World traveler Curlin has made himself at home at Santa Anita.
The reigning Horse of the Year, who arrived late Sunday afternoon from New York for a possible showdown with Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Oct. 25, was devouring hay voraciously at Barn 27 Wednesday morning after going out for an easy mile gallop on Santa Anita’s synthetic Pro-Ride surface.
“He’s settled in great,” said Scott Blasi, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen, who conditions the striking 4-year-old chestnut son of Smart Strike. “Shipping is old hat for him. This was his first day to the race track and we plan to work him Monday. I don’t know how far; I have to talk to Steve, but probably just a half-mile.”
The Oak Tree Racing Association, host of this year’s Breeders’ Cup XXV, and the racing world in general, are hopeful the much-anticipated meeting between Curlin and Big Brown takes place. Big Brown worked five furlongs Monday at Aqueduct in 1:04.21, galloping out six furlongs in 1:19.66. Trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. plans to ship the 3-year-old son of Boundary to California some five days prior to the race.
Curlin, meanwhile, continued in his low-maintenance mode on his first visit to Santa Anita. “He’s easy to be around,” said the 35-year-old Blasi, who has been with Asmussen for 13 years. “After you put his feed tub in at lunch time, he doesn’t want to be messed with. That’s his house. But he’s always ready to go out and walk every afternoon at 3:30 or 4 o’clock. He knows his routine and always seems to be pretty happy with it.”
WELL ARMED HAS HOME FIELD EDGE ON CURLIN, BIG BROWN
The paparazzi will focus on Curlin and Big Brown, but Aaron Gryder cautions not to overlook Well Armed in the Breeders’ Cup Classic when Oak Tree hosts the two-day, $25 million extravaganza on Oct. 24 and 25.
Well Armed, a gelded son of two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow, captured the Goodwood Handicap, the West Coast’s final major prep to the Classic, last Saturday. Gryder, Well Armed’s regular rider, says having a race over this track—a line that’s missing on the resume of Curlin and Big Brown—benefits Well Armed.
“I think it’s always an advantage,” said the 38-year-old West Covina native, “because it’s a question you don’t need to ask. I think at this point they’re even asking if Curlin or Big Brown would handle it, but this horse has handled every track he’s been on. He’s won on every synthetic track in California, even the one they replaced here, so he’s a horse that’s going to show up wherever you run him.’
“A race like this is very exciting. It’s what we aim for. It’s fun at this time of the year to know you ride a horse that has a solid chance in the biggest race in America.”
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.
O’NEILL EYES CAL CUP CLASSIC WITH MR. CHAIRMAN
Doug O’Neill, who won the California Cup Classic in 2000 with Sky Jack, will seek another victory in California Cup’s marquee event at 1 1/8 miles this Sunday with Mr. Chairman, a 5-year-old gelded son of the prolific sire, Unusual Heat.
“It’s a step up, but he’s doing well and we’re looking forward to running,” said O’Neill, Oak Tree’s leading trainer in 2003 and 2006.
Mr. Chairman is owned by Jeffrey Becker, William and Jeff Strauss and Scott Kaplan of the San Diego area. They race as Great Friends Stable. Mr. Chairman has a 4-2-3 record from 11 starts, with earnings of $188,578.
Probable for Cal Cup Classic XIX: Add Heat, Alex Solis; Cheroot, Martin Pedroza; Mr. Chairman, Michael Baze; South Coast, Joe Talamo, and Top Emblem, Aaron Gryder.
DEFENDING CHAMP BOLD CHIEFTAIN PASSES CLASSIC FOR CAL CUP MILE
Trainer Bill Morey Jr. said Wednesday morning that defending Cal Cup Classic winner Bold Chieftain would run in Sunday’s $175,000 Cal Cup Mile on turf. Russell Baze rides.
“The turf is kinder on the horse,” Morey said in explaining his reason for the change, “and I don’t know how many more races we’ve got in him. I’m trying to take the best path for the
horse. I have another horse in the Mile, too, Pass the Heat, who at present, isn’t quite as good as Bold Chieftain, but he’s an awfully sharp horse. Frank Alvarado rides him.”
Probable for the Mile: Bold Chieftain, Russell Baze; Comoros, Mike Smith; Earnednevergiven, Victor Espinoza; Epic Power, Martin Garcia; Liberian Freighter, David Flores; Pass the Heat, Frank Alvarado; and Unusual Suspect, Joel Rosario.
