Jon Stettin: Behind The Scenes At The Breeders’ Cup

October 31, 2019

The Breeders’ Cup is at Santa Anita this weekend and I spent the last few mornings at Clockers Corner clocking just about everything. I did take a slight detour to visit a Hollywood legend and movie stars home but that story is for another day.

First off, I don’t think there is anyplace you’d rather be than right here if you are a lover of the grandness of the Sport of Kings and all the fierce competition we are about to see.

I spoke to most of the main trainers, a lot of riders, and watched plenty of horses train over this much talked about Santa Anita dirt strip. Word on the ground through the ever active rumor mill is switching the track to synthetic, particularly Tapeta, is a given. I hear the timing is the main issue right now. We’ll see.

I don’t think switching the surface is an indication the current surface is not safe. I think it is just another Stronach Group effort to improve safety across the board.

When I first went down to the rail, and walked the dirt track, it felt moist and heavy. Almost laboring. I heard they had recently added sand to it, and that was interesting because a few weeks ago John Velazquez told me it was clay heavy.  Maybe it has been evened out some.

Horses galloping past me, many of which were Breeders’ Cup contenders, seemed to be breathing a little harder than I am used to seeing. I’m no horseman but I have been around horses my entire life and also know what heavy breathing sounds like. The track seemed soft and deep, not cuppy.

I spoke to two Hall of Fame trainers, and one with a very high win percentage, all three California based. It is not important who they are, what was interesting is none felt the local horses would have a significant advantage training over this surface. I have a hard time getting my arms around that. Like that old saying says, who are you gonna believe me or your lying eyes? My eyes tell me it will be advantageous to the local horses, and I note Steve Asmussen who is no stranger to the winners’ circle brought his crew in earlier than most shippers. Great minds think alike they say.

The European horses just seem to have a presence about them. Most with a rare exception or two seem very focused and adapted. Iridessa and Air Force Jet both caught my eye, and both are trained by Joseph O’Brien who is trying to join Freddy Head as the only other guy to win a Breeders’ Cup race in the irons and as a trainer. Iridessa should get her chance in a very tough filly and mare turf, but she looks like she knows why she’s here and what is about to go down. Air Force Jet is on the also eligibles for the Juvenile Turf Sprint. He’s a long shot but I don’t think he knows that.

Decorated Invader looked very alert and sharp when I crossed paths with him. Again I’m no horseman but I liked how he looked.

Another Miracle looked like she was still adjusting to the time change and new environment to me. I could definitely see why they are turf with her. If she runs big it will illustrate how much surface matters in my opinion

Hog Creek Hustle had a good leg stretching but it was not what I’d call eye catching. It was “ok” but I didn’t think it screamed I’m sitting on a big race.

Fleeting looked very good. Her mind seemed to be on her business. No nonsense in her attitude.

Omaha Beach is a lover. Fortunately he is also a fighter on the racetrack. He’s very laid back in the barn. He acts like he doesn’t have a care in the world, and I don’t know, maybe he don’t. Both Richard Mandella and his son Gary could not be happier with how he has done getting here. He’s on go. I asked if they thought only one race back into a race like the Mile would be a problem or disadvantage. The answer was no. He came out of that sprint super. He’s tearing up his feed, and showing all the right signs. They also love his draw.

Abel Cedillo has been working Paradise Woods. He loves how she is going and is feeling good about her chances and how he feels the race and pace will play out.

Talking to a lot of the European connections I got the impression they didn’t feel this was their strongest contingent.

Jorge Navarro will tell anybody who wants to know he loves his horses chance, and he is looking for his best race yet. That would be something considering what this horse did at Saratoga.

Selcourt was another who looked just “ok” to me. Remember these are Breeders’ Cup horses. The bar is high and they are supposed to look good. You have to really nit pick to poke holes in the large majority of them.

A lot of people comment about wanting to hear someone say who is not doing good. Everyone can’t be doing good. Sure they can. It’s the Breeders’ Cup. The ones not doing so good defect. Doing good doesn’t equate to an automatic win picture either.

It’s cold in the morning and hot in the afternoon. I don’t know what that does to the track but the temperature can fluctuate 30 degrees from morning to mid day. You have to dress in layers out here.

The turf felt hard. Very firm. I’m no expert on lawn care but it seemed short. They have a good maintenance crew. Hopefully we can use some of these tidbits to help with a decision or two over the weekend. We shall find out soon enough.

Contributing Authors

Jon Stettin

Jonathan’s always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings. Growing up around the game, he came about as close as anyone...

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