Arrogate/Hoppertunity – Bob Baffert’s two Breeders’ Cup Classic entrants both jogged 1m Thursday as the Hall of Fame trainer began the final approach to his 24th Breeders’ Cup. Breeders’ Cup weeks are always hectic and stressful for marquee trainers, but Baffert assessed this one as comparatively “quiet” for him.
“It’s more stressful when you’re at home than on the road,” Baffert said. “But, I’d still rather be here.”
California Chrome – The ‘Chromies’ were out in force Thursday morning, erupting in loud cheers as the big chestnut horse passed Clocker’s Corner returning from his 1 5/8m gallop under Dihigi Gladney. Back at the stable, another throng awaited his arrival. Trainer Art Sherman playfully exclaimed, “It’s Chrome time,” as the son of Lucky Pulpit walked and bathed before his adoring fans.
Gladney reported racing’s richest runner was a handful today. “I never really know exactly how far he’ll gallop each morning, because sometimes I have a hard time pulling him up,” he said. “He’s really feeling strong in the mornings.”
In addition to his duties as the exercise rider of the Classic favorite, Gladney shares his of love of horses with young children whose parents bring them to Santa Anita on weekends. Through his own enterprise, Got Ponies, Gladney offers rides in the infield with his modest stable of 10 horses.
In the unlikeliest of scenarios, Gladney, now 41, acquired his love of horses from his grandfather, who raised and boarded them in the inner city of Los Angeles. “I was born in Gardena and raised in Watts,” Gladney said with a wide grin, “but I didn’t turn out to be a rapper. I might have been the only inner city kid to actually grow up with horses.”
His love of the equine breed manifested itself when he became a professional Quarter Horse rider at Los Alamitos. But it was a racing injury that sidelined him and led him to starting his pony business, initially at children’s birthday parties.
“I’ve been doing it at the racetrack now for three years. And, although it’s something I do primarily for kids, I recently had an 80-year-old woman enjoy her first-ever horseback ride,” he added.
With California Chrome scheduled to make the penultimate start of his illustrious career on Saturday in the 1 1/4m Classic, will Gladney try to be in two places at one time?
“No, no, no,” he laughed, “I’ll get them started on Saturday, then head over to the barn before the race. I’ve got to make sure ‘the Chrome brings it home’!”
One final gallop slated for Friday is California Chrome’s final piece of training ahead of Saturday’s race.
Effinex/Shaman Ghost – Tri-Bone Stables’ Effinex and Stronach Stables’ Shaman Ghost galloped 1 5/8m Thursday morning at Santa Anita in preparation for their respective starts in Saturday’s Classic.
“We might have breezed Shaman Ghost the last quarter of a mile,” trainer James Jerkens said.
Effinex finished second in last year’s Classic, 6 ½ lengths behind Triple Crown champion American Pharoah and 4 ½ lengths ahead of Honor Code.
“I think he doing about the same this year (going into the race),” Jerkens said. “He hasn’t been over-raced this year. We like how he’s doing.”
Shaman Ghost, who captured the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine last year before being sidelined, has run four times for Jerkens this year, earning his first Grade 1 win in the Woodward at Saratoga in his most recent start Sept. 3.
“He was a nice 3-year-old and had a lot of time off to recuperate from ankle surgery. It’s been a natural progression for him this year,” Jerkens said.
The son of Ghostzapper won a photo finish over Mubtaahij and Frosted in the Whitney.
“He only did win by a head. It was only three-quarters of a length between the first four finishers. It’s not like he blew them away, but this race being an extra eighth of a mile has to help him,” Jerkens said.
Frosted – Godolphin Racing’s 4yo son of leading sire Tapit galloped approximately 1 1/2m and made a quick trip to the gate for schooling Thursday morning.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said he pleased with the way Frosted looks and acts as he approaches the Classic. The colt won the Met Mile and the Whitney Stakes with impressive performances this summer and finished third, beaten a neck, in a blanket finish of the Woodward Stakes. Despite that strong summer in New York, he is the third choice on the Classic morning line behind California Chrome and Travers winner Arrogate.
