By Gene Kershner
With Super Saturday in the rear view mirror on both coasts, racing turns to Lexington for the Fall meeting at Keeneland with several key prep races for the Breeders' Cup (BC), two that will include 2012 BC winners Wise Dan and Groupie Doll this weekend.
Some of the divisions are still pretty close, including the 3-year-old males where it appears to be a 3-way race between Orb, Palace Malice and Will Take Charge. If any of those three win the Classic or fare very well in the race, they should claim the crown. Orb can claim two Grade 1 victories (Florida Derby, Kentucky Derby). Palace Malice has a Grade 1 Classic (Belmont Stakes) a Grade 2 (Jim Dandy), and a second in the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup against older horses. Will Take Charge has a Grade 1 (Travers) win and two Grade 2 victories (Rebel, Pennsylvania Derby). This will be a tough decision to make with this year's Eclipse ballot.
I admit I'm partial to Palace Malice, as a big fan of his sire, Curlin, but there is still one big race left on the calendar that will have some say in this division, so hopefully it will be decided on the track.
Horse of the Year is Game On Dude's to lose in my humble opinion. He's been terrific all year, but will have to win the Classic to stave off last year's winner Wise Dan, who will likely run in the BC Turf. The Dude has only lost once on his home track at Santa Anita, last year's debacle in the Classic, which makes this race all the more difficult to project. He'll likely be a low-priced favorite again, so it may pay to try and beat him.
But with who is the question? Mucho Macho Man may be the likeliest candidate based on last year's terrific performance in the Classic and him getting off the Grade 1 schneid on Santa Anita's opening weekend with a win in the Awesome Again. Defending Classic winner Fort Larned was unimpressive in his prep race, the Homecoming, at Churchill Downs, having to hold off a fairly mediocre field and seems to need the perfect pace scenario, as does JCGC upset winner Ron the Greek.
It should be a fun couple of weeks sorting out that handicapping puzzle.
Royal Delta will run in the Distaff and it looks like Princess of Sylmar will likely be sent to the farm and skip the Cup after besting the defending older female horse champion in the Grade 1 Beldame, running for the first time against open company. She's got the 3-year-old female title wrapped up tighter than a holiday present.
The countdown to Breeders' Cup Friday is at 28 days and my arrival on the west coast is at 26 days, here are my top five things about The Great Race Place (aka Santa Anita Park) as an east coast racing guy.
1 - The Seabiscuit statue in the paddock. With the Breeders' Cup purple and gold blanket draped over him over the big weekend, it's one of the coolest statues in horse racing. It's Seabiscuit for gosh sakes!
2 - The I'll Have Another bar.* Not really, but a truly genius name for a watering hole at Santa Anita named after last year's Santa Anita and Kentucky Derby winner. Hoping to grab a Kirin or Sapporo after a hard day of work.
3 - The San Gabriel Mountains as the track's backdrop. You have to see it live to believe it. Pure heaven on earth.
4 - The 100-1 bar (around the corner from SA). Where else can you find track personalities after the races hanging out with the locals talking racing? Are you starting to see a pattern here?
5 - The Downhill Turf course. To watch the horses coming down the hillside and cross over the dirt for turf sprints is a sight to behold. It's one of the more unique configurations in all of horse racing.
6 - The Art Deco style throughout the physical plant. The place has a very cool vibe and color scheme throughout that gives it that California feeling. It's a clean, crisp and exciting place to be to watch the ponies.
(*Ok, I know I said five, but No. 2 is asterisked as a throw-out).
28 days to go.