While in past years I’d have considered the Santa Anita dirt track to be a conveyer belt of speed, recent developments have resulted in the organisers making the track deeper and slower in the interest of safety. The result is that the trips take a little more getting and it may pay to side with proven grinders than flashy speed horses.
Course and distance form (especially from February onwards this year) should be a big advantage. On the turf, tactical speed is a must in every race, it promises to pose a test that most European horses will not have experienced in their careers. It can prove a real leveller in terms of US horses over turning European trained horses with sexier form lines.
How will the locals shape up?
The divorce of Breeders’ Cup power couple Bob Baffert and Mike Smith certainly gives an interesting sideshow to the races. Smith has picked up plenty of spares and while Bob will be his usual professional self in front of the cameras the devil in me thinks he’ll love nothing more than getting one over on Mike.
Joel “Marmite” Rosario is also worth keeping an eye on. With the rides he picks him you have to hand it to the agent who is probably the best in the business. He’s not afraid to goes out of his way to give ballsy rides which inevitably leaves him looking like a genius or clown. If he gets a few winners early and the gets the confidence up he’ll be very dangerous all weekend.
And how will the raiding European party shape up?
I don’t think they shape as well as in recent years. We were spoiled last year with Enable going over to headline the show and Mendelssohn and Roaring Lion taking on the Classic.
While getting a Derby winner over in Anthony Van Dyck is good, he’s not exactly set the world alight since and is on something of a recovery mission here. Circus Maximus looks like heading the Mile field but Aidan O’Brien has an awful record in the race given what he’s ran in the past.
The Europeans should be, as always, competitive in the juvenile turf races and Magical v Sistercharlie should be the race of the meeting for me.
Magical v Sistercharlie
My money is on Sistercharlie every day of the week and twice on first Saturdays in November. You can’t not be fan of Magical: she dances every dance, always runs her race and is tough as they come, but there’s just too much swinging this in Sistercharlie’s favour to get away from. She’s at home, has had a light campaign geared to peak here, has her optimum ground and trip and for me has just that little bit too much class.
The Classic looks wide open
The hope that Mckinzie as a 4-year-old would develop into a clear division leader has not panned out. He’s without doubt the most talented horse in the field and is now 0-3 this year at the track and 0-2 at the trip – and still has an awful habit of flashing the tail as if he’s not putting it all in.
Code of Honor and Vino Rosso have nothing between them on their trial run at Belmont but again you’d question how good they actually are. Bill Mott’s two in Elate who takes on the boys for the first time and should relish the trip and Yoshida who’s ran some really nice trials for this (and picks up Mile Smith) would be the two most interesting for me.
Best bet of the meeting
Aside from Sistercharlie, who has already been mentioned, Dennis Moment in the Juvenile is one of which I’m becoming more and more of a fan. His maiden win by 20-odd lengths represents the best performance of any two-year-old I’ve seen this year and he had plenty left in the tank when winning his trial at Churchill Downs.
I think he’ll take this and be a serious player in the Triple Crown series next year if staying healthy.