the nation’s most prestigious turf races for fillies and mares, the Grade I, $400,000 Yellow Ribbon will be run for the 32nd time Saturday. Once again, it will not be lacking in quality.
Among the expected starters in the 1 ¼-mile turf race is the 2006 Yellow Ribbon winner, Wait a While, and the consistent Black Mamba, winner of the Grade I John C. Mabee Handicap last out at Del Mar.
A Yellow Ribbon longshot with a human interest wrinkle is I Can See, who has only one eye—her right. The 5-year-old Flying Chevron mare was second at odds of 24-1 to Black Mamba last out in the Mabee on Aug. 3.
“It was a real good effort,” said Steve Knapp, who trains I Can See for owner Michael Miller. “I ran her three times in a span of like 40 days, which was a little too much, but she came out of the race good. I gave her 20 days off, and she’s trained beautifully since. It’s going to be a real tough race, but I believe she deserves the opportunity to run in there. A mile and a quarter is her best distance.”
I Can See, claimed for $80,000 in July of 2006, has a 4-10-4 record from 43 career starts, with earnings of $404,679.
Probable for the 32nd running of the Yellow Ribbon: Black Mamba, Garrett Gomez; Gula Gold, Michael Baze; I Can See, Joel Rosario; Marzelline, Tyler Baze; Solva, Aaron Gryder; Vacare, Corey Nakatani; Valbenny, Alex Solis; and Wait a While, John Velasquez.
DELTA STORM HOPES TO WEATHER SATURDAY’S ANCIENT TITLE STAKES
Delta Storm surprised trainer Mike Mitchell when he ran in the Sept. 3 Pirates Bounty Handicap at Del Mar, but not because of the outcome, a second consecutive victory and the third in his last four starts.
What caught Mitchell off guard were the 43-1 odds on the tote board.
“I was surprised the odds kept going up on the board,” Mitchell said. “The horse has good Polytrack form, and it wasn’t like he was just a grass runner.”
Mitchell recognizes that the field for Saturday’s $250,000, Grade I Ancient Title Stakes is more competitive than the Pirates Bounty, but he remains confident in Delta Storm.
“The way the race shapes up, I don’t think he will have to go out in front or be way out of it,” Mitchell said.
Probable for the 26th running of the Ancient Title at six furlongs: Cost of Freedom, Tyler Baze; Delta Storm, Aaron Gryder; Idiot Proof, Garrett Gomez; and Street Boss, David Flores.
YOU GOT ME ROCKING SET TO ROLL IN SATURDAY’S CLEMENT L. HIRSCH
The top three finishers in the Grade II Del Mar Handicap on Aug. 23 are set for what appears to be an even more competitive test in Saturday’s $250,000, Grade I Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship.
Trainer Mike Mitchell feels good about how the race shapes up for You Got Me Rocking, third in the Del Mar stakes behind Spring House and Transduction Gold.
“We’re going to let him go, and if anyone wants to challenge him, he’ll be ready,” Mitchell said of the 4-year-old gray son of Aljabr.
Mitchell knows he will face stretch runners like Julio Canani-trained Spring Hill, one of the race favorites.
“I respect Julio as a trainer in all races, but especially on the grass,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell feels early speed took its toll on You Got Me Rocking in the Del Mar Handicap.
“But I breezed him three-quarters back to back, and he looks fit,” Mitchell said.
Probable for the 40th Hirsch: Bonjour, Martin Garcia; Ferneley, Victor Espinoza; Out of Control, Garrett Gomez; Red Giant, John Velasquez; Spring House, Corey Nakatani; Transduction Gold, Jon Court; and You Got Me Rocking, Joel Rosario.
OAK LEAF STAKES WILL OFFER BLACK MAGIC MAMA A CHALLENGE
Two-year-old filly Black Magic Mama hopes to gain more than experience in Saturday’s $250,000, Grade I Oak Leaf Stakes, the second career race for the promising daughter of Black Mambo.
