Do prep races over the track mean anything to horses that run in the Breeders' Cup?
In the nine-year history of the series, there is hardly enough of a sample to develop a study. Breeders' Cup races have usually been run at tracks that weren't open long enough for trainers to schedule a prep race.
Notable exceptions have been the 1986 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita and the 1990 races at Belmont Park, and this is what makes this year's Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita so intriguing: It opens today, 4 1/2 weeks before the seven Breeders' Cup races over the same track on Nov 6. The stakes schedule is peppered with chances for Breeders' Cup horses, and the results should be a barometer for what's in store on the $10-million race day.
Seven years ago, trainer Wayne Lukas unveiled a 2-year-old son of Seattle Slew at the Oak Tree meet. Capote had made his racing debut on Sept. 1 at Del Mar and done miserably, but by Oct. 3, the third day of the Oak Tree meet, Lukas had him ready for his best.
Capote won by 11 lengths sprinting, and Lukas brought him right back seven days later for his first race around two turns. Capote added a 1 3/4-length victory in the Norfolk Stakes, beating the 4-5 undefeated favorite, Gulch, who had been shipped from New York with a five-race streak.
The $1-million Breeders' Cup Juvenile was a more comfortable three weeks after the Norfolk and Capote beat Gulch again, plus 11 other 2-year-olds, while scoring a 1 1/4-length victory. The rest of the Capote saga went sour. He was pulled up by his jockey, Angel Cordero, hopelessly beaten in the 1987 Kentucky Derby, and didn't win again after the three victories during Oak Tree, which were enough to carry him to a divisional championship.
Capote is an oddity for another reason. Of the 63 winners of Breeders' Cup races, he is one of only five who ran prep races over the track. The others:
Proud Truth, winner of the Classic at Aqueduct in 1985.
Safely Kept, Sprint, Belmont, 1990.
Meadow Star, Juvenile Fillies, Belmont, 1990.
Fly So Free, Juvenile, Belmont, 1990.
Of the 71 horses that ran in the seven Breeders' Cup races at Santa Anita, 31 prepped over the track. Qualify, fourth behind Capote in the Norfolk, took second money of $225,000 at 21-1 odds in the Juvenile. And Fran's Valentine and Outstandingly ran 2-3 as Lady's Secret dominated the Distaff, en route to horse-of-the-year honors. Of the 31 horses with Santa Anita preps, four ran second and five finished third in the Breeders' Cup.
Based on this analysis, it would seem that the New York trainers with Breeders' Cup contenders would be shipping to Santa Anita in large numbers, but this is not the case.
"The biggest reason they're staying back there might be the purse money," said Tom Robbins, the director of racing for Oak Tree. "Our purses are very good, but Belmont in just a few days is offering what seems like more money than we'll offer for the whole meet."
During one weekend in September and two in October, Belmont will have offered $4.85 million in purses for 19 stakes. Santa Anita's richest Breeders' Cup prep will be the $300,000 Oak Tree Invitational on grass Sunday. The Oak Tree is the same 1 1/2-mile distance as the $2-million Breeders' Cup Turf.
Other first-week highlights are the $200,000 Oak Leaf Stakes for 2-year-old fillies Saturday and the $200,000 Norfolk on Sunday. A Monday holiday card includes the first running of the $100,000 Lady's Secret Handicap for fillies and mares. On Oct. 16, Oak Tree will run nine California Cup races worth $1 million, and Best Pal, a leading contender for the $3-million Breeders' Cup Classic, might be among the California-breds in one of them.
The $100,000 Ancient Title Handicap, for sprinters, the $100,000 Koester at a mile on grass and the $200,000 Goodwood Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on dirt are scheduled for Oct. 17.
Horse Racing Notes
Toussaud, who won three in a row at Hollywood Park, including a victory over males in the American Handicap, is entered with a stablemate, Western Approach, in today's Autumn Days Handicap. Toussaud is also expected to run in the Koester and the $1-million Breeders' Cup Mile on grass. . . . On the probable list for the Oak Tree Invitational are Luazur, Kotashaan and Myrakalu, who ran 1-2-3 in the Del Mar Handicap on Sept. 5.
Jolypha, with Pat Day replacing Kent Desormeaux, will battle Hollywood Wildcat and Magical Maiden in the Lady's Secret, which will be a 1 1/16-mile dirt race. . . . The meeting will last 31 days, through Nov. 14, with a Wednesday-through-Sunday schedule except this Monday. . . . Post times are 1 p.m. through Oct. 30, 12:30 p.m. starting Oct. 31 and noon on Cal Cup day. The Cascapedia Handicap, the first of 10 races on an all-stakes program on Breeders' Cup day, will be run at 10:10 a.m., followed by the seven Breeders' Cup races and two other stakes.
Wayne McDonnell, the agent for Ron Hansen, is frustrated by the authorities' investigation into the disappearance of the Northern California jockey. "They haven't done anything," McDonnell said. "Ron's family has hired professionals to look into this, but the regular police haven't even talked to some of the people who saw Ron last." A spokesman for the Alameda (Calif.) police said that after the missing-person report filed by Hansen's wife, Renee, they would step up their investigation. A spokeswoman for the California Highway Patrol said that the Coast Guard has searched the bay near the San Mateo Bridge. Hansen's car was found on the bridge early Saturday morning, abandoned by its driver after an accident involving another car. Renee Hansen has told authorities that she last talked with her husband on the phone about an hour before the accident.