“He’s under the radar a little bit but that’s because of California Chrome. He’s supposed to be under the radar,” McLaughlin said. “California Chrome is undefeated and has done everything right this year. We like our chances. We were the best that day in the Woodward, but we went 40 feet further and gave up weight. We were the best, but we finished third. We should be 3-for-3 this year, but we’re happy with the horse.”
Keen Ice – Donegal Racing’s Keen Ice galloped 1 3/8m Thursday at Santa Anita in preparation for his second start for trainer Todd Pletcher in Saturday’s Classic.
“When he came back from Dubai he came to us, but he went for a vacation after that. He came to us at the beginning of the Saratoga meet,” Pletcher said. “The longer we were around him and the more we did with him the fitter he got and the more impressively he breezed. Everything we say was what we already knew – the further he goes the better he gets.”
Keen Ice finished third in his first race for Pletcher in a one-turn mile allowance at Belmont Oct. 7.
“We knew the mile would probably be too short for him, but at the same time, we felt like we needed to get a race into him to see where we were and get a race into him from a conditioning standpoint to move him forward for whatever his next start was,” Pletcher said. “I thought he ran well, galloped out well and came back and breezed well.”
After considering the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs in three weeks, the Classic seemed like a better fit.
“He loves the mile-and-a-quarter,” Pletcher said. “It looks like on paper, if Melatonin, California Chrome and Arrogate go to a certain degree, maybe there will be a favorable pace set-up.”
Melatonin – On Oct. 26, 1996, trainer David Hofmans saddled Alphabet Soup to a nose victory over Louis Quatorze in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Woodbine in Toronto. Cigar, the most celebrated horse of the day, finished third, a half-length behind the first two.
Hofmans is well aware that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the feat. And, as he prepares to saddle Melatonin to take on California Chrome, Arrogate and seven others in Saturday’s Classic, he can be excused if he’s feeling a little bit of deja vu.
“Three days before the Breeders’ Cup, Alphabet Soup completely changed,” Hofmans said. “Something happened, I don’t know what it was, but he came back from training and he just was focused. He just changed. All he wanted to do was eat, do his job and just focus on what he had to do. He was a different horse than what he had been.
“This horse (Melatonin) is the same. The other day I took him to the gate and it was just like Alphabet Soup, he changed and got that focus going. I think he knows he’s got something coming up. There are a lot of similarities.”
Alphabet Soup paid $41.70 to win. Cigar went off odds of 3-5. Melatonin is 12-1 on the morning line, California Chrome the even-money morning line favorite.
Hofmans has three Breeders’ Cup wins. Adoration (2003 Distaff) and Desert Code (2008 Turf Sprint) followed Alphabet Soup. The first win, especially since it came in the Classic, was the sweetest.
“I had Dramatic Gold there (at Woodbine) also, and he didn’t change, but there was a notable change in Alphabet Soup,” Hofmans said. “Chris McCarron and I talked about it and he saw it too. Alphabet Soup was so game, and Chris said, ‘If I can get his head out (front) he might hold them off, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Now, it’s Melatonin’s turn.
“There are similarities,” Hofmans said. “They both try really hard, they’re both real smart and this would be another milestone with Scotty McClellan.”
McClellan, the longtime agent for McCarron before his retirement, now has the book for Joe Talamo, the regular rider for Melatonin.
War Story – Loooch Racing Stables et al.’s Breeders’ Cup Classic runner War Story left Barn 69 at 7:45 a.m. with a pony and galloped an easy mile for trainer Mario Serey Jr.
Win the Space – The 4yo gray Pulpit colt Win the Space galloped 1 1/2m over the main track at 7:45 with regular exercise rider Amelia Green.