Black Magic Mama finished first Aug. 30 at Del Mar but was disqualified for bearing out in deep stretch. Still, trainer Doug O’Neill was pleased with her effort in the 5 ½-furlong race, and is excited about stretching her out to 1 1/16 miles.
“We’re looking forward to having her go two turns,” O’Neill said. “She’s got a real good way of going and a real good mind about her. She has shown she has the skills to go two turns.”
O’Neill said Black Magic Mama’s most recent workout was strong and thinks she will benefit from her prior race. Garrett Gomez rides Black Magic Mama.
“It’s a huge confidence booster having a guy like Garrett riding your horse in a race like the Oak Leaf,” O’Neill said. “It’s also a good thing knowing that he’s not on another horse with a chance to beat you.”
Probable for the 40th Oak Leaf, for 2-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles: Black Magic Mama, Garrett Gomez; Empressive Lady, no rider; Kinesiology, Michael Baze; Malusita, Brice Blanc; Oro Blanco, no rider; Palacio de Amor, Victor Espinoza; Stardom Bound, Mike Smith; Toro Bonito, David Flores; and Will O Way, Joel Rosario.
GOMEZ, NEARING 3,000 WINS, ON HYPERBARIC SUNDAY IN OAK TREE MILE
Trainer Julio Canani said Garrett Gomez will ride Hyperbaric in Sunday’s $200,000 Grade II Oak Tree Mile on the turf.
Gomez, who has 2,9992 career wins, is the nation’s leading jockey with $16,296,359 in earnings this year. He rode Hyperbaric to victories in his last two starts.
Probable for the 23rd Oak Tree Mile: Awesome Gem, Tyler Baze; Global Hunter, Jose Valdivia Jr.; Golden Balls, David Flores; and Tybalt, no rider.
ELLIS CONFIDENT ABOUT BELIEVE IN HOPE FOR NORFOLK STAKES
Ron Ellis likes how Believe in Hope has run in his first two races and hopes that momentum carries in to Sunday’s $250,000, Grade I Norfolk Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.
“Right now, he’s running 100 percent,” Ellis said. “We’ll work him a little bit (Wednesday).
“We weren’t beaten far in the Del Mar Futurity (a Grade I on Sept. 3) – he was a little green, and he went a little wide. There are a lot of factors that could put us in the winner’s circle on Sunday.”
Believe in Hope, a son of 1995 Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch, has raced at 5½ furlongs and at seven furlongs, but Ellis thinks the 1 1/16 miles of the Norfolk suits his colt.
“It’s been a natural progression for him,” Ellis said. “The way he’s bred and the way he acts, we think he will be good around two turns.”
Probable for the 39th running of the Norfolk for 2-year-olds: Believe in Hope, Jose Valdivia Jr.; Brushburn, Joe Talamo; Del Conte, Corey Nakatani; Midshipman, Tyler Baze; Regal Ransom, Alan Garcia; and Street Hero, Alex Solis.
FINISH LINES: It was with bittersweet emotions that Richard Mandella on Monday announced the retirement of the 9-year-old gelding, Perfect Drift, who won or placed in 26 stakes races in 50 lifetime starts. He won eight stakes and earned $4,714,213 for Dr. William A. Reed’s Stonecrest Farm. “We had fun while we had him, but he didn’t quite get over the hump (trying to reach his best form),” Mandella said, “and we didn’t think we should push him. He leaves here healthy and in good shape.” Perfect Drift, a son of Dynaformer from the stakes-winning Naskra mare Nice Gal, finished third in his final start, the Windy Sands Handicap at Del Mar on Sept. 1. . . Malibu Stakes winner Johnny Eves, prepping for a race on California Cup day, Oct.. 5, worked five furlongs Tuesday in 1:0l.80 for trainer Jay Robbins. “He went nice and easy and handled the track well,” said David Flores, who was aboard for the drill . . . Agent Tom Knust said Rene Douglas had a change in plans and will not ride regularly at Oak Tree this meet.