It’s not only trainers who fall upon hard times or suffer through bad meetings that are beginning to dislike synthetic surfaces.
Take Bill Morey Jr., for example. He saddied Bold Chieftain to win Saturday’s $200,000 California Cup Classic at Santa Anita — the first time he’s started a horse over the track’s synthetic Pro-Ride surface.
Bold Chieftain started at Santa Anita last year during the track’s first season with a synthetic, but the 6-year-old son of Chief Seattle ran in the Cal Cup Mile on grass.
Morey, who is based in Northern California and starts horses all the time on Golden Gate’s Tapeta synthetic track, is another who gives the artificial surfaces less than a ringing endorsement.
“There are pros and cons,” he said in the Santa Anita winner’s circle Saturday. “We have horses that just don’t like it, and we seem to have the horses that do like it and they rattle off some wins. I still believe we might have moved too quick on this stuff. I think it was all designed to make it easier for the handicappers, as well as safety of the track, so we’d go from one track to the other, they’d all be the same, and the handicappers wouldn’t have that track variance.
“Well, that didn’t turn out. Every track’s got a different synthetic. Hindsight is 20-20, but they might have moved a little early. I’m a dirt man; I’d just as soon run on dirt. Although, let me say one thing — when it rains up north, I’m happy to have this stuff because it can get miserable up there.”
One horseman who recently returned from two weeks in Lexington for the Keeneland September yearling sale told me that Kentucky horsemen want no part of shipping their horses west to run on synthetic tracks.
Translation: Other than Breeders’ Cup weekend, we can expect the fields to stay as short as they’ve been for more than a year now or perhaps get even smaller.
Trainer Mike Mitchell reported that Grazen, the 4-5 favorite who suffered a career-ending tendon injury to his right leg during Saturday’s California Cup Classic at Santa Anita, was doing well in his stall Sunday morning.
Grazen was leading in the race and appeared to have a good shot to hold off the onrushing and eventual winner Bold Chieftain when jockey Garrett Gomez had to pull up the 3-year-old Benchmark colt.
“He’s walking great and he’s putting a lot of pressure on it as he walks,” Mitchell said. “He doesn’t look as though he favors his leg at all. He is retired, though, and thank God we didn’t have to put him down. Hopefully, there’ll be a spot for him as a stallion in California. That’d be nice.
“From here, he’ll go to Alamo Pintado (Equine Medical Center in Solvang) to help him recover. Then, probably Nick (owner and breeder Nick Alexander) will go to work on finding a place that will stand him.”
Bold Chieftain, a 6-year-old son of Chief Seattle, became the 50th Cal-bred millionaire and first two-time winner of the Cal Cup Classic when he went on to post a 1 1/2-length victory over Lethal Heat, who was attempting to become the first filly to win the race.
The winner of the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 7 at Santa Anita may well come out of today’s Norfolk Stakes at Oak Tree. There are some talented 2-year-olds in the 1 1/16-mile race:
Lookin At Lucky — Co-owner Mike Pegram and trainer Bob Baffert have already visited the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day with Real Quiet in 1998, and this son of Smart Strike appears talented enough to make it four for four in his career.
Jung Man Scott — This Richard Dutrow, Jr.-trained son of Freud broke his maiden by 8 1/4 lengths on Aug. 6 on the turf at Saratoga and finished second in his next start at a distance. Rafael Bejarano climbs aboard.
Dave in Dixie — Joel Rosario stays aboard this Dixie Union colt, who broke his maiden by 3 1/4 lengths in a six-furlong race at Del Mar on Aug. 29 and stretches out today. If he can transform his one-turn form into two turns, he could be tough.
John Scott — The lone California-bred in the field, this Carla Gaines-trained son of Bertrando figures to get the distance in his first try around two turns following a pair of impressive sprint victories. Victor Espinosa keeps the mount.
John Shirreffs, trainer of the unbeaten Zenyatta, is still undecided whether to run the 5-year-old mare in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 7 or have her defend her title in the Ladies’ Classic the day before.
Zenyatta, 12-0, worked six furlongs in 1:13 over Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track on Saturday morning in preparation for a start in next Saturday’s $300,000 Grade 1 Lady’s Secret Stakes at Santa Anita’s Oak Tree meet, a race she won last year.
Jockey Mike Smith, who has ridden Zenyatta in her past nine races, would love a shot to take on the boys in the $5 million Classic. He also said it doesn’t matter what kind of track the daughter of Street Cry runs over.
“One of her best races was probably on the dirt at Oaklawn (2008 Apple Blossom Handicap),” Smith said. “But her Breeders’ Cup last year (at Santa Anita) was awfully impressive. She seems to run over anything you put her on, and it doesn’t seem to matter to her whether there’s a pace or no pace. She gets the job done every time.”
Zenyatta’s stablemate, Life Is Sweet, also is expected to run in the Lady’s Secret. Life Is Sweet loves Santa Anita’s synthetic Pro-Ride surface, and she’ll be ridden by Garrett Gomez.
Veteran trainer Bruce Headley just returned from two weeks at the Keeneland September yearling sale in Lexington with six new horses.
“I bought (some) real good horses, six beautiful ones,” he said.
Long known for his success with top sprinters, including 2000 Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Kona Gold and Street Boss, Headley will send out an up-and-comer Saturday when he saddles M One Rifle in the $100,000 California Cup Sprint at six furlongs over Santa Anita’s synthetic Pro-Ride surface.
Headley is well known for purchasing yearlings at sales for low prices and developing them into standout horses. Like everyone else, he noticed the downturn in the sales market back there the past two weeks.
“When you go to Kentucky, there are a lot of happy people, a lot of friendly people, people that really love horses,” he said. “It’s just such a great atmosphere in Kentucky because of the love of horses. But they were all still a little bit worried about the market and some were happy like myself that it was down where I could buy a better horse.”
Another Son of a Pistol, maybe? Don’t bet against it.
* Trainer Bob Baffert will send out one of his next Kentucky Derby hopefuls, Del Mar Futurity winner Lookin At Lucky, in Sunday’s $300,000 Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita’s Oak Tree meet.
It will be Lookin At Lucky’s final prep for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on Nov. 7 and his first try around two turns. The victory in the Del Mar Futurity came after a slow start on the rail in the seven-furlong event.
Baffert thinks the added distance will not be a problem for Lookin At Lucky, who is unbeaten in three races and will be ridden again by Garrett Gomez.
“I think he’s going to be OK,” Baffert said. “He’s going two turns for the first time, so we’ll find out. You never know until they go two turns.”
* Richard Migliore is returning to the Southland to ride the remainder of the Oak Tree meet beginning Wednesday. Craig O’Bryan will be his agent.
* Trainer Todd Pletcher, who cut his West Coast stable way down this year from recent years, will have a string of horses stabled at Santa Anita during Oak Tree. He said he’s undecided on whether Florida Derby winner Quality Road will run in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 7. He wants to wait to see how the colt runs in Saturday’s $750,000 Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.
* Baffert’s Misremembered, whom he bred and also owns in partnership, will run in the $500,000 Grade 2 Indiana Derby on Saturday at Hoosier Park with Victor Espinoza aboard.
* Lava Man, on the comeback trail for trainer Doug O’Neill, is scheduled to work four furlongs Friday morning over Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track. O’Neill said last week it will probably take about two months before a decision is made whether to bring the 8-year-old gelding back to the races.