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Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:03

From Saratoga to Santa Anita: The Local Feel to the Breeders' Cup

By | Sports

If you’re a sports fan or a fan of Saratoga, you’ll not want to miss this weekend’s World Championships Breeders’ Cup races from beautiful Santa Anita Park. This is the World Series, the Super Bowl of horse racing and nearly one third of the total entries for this year’s 15 races are from our own turf.


Seven of the 12 entries in the Breeders’ Cup $5 million Classic have deep Saratoga roots. They include three from the barn of Saratoga resident and Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.

Kiaran McLauglin, Godolphin Racing’s American trainer and Saratoga’s leading trainer in 2008 is represented by Forego winner, Emcee in the Dirt Mile, the tenacious Questing in the Ladies Classic, Spa maiden victor Fortify in the Juvenile and Alpha in the Classic. Alpha made history with his dead-heat victory in the 2012 Travers Stakes.

Also in the Classic is Fort Larned who won this year’s Whitney Stakes for Ian Wilkes. This son of E. Dubai could cast his lifetime earnings over the million mark with any part of the rich Classic purse.

Mucho Macho Man was the subject of one of our feature articles in Winner’s Circle during the summer. His trainer, Kathy Ritvo survived heart transplant surgery to return to the role she loves, training horses. MMM proved dominant in the Suburban at Belmont in June and just narrowly missed catching the Mott-trained To Honor and Serve in the prestigious Woodward Stakes here. MMM stayed on to train at Oklahoma long after the Saratoga meet ended and has recently been training lights-out at Belmont. Mike Smith retains the mount. MMM enters the Classic with morning-line odds of 8-1.

Recent Hall of Fame inductee, Jerry Hollendorfer’s trainee, Nonios rounds out the Saratoga-connected contingent in the Classic. This colt unsuccessfully tried his luck in the Travers but improved his odds upon recently finishing second to Classic favorite Game On Dude in the Awesome Again Stakes.

Todd Pletcher was in a familiar place in September when he attended the Saratoga Winner’s Circle to receive his 3rd straight and 9th overall Saratoga training title. The future Hall of Famer has lifetime earnings nearing $230 million, second only to his former boss and mentor, D. Wayne Lukas who tops the standings at over $260 million.

Pletcher is represented with 8 starters in the weekend championship races, including his undefeated juveniles Dreaming of Julia, Kauai Kate and Shanghai Bobby. The latter two will both be ridden by female riding sensation, Rosie Napranik who was aboard for all of the pair’s combined seven victories, including our own Adirondack and Hopeful Stakes.

Lukas, never one to steer clear of the big stage, sends four to the Cup. His English Channel colt, Optimizer hasn’t missed a dance all year. His two recent turf victories incited Lukas to enter him in the BC Turf.

Shug McGaughey, Hall of Fame inductee from 2004, and second only to D. Wayne Lukas in total BC wins sends the Phipps Stable’s, Point of Entry postward as the morning-line favorite in the BC Turf. Point Of Entry’s winning streak of five races includes three successive Grade 1 victories; the Man o’ War, Sword Dancer and Turf Classic. Newly-minted Hall of Famer, Johnny Velazquez will be aboard the classy Dynaformer grass specialist.

Runner-up in the local trainer standings for the second consecutive year was Mechanicville native Chad Brown. His presence will be felt at Santa Anita with five BC contenders. He pairs with 2012 Saratoga jockey title-winner, Ramon Dominguez in the BC Filly and Mare Turf with Ballston Spa winner Zagora and again with Juvenile Turf entrant Noble Turn. Also in the Juvenile Turf, Brown sends out Balance The Books, winner of the With Anticipation Stakes here before going to Keeneland to capture the Bourbon stakes. At longer odds but not without a chance will be Brown’s Corporate Jungle in the Turf Sprint.

The hot-handed young trainer has the undefeated Awesome Feather in the Ladies Classic. She was victorious in the 2010 Juvenile Filly and was voted that year’s 2-year-old Filly Champion. Frank Stronach purchased her at this point but she didn’t get back to the races until October of her 3-year-old year. After reeling off three more wins, the speedy filly was sidelined again until September of this year. She enters the Ladies Classic off a 11-plus length win at Belmont in the Nasty Storm Stakes on September 20. Brown retains the services of Jeffery Sanchez who’s ridden Awesome Feather in all of her races.

