If you want to see some of the best race horses in the country, if not the world, it may benefit you to show up most mornings at Clockers’ Corner, the Santa Anita gathering spot for workouts, breezes and gallops.
There are a lot of unfamiliar faces with stopwatches and two-way radios watching their horses in advance of the Breeders’ Cup, which will be held at Santa Anita on Nov. 3-4. The fields are still under construction for the 14 championship races worth around $31 million in purses.
This past weekend helped fill in some spots including one in the $6-million Breeders’ Cup Classic, which was always the crown jewel of the event that will celebrate its 40th anniversary next month. The Classic has always been the last race in the now two-day schedule. But this year it has been snubbed to an earlier position with two more championship races after it because NBC needs to get to a Big Ten football game. Post time for the Classic will be 3:40 p.m.
Slow Down Andy got an automatic, all-expenses-paid berth into the Classic by winning Saturday’s Grade 1 $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes. The Doug O’Neill trained 4-year-old went gate to wire to win the qualifier by a convincing 2¼ lengths. Second-place finisher Defunded and third-place Senor Buscador are also probables for a rematch in the Classic. The Awesome Again was run at 1 1/8 miles while the Classic is at 1¼ miles.
Slow Down Andy came out of the race in good shape.
"He ate up a full feed tub and is doing great," Leandro Mora told Santa Anita publicity. Mora is the top assistant to O'Neill.
O'Neill, jockey Mario Gutierrez and owners Paul and Zillah Reddam won the 2016 Kentucky Derby with Nyquist, who is the sire of Slow Down Andy.
While it’s unlikely this year’s Classic will have the buzz of last year when Flightline, considered a once-in-a-generation horse, finished his six-race career undefeated with an 8¼-length win, this year’s race will have plenty of storylines.
The horse that seems to be getting the most attention is 3-year-old Arcangelo, trained by Jena Antonucci, the first woman to win a Triple Crown race.
Arcangelo is ranked first in the Breeders’ Cup Classic rankings and with no more qualifying races and barring injury will remain in that position. He has won four in a row including the Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes. He started his career with three races at Gulfstream in South Florida before moving to New York for his other three races. He arrived at Santa Anita on Wednesday and has galloped over the track.
The next two spots in the rankings belong to Southern California horses Geaux Rocket Ride, trained by Richard Mandella, and Arabian Knight for Bob Baffert. Geaux Rocket Ride qualified by winning the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth and Arabian Knight won the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. The names become familiar with Geaux Rocket Ride finishing second in the Pacific Classic with Slow Down Andy third, Senor Buscador fourth and Defunded sixth.
The fourth-place horse in the rankings is White Abarrio, winner of the Whitney Stakes, also a Classic qualifier. With the exception of an allowance race, White Abarrio had not won since last year’s Florida Derby until the Whitney. White Abarrio arrived at Santa Anita early last month after Santa Anita was reopened near the end of the Del Mar meeting.
He was previously trained by Saffie Joseph Jr. but was transferred to Rick Dutrow when Joseph was suspended after two of his horses died during the leadup to the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Joseph has since been reinstated. Dutrow returned to training earlier this year after being suspended by New York authorities for 10 years for several violations including having syringes filled with unauthorized medications. He unsuccessfully fought the charges. Suspensions in one state are almost always honored by other racing jurisdictions.
All-time winningest trainer Steve Asmussen has also sent four horses to Santa Anita early with Echo Zulu (Sprint), Clariere (Distaff), Gunite (Dirt Mile) and Society (Filly & Mare Sprint) arriving last week.
Another winner at Santa Anita on Saturday was Dr. Schivel, who won the Santa Anita Sprint Championship. He is now targeted for the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Two years ago, he missed by a nose to Aloha West in the Sprint. His connections are certainly expecting a better outcome this year.
"This horse keeps coming back off extended vacations and is always pretty much the same horse," said trainer Mark Glatt.
"You're just hopeful for opportunities and the Breeders' Cup is a big one. He'll be on his home track. There will be plenty of tough competition, I'm sure, but we'll give it our best shot."
The last weekend of Breeders’ Cup qualifying is on Saturday with three races at Santa Anita. There is the American Pharoah Stakes for 2-year-old males hoping to make the first step to the Kentucky Derby by winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The same goes for fillies looking to the Kentucky Oaks in the Chandlier Stakes. There is also the Rodeo Stakes for horses hoping to qualify for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.