#7 Higher Power
#10 Vino Rosso
#9 Mongolian Groom
7 with 5,8,9,10 with All
7 with All with 5,8,9,10
5,8,9,10 with 7 with All
All with 7 with 5,8,9,10
9 with All with 7
10 with All with 7
$162 total investment
The Classic on Saturday won’t confuse anyone with any of the best renditions of the race but it is a tricky puzzle to handicap. All eleven entered have some questions, up to and including the likely favorite McKinzie, who has proven that his optimal distance is shorter than the classic 10 furlong distance. McKinzie, by a significant amount, is the fastest and most consistent horse in this field. He deserves to be the favorite but do you want to take a short price on a horse that will be answering questions in the final furlong against an All Star field? I would prefer to look at a higher priced alternative on this day.
There is one horse in the field that we know can be in front of McKinzie from wire to wire and that is the shock winner of the Awesome Again, Mongolian Groom. Before that prep race, held right at Santa Anita, he had more of a reputation as a field filler than a contender in stakes races. That said, we know McKinzie can run fast races and he beat him by open lengths on the square. Also, other than McKinzie, there is no horse that seems destined to duel with this one in the beginning stages of the race. Consistency is a question, as is the extra distance. That said, he is going to be a large price and there is a real chance he is loping along up front with easy fractions. I don’t think he should be dismissed, especially if his price rises over 20-1.
The third place finisher in the Awesome Again was Higher Power, from the powerful barn of John Sadler, who won this race last year for the same connections. Higher Power has never done his best running at Santa Anita
Vino Rosso and Code of Honor threw it down in a fast and thrilling edition of the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont. John Velazquez, the regular rider of both, chose to ride Code of Honor and was rewarded with the controversial win by disqualification. Shug McGaughey had said throughout the summer and fall that he would NOT be pointing his stable star to this race. After continuing to improve, he has changed his mind and that decision by the Hall of Famer should not be taken lightly. Still, I will give the slight edge among these two to Vino Rosso. He has a win over the track at this distance, which will be a major talking point. This Santa Anita surface has been changing so much over the past year that I think the importance of that May win may be overblown. What excites me more about Vino Rosso is that he has true tactical speed to stay closer to a moderate pace and be able to make his run prior to that of the deep closers like Code of Honor and others.
The third place finisher in the Awesome Again was Higher Power, from the powerful barn of John Sadler, who won this race last year for the same connections. Higher Power has never done his best running at Santa Anita, running below his best in his two tries at this trip. The argument for a trainer like Sadler is that he would have pointed to the two biggest races on the schedule in California: the G1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar, which he won by open lengths, and this race. Sadler has proven he can get big efforts out of many horses when pointed for big races and I trust Higher Power will fire his best race of the year in this spot. I can’t say that for everyone in the field. He has the services of the top jockey in California in Flavian Prat, who hopefully will give an aggressive ride, much like the one he gave in the Pacific Classic when he used his speed to his advantage.
I see this race playing out in this way: Mongolian Groom does get the lead but it is not nearly as easy as it was in the Awesome Again. He figures to bolt to the rail and be forced to set honest fractions by McKinzie, Higher Power and/or longshot War of Will. As they approach the turn into the stretch, the three class horses (McKinzie, Higher Power and Vino Rosso), will have too much left for Mongolian Groom. At this point, the final question will be answered: can McKinzie’s brilliance last into the final furlong? He has Bob Baffert in his corner, but considering he will be a favorite, I am willing to bet against it. Higher Power and Vino Rosso kick on, but Higher Power gets the jump on him and they all hold off the belated rallies from the closers (Code of Honor, Yoshida, Owendale). Higher Power is my pick in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.