Also in the Ladies Classic is the undefeated champion and 2011 Juvenile Filly winner, My Miss Aurelia. The Steve Asmussen trainee was undefeated here in 2011 and won her 2012 debut in Saratoga. My Miss Aurelia narrowly edged Questing after that pair dueled nose and nose from the quarter-pole home in the Cotillion Stakes just a month ago.

The Bill Mott-trained Royal Delta is the third champion and morning-line favorite in the Ladies Classic. She was an impressive winner in this event at Churchill last year. Royal Delta succumbed to Todd Pletcher’s Love and Pride in this year’s Personal Ensign but later amended herself with a near 10-length score in Belmont’s Grade I Beldame Stakes. Mike Smith returns in the irons.

Then there’s Barclay Tagg’s game 6-year-old, Jersey Town in against Dale Romans‘ Shackleford in the Dirt Mile. That pair will have to outrun McLaughlin’s Emcee and others to get the money.

If that is not enough we have Wise Dan, the Fourstar Dave winner at 9-5 in the BC Mile and in the same field 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom. The most notable NY-Bred runner on the BC card is Barry Schwartz’s, The Lumber Guy in the Sprint.

Mike Smith has eight chances to break the tie he currently shares with Jerry Bailey for the most BC wins, both have 15. Smith was Saratoga’s leading riding for three consecutive years in the 90’s and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005. His chances to break the deadlock look best on returning BC winner and champion, Amazombie in the Sprint or with Royal Delta in the Ladies Classic. Or perhaps he’ll score his third BC Classic win in the past four years on the fore-mentioned Mucho Macho Man. Skip Away was Smith’s first Classic winner in 1997.

The biggest story going into the weekend is Bill Mott’s triple threat in the finale. It’s always an accomplishment to have more than a single entry in a high-level race but not even multiple entries in the Kentucky Derby is comparable to three horses facing older horses at a classic distance in a world-championship race. Mott will saddle 4-year-old Woodward winner To Honor and Serve, 5-year-old Santa Anita Handicap winner Ron The Greek, and 6-year-old, two-time Jockey Gold Cup winner Flat Out in the $5 million Classic.  

Mott was at the helm with the great Cigar, who rattled off his historic 16-race winning streak that included the ’95 Breeders‘ Cup Classic and the first-ever Dubai World Cup the following year. Over his career Mott has saddled more than 20,000 horses and in 1998, at the age of 45, he became the youngest trainer ever to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Last year Mott became only the second trainer in history to score a rare double in the BC Ladies Classic (Royal Delta) and BC Classic (Drosselmeyer). John Shirreffs first pulled off that feat with two fillies in 2009; Life is Sweet in the Ladies division and the great Zenyatta in the Classic.

Overall, Mott has 8 wins, 9 seconds and 4 thirds from 69 BC starts. Might he pull off a second consecutive Ladies Classic and Classic double? If any trainer could ever deserve such overwhelming success it would be Bill Mott. Within racing circles he is known as a complete horseman. To fans, he’s the guy who can deliver a winner, and to owners, he’s a dependable trainer who spots their horses well and keep them running.   They say racing will humble anyone, but Bill Mott didn’t require that test, he came into the sport humble and no amount of success could ever change that.

Mike Repole, Saratoga’s leading owner for the past three years will be missing from this year’s BC races. He supports his decision by saying, “It’s been proven when horses go from east to west they don’t seem to run too well.” He also disagrees with the BC’s decision to withhold Lasix, a diuretic allowed in most of American racing, from all two-year-old BC starters.

The 29th BC will distribute $25.5 million in purses and with just a little luck quite a lot of that money will come back to Saratoga via our vast participation in these year-end championship races. These are the kinds of races handicappers live to play and hopefully a lot of locals will enjoy good racing luck at the windows or via their television handicapping accounts. Whether you wager or not, this is a great weekend to take in the races.

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