· ESPINOZA: CHROME ‘DOING HIS BEST RIGHT NOW’ · MELATONIN WORKS FOR BREEDERS’ CUP CLASSIC · BAFFERT MULLS HIS AWESOME AGAIN STARTERS · OPTIONS ARE OPEN FOR VERSATILE TARA’S TANGO
CALIFORNIA CHROME ‘NEVER BETTER’ FOR AWESOME AGAIN If anybody knows California Chrome better than trainer Art Sherman and his son and assistant, Alan, it’s Victor Espinoza. The regular pilot of the storybook California-bred, Espinoza has ridden the five-year-old chestnut 17 times, winning 12, including the last five in a row. He will be heavily favored to make it six a week from Saturday, Oct. 1, when he runs in the Awesome Again Stakes, one of five Grade I, “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge events on the second day of Santa Anita’s 23-day Autumn Meet. Santa Anita hosts the Breeders’ Cup World Championships for an unprecedented ninth time on Nov. 4 and 5. Espinoza says California Chrome is better than ever, but walked the tightrope when asked whether his “Slipped Saddle Saga” in the Dubai World Cup last March 26 or his spectacular, front-running, five-length triumph in the Pacific Classic Aug. 20 was his best race. “He ran insane in Dubai,” the gregarious and ever-accommodating Espinoza said by phone from New York where he was visiting family. “Going a mile and a quarter on a track a world away with the saddle slipping and running the way he did was amazing. “The saddle slipped all the way to his hind end. The girth was fully up on his hips. It was tough for me to handle, but we got it done (winning comfortably by nearly four lengths). “I don’t know whether the Dubai race or the Pacific Classic was his best, but I’m confident of one thing: He’s doing his best right now. “I watched a video of his workout last Saturday and he looked great. He’s absolutely better than he’s ever been. I’ve never seen him doing as well as he’s doing now, except perhaps in his three-year-old season when he was on his way to the Kentucky Derby.” Be that as it may, it’s a no-brainer that Espinoza and Chrome are on their way to the Hall of Fame. And lest we forget, it was just 15 months ago that Espinoza guided American Pharoah to the first Triple Crown sweep in 37 years. Perhaps only one question lingers: will their selections be unanimous? The Awesome Again shares the marquee with the Zenyatta Stakes for fillies and mares, three and up, expected to lure three-time champion Beholder and Stellar Wind, the champion three-year-old filly of 2015 who upset three-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder in the Grade I Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar July 30. Supplementing the headline events will be the FrontRunner Stakes for two-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles; the Chandelier Stakes for two-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles; and the Rodeo Drive Stakes for fillies and mares, three and up, at 1 ¼ miles on Santa Anita’s renovated turf course. Victory gives the winning horse in each race a fees paid berth to its respective Breeders’ Cup event. On Saturday, Oct. 8, the Grade I Santa Anita Sprint Championship for three year olds and up at six furlongs will serve as a springboard to the $1.5 million TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Nov. 5. Santa Anita’s 23-day Autumn Meet starts on Friday, Sept. 30 and concludes on Sunday, Nov. 6. Friday’s feature is the $100,000, Grade III Eddie D., named for one of the game’s greatest riders, Hall of Fame member Eddie Delahoussaye who celebrates his 65th birthday today. The ever-popular Cajun will be on hand to present a trophy to the winning connections. Entries for next Saturday and Sunday’s races will be taken a week from today, Wednesday, Sept. 28. Friday’s opening day card will be drawn on Tuesday, Sept. 27. First post time opening day will be 1 p.m. First post Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 1 and 2, will be 12:30 p.m.
