Nick Alexander, the self-proclaimed “king of the $12,500 maidens at Golden Gate Fields,” hopes to shed that lowly image when his Grazen runs in Saturday’s $200,000 California Cup Classic presented by City National Bank at Oak Tree at Santa Anita.
The 66-year-old Alexander is hoping that Grazen, a gray 3-year-old son of Benchmark, can distinguish himself in the Classic at 1 1/8 miles and perhaps advance to the $1-million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on Nov. 7.
Grazen, winner of four of six career starts including the Grade III Affirmed Handicap against open company last June 20, is trained by Mike Mitchell, who won the 2006 Classic with Texcess. Grazen is the even-money favorite in a compact field of six. Bold Chieftain, a 6-year-old horse who won the 2007 Cal Cup Classic, is the 5-2 second choice on oddsmaker Jon White’s morning line.
Trainer Bill Morey Jr. was pleased that Bold Chieftain bounced back from a disappointing sixth-place finish as the 9-5 favorite in the Cal Dreamin Handicap at Del Mar on July 26 to win the Governors Handicap by five lengths at Sacramento on Sept. 7.
Although Morey has acknowledged that his homebred has “lost a step from the gate,” he’s hoping Bold Chieftain fits well with this year’s Classic field and can achieve a victory that would elevate him to millionaire status. Bold Chieftain, a son of Chief Seattle, has a 12-6-4 record from 30 career starts, with earnings of $963,411.
The Classic highlights a 10-race program including nine Cal-bred stakes.
The field for the Classic, which is the sixth race: Bold Chieftain, Russell Baze, 122,
5-2; Star Nicholas, Michael Baze, 119, 4-1; Grazen, Garrett Gomez, 117, 1-1; Lethal Heat, Alex Solis, 118, 7-2; Blackbriar, Brice Blanc, 112, 30-1; and One Chin Again, Rafael Bejarano, 111, 30-1.
MINE THAT BIRD ON COURSE FOR BREEDERS’ CUP CLASSIC
Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird enjoyed a walk in the park—Santa Anita Park—Wednesday morning, as is customary, after working five furlongs on Pro-Ride Tuesday in 1:01.80 towards the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic hosted by the Oak Tree Racing Association on Nov. 7.
First up, however, is the $350,000, Grade I Goodwood Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Oct. 10, a race that is expected to lead to the Classic at 1 ¼ miles. Shortly after Mine That Bird’s work, trainer Bennie (Chip) Woolley Jr. had targeted next Tuesday for the 3-year-old son of Birdstone’s final pre-Goodwood breeze, but hedged on that date Wednesday morning. “It could be Monday or Tuesday,” Woolley said. “I really haven’t decided yet.”
Probable for the 28th Goodwood: Chocolate Candy, Victor Espinoza; Colonel John, Garrett Gomez; Mine That Bird, Calvin Borel; Parading, Rafael Bejarano; Richard’s Kid, no rider, and Tiago, Mike Smith.
Richard’s Kid worked six furlongs on Pro-Ride Wednesday under Joey Steiner in 1:12.40. The Pacific Classic winner worked in company with Limestone Edge, who was clocked in :59.80 for five furlongs.
BREEDERS’ CUP BRINGS OPTIMISM AS OAK TREE MEET BEGINS
The Oak Tree Racing Association hosts the Breeders’ Cup World Championships for an unprecedented second straight year in 2009, and if things go as well as last year, the 31-day meet that starts today and concludes on Nov. 8 will be considered a success.
The 26th Breeders’ Cup will be highlighted by six championship races on Friday, Nov. 6, and eight on Saturday, Nov. 7, totaling $25.5 million in purse money.
Oak Tree’s meet ended strongly in 2008 when all-sources handle on Friday, Oct. 24, reached $47,863,774, and on Saturday, Oct. 25, totaled $107,610,778.
“The Breeders’ Cup brings in fresh faces and some new horses, which make our races more competitive and interesting,” said Oak Tree Director of Racing Mike Harlow. “Typically, that’s what happened last season. We had one of the most successful Oak Tree meets as far as field size, and I believe quality of racing, that we’ve had in a while. We averaged nine horses a race.
“I think the climate in the industry is somewhat different right now, as far as the economy and the horse population is concerned, so we’re cautiously optimistic we can do as well as we did last year. If we arrive anywhere close to that, I’ll be happy.”
ZTREAKING ZENSATIONAL TO TRAIN UP TO BC SPRINT
The sky’s the limit for Zensational, now that he’s learned to relax. After an inclination to be headstrong early on, the brilliantly fast son of Unbridled’s Song has won three straight Grade I sprints--the Triple Bend at Hollywood Park and the Bing Crosby and Pat O’Brien at Del Mar—thanks to Bob Baffert’s patience and Victor Espinoza’s strength.
Zensational faded to fourth after leading in his debut race on Aug. 6, 2008, and lost a five-length lead in the stretch, finishing second as the 1-5 favorite in a one-mile optional claiming race last March 29. He has won his four subsequent starts.
Owned by Ahmed Zayat, Zensational worked four furlongs Wednesday on Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride in a bullet :47, breezing, and will train up to the $2 million Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Sprint at six furlongs on Nov. 7, Baffert said. Zensational recorded an identical workout one week earlier.
“He’ll go directly to the Breeders’ Cup,” Baffert said. “Zensational still hasn’t really relaxed that much. Victor’s really strong, and he’s been able to manhandle him down the backstretch a little bit.”
