Pick 6: Dude looking good
Our man trackside at Santa Anita, Graham Cunningham, brings us six observations in his latest Pick 6 column.
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Bring on the BC...and that doesn't stand for bloody chainstores!
Here we go, then. Months of anticipation followed by a week traipsing around California's finest shopping malls with my spendthrift other half led to a Saturday of finally getting to grips with Breeders' Cup 2013.
The SOH (spendthrift other half) boarded a train (or trolley as they call them here) to stage a one-woman assault on another mall down on the Mexican border.
Meanwhile, I boarded a trolley (or train as I call them) for the idyllic clifftop town of La Jolla, which is definitely pronounced as La Hoya as in Oscar as opposed to La Jolla as in rhymes with collar.
Now it's fair to say the BC has copped flak from Europeans of late - some of it justified - but the menu isn't too shabby when you consider last week's pre-entries contained:
A total of 35 horses who have won a million dollars including 10 with over $2m, seven with over $3m, two with over $4m and two (Game On Dude and Wise Dan) with over $5m.
A total of 121 different Group race winners including 71 Group 1 winners.
A European raiding party including The Fugue, Declaration of War, Olympic Glory, Dank and a powerful posse of juveniles.
It would be folly to expect too much from the raiders given the intensity of competition, but all things seem possible when you do your form study in a cliffside bar with excellent wifi and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.
The task this week is to pin down some good stories and some rewarding betting opportunities. It's a tough job. But, as they say in La Jolla (and at the Mexican border mall) someone most definitely has to do it.
In-form Stevens in confident mood as BC week beckons
Now for the first of this week's early morning Santa Anita track updates.
And, although it would be churlish to grumble given the storms that lashed Britain overnight, Monday certainly didn't throw up the sort of crystal clear morning Santa Anita usually specialises in.
The heavy morning fog which left Sunday workwatchers in the dark gave way to a showery morning with the turf track typically fast and the dirt track showing a marked tendency to favour those able to "be very close, if not right on the early pace" according to Daily Racing Form columnist Mike Watchmaker.
Sunshine and temperatures well into the seventies are promised as the week goes on and the man in form is most definitely 50-year-old Gary Stevens.
The ageless Seabiscuit star has made a seamless return to the saddle following a long spell in retirement and dominated Santa Anita's Sunday programme with four winners.
Stevens is booked to ride the only horse I've backed so far for this year's BC, namely last year's Classic runner-up Mucho Macho Man. He seems confident. I hope he's right.
Euros looks strong on paper but bankers are as hard to find as ever
The old saying goes that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
It can also be the last refuge of a many a European punter, but is there any mileage in simply focussing on the visitors this week?
The short answer is simply no, but it's worth starting the week with a line on the main players in this year's raiding party.
BC Juvenile Turf
Europe has won four of six runnings of this and Outstrip, Giovanni Boldini and Wilshire Boulevard form a very strong trio this year.
Outstrip and Wilshire Boulevard are interesting. But Giovanni Boldini could be very interesting given that he's shown smart form already with the promise that there could be much more to come given fast ground and an end-to-end gallop. The presence of Moore on top looks notable, too.
BC Juvenile Filly Turf
Another potent Euro trio made up of the Cheveley Park heroine Vorda along with Fillies' Mile winner Chriselliam and Rockfel winner Al Thakhira.
Splitting them at this stage is tough. Let's hope this week's trackwork throws up some added information.
The Fugue is the solid Euro and Magician is the wild card. It's clear The Fugue is good enough to go very close but Magician looked extremely good in the spring and it will be fascinating to see how he looks when he hits the track on his return after a break.
The Mile is never complete without a significant Euro, so why don't I like Olympic Glory on the back of his commanding QEII success?
Put simply, it's because of the fast ground. The combination of sharp turns and Santa Anita's slick surface did for Moonlight Cloud last year. I suspect they will probably do for Olympic Glory, too.
He's bred for dirt, but Declaration Of War never raced on it and his rider Joseph O'Brien has precious little experience of race riding on it.
Little would give me more pleasure than to see him break Aidan's duck in the big one. But logic suggests he has it all to do against proven dirt stars like Game On Dude and last year's principals Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man.
Fort built on solid foundations as he bids for back-to-back Classics
Speaking of Fort Larned, it seems highly significant that a measured operator like Ian Wilkes is getting noticeably confident about his stable star becoming the first horse since Tiznow (2000/2001) to win back-to-back Classics.
Fort Larned galloped at his home base of Churchill Downs this morning and will board a flight to California on Tuesday.
And Wilkes - who learned his trade under the tutelage of Aussie legend Colin Hayes and Hall of Fame handler Carl Nafzger - sums up what he expects in one short sentence.
"He's going to run his 'A' game," said Wilkes.
"It's a good race and it's a quality field, but I'm going in there very happy with my horse," he added.
"The thing about it is he's taking me where I want to go. I'm not taking him to the Breeders' Cup - he's taking me there."
With Game On Dude, Flat Out and Ron The Greek also returning for another crack it's highly likely the 2012 Classic holds the key to unlocking the 2013 version.
I'm a Mucho Macho Man - though you knew that already - but I feel a decent Fort Larned saver coming on given that infectious Wilkes confidence and the fact that his stable star looked as good as ever when romping home in his prep race last month.
He looks good - but can the Dude make it third time lucky?
One of the highlights of Monday morning was getting up close to Game On Dude as he prepared to exercise under Martin Garcia (see main photo).
Bob Baffert's stable star has been dominant in California again this year but was beaten in the Classic in 2011 and blew out when strongly fancied last year.
The Dude glided past his lead horse in the straight - leaving most work watchers highly impressed - but his overall record suggest that he's at his most dangerous when leading.
And with Fort Larned among several fellow pace pressers an easy lead looks highly unlikely on Saturday night.
Luck be a b****** tonight
Churchill Downs tends to lead the way among BC venues when it comes to bizarrely named nightspots and it was always going to be tough to beat the Louisville restaurant called "Burritos As Big As Your Head!" (see picture rotation) this year.
"The strip club just down the street from Churchill which promises '99 Beautiful Girls And One Ugly One' is another high up in the Unforgettable Signage Stakes - but how about this one sighted on a reconnaissance trip to San Diego last week?"
Now I'm not a superstitious man by nature, but you need all the luck you can get in Breeders' Cup week.
And it just seemed rude not to sample a couple just in case some of the luck rubs off.
Back tomorrow with the latest news and live updates from the track.