In other Cal Cup news:
Probable for the Sprint: High Standards, Smith; Johnny Eves, Flores; Partywithlarryz, Tyler Baze; and Topper’s Shopper, Martin Pedroza.
Probable for the Distaff: America’s Friend, Rosario; Bachelorette One, Smith; Gambler’s Justice, Pedroza; and Lightmyfirebaby, Solis.
FREE CAL CUP WRIST WATCH SUNDAY; DRAW BREAKFAST TOMORROW
The official Cal Cup wrist watch in both men’s and ladies’ styles will be free to all paid admissions while supplies last on Sunday, Cal Cup day. There will be a $500,000 guaranteed Late Pick Four beginning with race eight on the 11-race program. First post time is 12 noon. Gates open at 10 a.m.
The Oak Tree Racing Association and the California Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association will host the post position draw breakfast for California Cup XIX at 10 a.m. tomorrow at Clockers’ Corner.
WINNERS ON NEW PRO-RIDE SURFACE DEMONSTRATE LACK OF BIAS
During the first week of the Oak Tree meet, the main track, with its new Pro-Ride surface, showed a remarkable lack of a bias in terms of running styles exhibited by the winners.
"From what I saw, the Pro-Ride surface really could not have been any fairer," noted Jon White, who offers television commentary from the paddock for the Oak Tree simulcast network in addition to providing analysis and selections in the official program. "For the first five days of the meet, the Pro-Ride surface really was as bias-free as it gets.
"A total of 34 races were run on the main track last week. There were 10 winners who either set the pace or dueled for the early lead, 11 came from just off the pace by either pressing the issue or stalking, and 13 rallied from either midpack or from far back. You rarely see results like that with the winners so evenly divided in terms of where they were early in a race. The main track didn't seem to have an inside or outside bias, either.
"The Pro-Ride surface also seemed fair for sprints and routes. In 23 sprints, seven winners set the pace or dueled for the early lead, seven came from just off the pace, and nine rallied from well off the pace. In 11 routes, three winners set the pace or dueled for the early lead, four either pressed the issue or stalked early, and four came from midpack or far back."
FINISH LINES: Water was applied to Oak Tree’s main track prior to the first race today to help mitigate extreme heat conditions, and is to be added two or three times throughout the afternoon as conditions warrant . . . Garrett Gomez and Rafael Bejarano, Oak Tree’s leading riders through Sunday with eight and six wins, respectively, ride at Keeneland on opening day this Friday, and again Saturday. Victor Espinoza will be at Belmont Park Saturday to ride Ventana in the Grade I Champagne Stakes for 2-year-olds and Heavenly Vision in the Grade I Frizette Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. Both juveniles are trained by Bob Baffert . . . Marenstrum’s one-length victory in Sunday’s third race gave jockey Alan Garcia his first victory at Santa Anita. Garcia also won the 10th race on first-time starter Mobilized, who paid $89.20 for trainer Gary Mandella and triggered a Pick Six carryover of $138,410.94 into Wednesday. “I’ll be riding opening day at Keeneland, then I go to the Meadowlands before I eventually come back to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup,” Garcia said. “I have a very busy schedule the next two months.” The victory by Marenstrum was the 268th for trainer Bobby Frankel at Oak Tree, where he is the career leader . . . Jockey Calvin Borel will be at Santa Anita Oct. 25 to ride Delightful Kiss for trainer Pete Anderson in the $500,000 Marathon at 1 ½ miles. Delightful Kiss won the Grade III All American Handicap at Golden Gate Fields Saturday . . . Funeral services for Dr. Jock Jocoy, renowned Thoroughbred veterinarian who died last Saturday at the age of 82, will be held this Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at St. Peter's Episcopal Church, 334 Fourteenth St., Del Mar. Viewing will be available Friday from 12 noon to 4 p.m. at El Camino Memorial Park in Sorrento Valley. Telephone 858 453-2121 for further information . . . Trainer Ben Cecil announced that Super Strut, a favorite with Southern California racing fans, has been retired due to an ankle issue. An 8-year-old gelded son of Lil Tyler, bred in California by Jill and Cal Fisher of Madera Thoroughbreds, is owned by a partnership of Tom and Lynne Miller, Roger Featherston and Lou Giordano. Super Strut earned more than $600,000 from 41 starts. “He has been our Lava Man,” said Miller said. “We will miss him terribly. He has been a true professional and always gave us 100 percent.” She added that the owners are considering several prospective homes for Super Strut, including Chris McCarron’s North American Riding Academy in Kentucky.