MELATONIN WORKS TOWARDS BC CLASSIC Santa Anita Handicap winner Melatonin worked five furlongs Wednesday morning in 1:02 as he prepares for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Nov. 5. His fractional times were 23.80, 37 flat and 50 flat. “He did it nice and easy,” trainer David Hofmans said. “We’re pointing to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He seems to like the track. It’s in very good condition. “We backed off training over the main track at Del Mar, and although we jogged him and galloped him on the training track, I lost enough time where I couldn’t make the Awesome Again. He likes time between his races but this is a lot of time and the Awesome Again is a tough spot.” Melatonin last raced on June 25, winning the Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita earning a fees paid berth to the Classic valued at $150,000. Meanwhile, Bob Baffert, just returned from the Keeneland Sales, was non-committal on which, if any, of the five horses he has nominated to the Awesome Again would compete in the race, although Cupid is out as he was en route to Parx for Saturday’s Pennsylvania Derby. That leaves American Freedom, Arrogate, Dortmund and Hoppertunity. “It’s too early to make any calls on the race yet,” Baffert said Wednesday morning after watching Chandelier Stakes candidate American Cleopatra work five furlongs in company with Noted and Quoted. Each was timed in 59.60. “I just got back; I’ve got to watch them train.” Win the Space, who was “pulled up and walked off” when last of nine behind California Chrome in the Pacific Classic, will come back in the Awesome Again. “I guess it wasn’t his day,” trainer George Papaprodromou said of the four-year-old Pulpit colt who threw a scare into Melatonin in the Gold Cup when he finished second at 24-1 under Gary Stevens. “Maybe it was the track (at Del Mar), I don’t know. The horse came back fine. It was one of those things. He didn’t fire that day.” Papaprodromou said Stevens would be back aboard for the Awesome Again.
ZENYATTA OR SPINSTER FOR TARA’S TANGO Tara’s Tango, winner of the Grade I Santa Margarita at a mile and an eighth last March, is nominated to the Grade I, $300,000 Zenyatta Stakes at the same distance here on Oct. 1 but could wind up in the Grade I, $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes at Keeneland on Oct. 9. The Spinster also is at 1 1/8 miles. “She’s going to run in one or the other,” Dan Ward, assistant to Jerry Hollendorfer, said Wednesday morning. “It would be easier for her to run in the Spinster than it would against Beholder and Stellar Wind here, that’s for sure, so it’s a possibility even though she’d have to ship. She’s training well.” Tara’s Tango, a four-year-old gray daughter of Unbridled’s Song, is owned and was bred by Stonestreet Stables, LLC, which also owns Cavorting, winner of the Grade I Personal Ensign and the Grade I Ogden Phipps. Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Cavorting is ticketed for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita on Nov. 4. Depending on how she performs in her next start, Tara’s Tango could go there also, although the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at seven furlongs Nov. 5 could be an option should Stonestreet opt not to run both fillies in the Distaff. Tara’s Tango has fared well sprinting, having won the Grade III Rancho Bernardo Handicap at 6 ½ furlongs Aug. 17 at Del Mar and finishing third by a neck in the Grade II Santa Monica Stakes at seven furlongs last Jan. 23.
FINISH LINES: Santa Anita will offer large guaranteed pools every day this meet, starting Saturday, Oct. 1 with $750,000 on the Late Pick 4 and a $100,000 Pick 6. Thursdays, Fridays and on holiday Mondays the Late pick 4 will be guaranteed at $300,000, and $500,000 on Saturdays and Sundays after Oct. 1, when the $100,000 Pick 6 will remain in play . . . Multiple graded turf stakes winner Om, a fast-closing second to front-running winner Midnight Storm in the Del Mar Derby, is ticketed for the Grade II City of Hope Mile on Saturday, Oct. 8, with the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile Oct. 1 his ultimate goal. “I’m real happy with him,” trainer Dan Hendricks said. Stakes-winning turf specialist Obviously, also set for the City of Hope, worked six furlongs on the training track in 1:12.20 Monday for Phil D’Amato, who also sent Shoemaker Mile winner Midnight Storm five furlongs on the same surface in 1:01. The leading trainer at Santa Anita’s Summer Meet and the recent Del Mar session plans to bring the latter up to the Breeders’ Cup Mile on works. “Things are going well,” D’Amato said. “I can’t wait to debut a lot of two-year-olds here at Santa Anita.” . . . The California Horse Racing Board will hold its regular monthly meeting 9:30 a.m. tomorrow at Los Alamitos. The public is encouraged to attend. An audio-only webcast of the meeting can be heard through a link on the CHRB website (webcast) . . . Agent Tony Matos has Martin Garcia booked on War Envy in the Eddie D. Stakes for trainer Shelbe Ruis.