Espinoza is unbeaten aboard Zensational in his last four starts, including the three Grade I triumphs.
“Since I’ve been riding him, he’s never been rank at all,” Espinoza said. “He might have been for other jockeys who have ridden him, but never for me. Maybe it’s because he’s more relaxed, or he’s matured. He’s a fast horse, but I can control him without fighting him.”
OAK TREE TO OFFER ‘FREE FRIDAYS’ PROMOTION WITH 2 P.M. POST
For the first time in its 41-year history, the Oak Tree Racing Association will institute a full menu of “Free Fridays” throughout its six-week meeting, which begins today and concludes Nov. 8.
This Friday will mark the first of five “Free Fridays,” which all will have a special first post time of 2 p.m. All fans attending Fridays will receive free general admission with the exception of the first day of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, Friday, Nov. 6.
In addition to free general admission, fans will be offered free box seats, while supplies last, along with $1 beers, sodas, hot dogs, popcorn and coffee.
“This promotion was a resounding success and extremely popular with our fans at the Santa Anita winter/spring meet and we’re very confident it’s going to be a big hit here at Oak Tree,” said Oak Tree director and executive vice president Sherwood Chillingworth.
“We also like the idea of two o’clock first post time,” he added. “We feel this is going to make it easier for people who are getting off work to come out, have a good time and get their weekend off to an enjoyable start.”
The first Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting was first conducted in the fall of 1969. Oak Tree will be hosting the Breeders’ Cup World Championships for an unprecedented second consecutive year on Nov. 6 and 7.
HRTV TO AIR PRESTIGIOUS ARC DE TRIOMPHE SUNDAY
HRTV's commitment to showcasing many of the sport's top international races
will continue this Sunday when it presents live coverage of the prestigious Qatar Prix de l' Arc de Triomphe from Longchamp Racecourse in Paris, France.
The $5.8 million Arc, the richest race in Europe, will be headlined by one of Thoroughbred racing's brightest performers, Sea the Stars. The five-time Group 1 winner is expected to be the odds-on choice in a big field slated to go postward in the 11/2-mile turf race.
HRTV's Sunday coverage will begin at 9 a.m. ET/6 a.m. PT, with estimated post time for the Arc slated for 7:15 a.m. here.
HRTV will show a number of other outstanding races on the Longchamp card, including a pair of Group 1 events--Prix de l'Opera at 6:30 a.m. and Prix du Cadran 8:45 a.m.
NEW SHOWS DEBUT TODAY ON HRTV
HRTV will inaugurate its first-ever coverage of the popular six-week Oak Tree at
Santa Anita meeting today with the debut of two original shows--"Grandstand" and "The Edge.”
A new show, "Grandstand," will be unveiled at 4 p.m., hosted by Laffit Pincay III, Gary Stevens, and Jeff Siegel. "Grandstand" will air for 60 minutes on Wednesdays and Thursdays and expand to two hours on Fridays. Saturday and Sunday editions will air for 90 minutes. The show will include comprehensive live coverage of Oak Tree's feature race, as well as a complete look at that day's major races from across the country. It will also present features, interviews and previews of upcoming races.
On Fridays at 6 p.m., HRTV will produce "The Edge," a weekly half-hour show featuring a rotating group of HRTV analysts on a weekly basis, as well as Daily Racing Form's Southern California correspondent, Brad Free. The group will offer an in-depth preview and analysis of the Pick Six races for Saturday Oak Tree cards and branch out for other handicapping challenges once Oak Tree concludes.
"The opening of the Oak Tree meeting is an exciting time and offers a perfect opportunity to debut these two unique shows," said Amy J. Zimmerman, executive producer for HRTV.
"These shows will become a staple of HRTV's programming line-up even after Oak Tree concludes and join the network's award-winning ‘Inside Information,’ ‘RaceDay America,’ ‘Across The Board,’ ‘Pursuit of the Crown,’ ‘Pursuit of the Cup,’ ‘Against the Odds,’ and ‘HRTV Rewind’ as anchors of our original shows."
FINISH LINES: Unbeaten Del Mar Futurity winner Lookin at Lucky worked four furlongs on Pro-Ride Wednesday in a bullet :46.80 for Sunday’s Grade I Norfolk Stakes. The 2-year-old son of Smart Strike trained by Bob Baffert worked in company with Magic Max, who was timed in :47.40 . . . John Sadler, runaway training leader at the recent Del Mar meet, will guest on tonight’s HRTV’s “Across the Board” show at 5 p.m. . . . Today’s second race was named for Hall of Fame tennis legend Jack Kramer, who died Sept. 12 in his Los Angeles home at the age of 88. Scat Thief, a 5-year-old gelding who finished a game third in that race, is owned in part by the Jack and Gloria Kramer Living Trust . . . Ron McAnally is in France, where he will attend Sunday’s Arc de Triomphe. “He’ll return after that race,” said his long-time assistant, Dan Landers . . . Paul Atkinson resumes riding at Oak Tree after missing last year’s Santa Anita winter/spring meet when he was hors de combat. “I had problems with my knees,” the 40-year-old jockey said. “I had some injuries over the years where the knees would bother me, and the right one got pretty bad, swelling up and stuff. I missed the whole Santa Anita meet, and I didn’t ride Hollywood, either. I gave the knees time to get stronger rather than come back too soon. I finally rode at Del Mar and won two races at Fairplex.” Atkinson’s book is handled by agent Tommy Ball.