Last year, Flightline stood out in the Grade 1, $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and paid $2.88 for his 8 ¼-length romp that elevated him to be considered among the elite equine performers of modern times. This year’s edition, which goes as the ninth-race at Santa Anita on Saturday, is wide-open with no obvious favourite.
There will be a lot of support for the Bob Baffert-trained Arabian Knight in the 1 ¼ miles race that will start with 12 horses.
A 3-year-old, Arabian Knight has raced just four times and has plenty of upside. He comes into the Classic off a front-running win at the distance in his first try facing older horses in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar Sept. 2. Baffert is going for his fifth win in the Classic, and his previous winners were all 3-year-olds. A Kentucky-bred son of Uncle Mo, Arabian Knight will break from post 11 with Flavian Prat aboard. He likes to be involved early and there is other speed in the field, most notably Saudi Crown. Prat rode Arabian Knight for the first time in the Pacific Classic.
Baffert knows how to read the Daily Racing Form, and is understandably concerned about how the race could shape up.
“There’s a lot of speed,” he said at Clockers Corner at Santa Anita on Wednesday morning. “I would have liked if he would have drawn inside of Saudi Crown. Prat is a good rider, though. He can figure it out. See if he can get him to relax. We’ll just have to see what happens.”
White Abbario, trained by Richard Dutrow Jr., could end up favoured. The 4-year-old colt by Race Day was impressive winning the Grade 1 Whitney by 6 ½ lengths at Saratoga on Aug. 5, and the 110 Beyer Speed Figure he received is the best in the field.
He won the Florida Derby for trainer Saffie Josepth Jr. last year and was making just his second start for Dutrow in the Whitney.
“I just think he’s gonna run a big race,” Dutrow said. “He’s been giving us all the right signs, he’s as happy as can be, and doing good as far as his mental and physical condition.”
The horse I like is Ushba Tesoro who won the Group 1, $12 million Dubai World Cup in Meydan on March 25. After taking a vacation, the Japanese-bred 6-year-old easily won a prep race in Japan Sept. 27.
He is physically impressive and after being a bit of a rogue at the starting gate Tuesday, he was well-behaved Wednesday.
“It was all overblown,” said a member of the starting gate crew who wished to remain anonymous. “He wasn’t that bad and after we got him to settle down he was fine.”
Ushba Tesora was a decent horse on turf, but improved dramatically when he moved to dirt, with seven wins from eight starts.
A closer, the shape of the race should work for him.
According to Aaron Gryder, a former jockey at Vancouver’s Hastings Racecourse, the track surface at Santa Anita is in perfect shape for the two days of racing this weekend. The festivities begin with five Breeders’ Cup races for 2-year-olds Friday.
Gryder is the vice-president of racing operations for the Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita and four other tracks.
Gryder galloped three horses for trainer Wesley Ward Wednesday morning, including Nakatomi who will break from the rail in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
“A lot of what I do is making sure the safety of the horses and jockeys is paramount at the tracks we operate,” said Gryder. “Getting on horses gives me a good idea about the track surface. Sometimes I do it just for fun. Today was a bit of both. Wesley and I are good friends and go way back. I was just looking at a picture of us riding at Longacres in Seattle in 1987. I can tell you Nakatomi is doing very well.”
It should be a great two days of racing. Post time for the Classic is 3:40 p.m. Pacific. The first Breeders’ Cup race Saturday is the Dirt Mile, third race, where 2022 winner Cody’s Wish will be a short price to repeat.
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