They’re getting ready to rock and roll at Santa Anita.
When the 34th Oak Tree season gets underway at the Arcadia track Oct. 2, it will be front-loaded with eight graded stakes the first weekend of racing, virtually all with Breeders’ Cup implications.
Usually, such races are spotted judiciously from the beginning to the end of the meet. But with the Breeders’ Cup set for Oct. 26 at Arlington Park, spacing of “prep” races is crucial. Don’t hold your breath until you see a trainer “prep” a Breeders’ Cup starter three weeks or less in front of racing’s greatest day.
Azeri, favored to win the Distaff, is scheduled to use the Lady’s Secret Breeders’ Cup Handicap on opening day as her final major effort before Oct. 26.
Other Oak Tree events expected to lure Breeders’ Cup stock are the Yellow Ribbon Stakes, the Oak Tree Breeders’ Cup Mile, the Ancient Title Breeders’ Cup Handicap, and the Norfolk Stakes, all on Oct. 5; and the Goodwood Breeders’ Cup Handicap, the Clement L. Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship; and the Oak Leaf Stakes, all on Oct. 6. Oak Tree will offer a record $2.5 million in purses opening week of the meet that runs 26 days through Nov. 2.
A total of 23 Oak Tree horses have won Breeders’ Cup races, including Classic champions Tiznow and Mile winner Val Royal last year. The Oak Tree meet has produced winners in every Breeders’ Cup race except the Filly and Mare Turf, which wasn’t inaugurated until 1999. Tiznow, Kotashaan and Ferdinand--each Horse of the Year-won at Oak Tree prior to their Breeders’ Cup triumphs.
“We are the largest nesting ground for Breeders’ Cup entrants in the world,” said Oak Tree executive vice president Sherwood Chillingworth. “In the last three years, we’ve sent 47 horses to the Breeders’ Cup and had seven winners. That’s remarkable.”
Unlike the Hollywood Park main track, which has just undergone a major renovation, early reports say the Santa Anita main track is in excellent condition.
“Since we’ve been back from Del Mar it seems very good, very kind,” says trainer Craig Lewis, who has made Santa Anita his training headquarters for years. “I like what I see. It’s hard to say right now if more traffic will make the track tighter. I’d be speculating on that. But from what I’ve seen so far, I do like it.”
David Bernstein, another trainer based at Santa Anita for a long stretch, concurs.
“We’ve been working there and the track seems fine,” said Bernstein, who trained The Wicked North to an Eclipse Award as champion older horse of 1994. “It seems great right now. I hope it stays that way for the meet. Obviously, it’s going to be a little faster as we get closer to the meet because of increased workouts. Plus, the more the track crew harrows it, the faster it should get.”
Lewis has some promising horses pointing to Oak Tree, among them Hot Market, second to the streaking sprint ace Disturbingthepeace in the Pat O’Brien at Del Mar. He’ll likely stretch out in the California Cup Classic on Nov. 2.
Lewis, who trained the popular Larry The Legend to win the 1995 Santa Anita Derby, is looking forward to two of his unraced offspring making their debuts at the Santa Anita winter/spring meet that begins Dec. 26.
“A filly named Jen’s Spell looks very promising,” Lewis said. “She was hurt a bit at Del Mar so she didn’t get to run there. She probably won’t run until Santa Anita. A colt named Space Traveler also looks like a decent horse, but he also probably won ”˜t run until the Santa Anita meet.”
THE HOMESTRETCH: Add news you can bet on: In the July 16 editions of GamingToday we touted an unraced Siphon colt named Royal Siphon who was scheduled to debut at Del Mar for trainer Cliff Sise Jr. The 2-year-old didn’t make Del Mar due to a cough, but he got to the races Sept. 18 at Fairplex, winning wire-to-wire by six lengths under a hold with Goncalino Almeida aboard at a $6.20 payoff. Sise is so high on Royal Siphon that he doesn’t plan to run through conditions, instead eyeing the Grade II Norfolk Stakes on Oct. 5. But Almeida won’t keep the mount. “Nakatani will ride him,” Sise said. “The horse was Corey’s all along.”-Doug O’Neill reports that Hollywood Gold Cup winner Sky Jack had successful surgery on Sept. 15, but is at least six months away to making it back to the race track. “Dr. (Wayne) McIlwraith said everything went great,” O’Neill said. “The injury (to his right front, third carpal bone) is in a weight-bearing surface. It’s the same type of thing he dealt with about two years ago. Injuries in those spots are not really good places to have chips, but it’s something he’s already made it through twice. The vets always paint a kind of so-so picture (for returning to the races), just to cover their behinds. But Sky Jack is such a warrior that we should be in good shape. They say it will be six months before we can start tackwalking him, so the Gold Cup is probably out for next year. I just want to get him back, that’s the main thing.” O’Neill and jockey Jason Lumpkins will answer questions and autograph pictures starting at 9 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 21, at the Gold Coast in Las Vegas. Race and sports book manager Liz Lucas will host.