It’s never too early to start thinking about the Breeders’ Cup Classic, considered the Super Bowl of horse racing. Sure, there are a couple races that pay more but this is the one everyone talks about.
That conversation cannot take place without trainer Bob Baffert, who could have as many as four or five horses in that race.
Collected is in by virtue of winning the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.
West Coast impressed and showed he was ready by winning the Travers Stakes at Saratoga and the Pennsylvania Derby at PARX.
And Baffert has two horses, the first and third favorites, Cupid and Mubtaahij, in Saturday’s Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita. The winner gets an automatic pass to the Classic.
It will be the 10th race in an 11-race card that features five Grade 1s.
Then there is the case of that other horse he has in his barn. The one that has won more than $17 million and last year’s Classic … and Pegasus World Cup … and Dubai World Cup.
“Who would have ever thought Arrogate wouldn’t have an automatic in?” Baffert said. “Of all the horses that I have, who would have thought that? That’s just the way it goes.”
There is much speculation that Arrogate, who finished a well beaten fourth in the San Diego Handicap and a good second in the Pacific Classic, just doesn’t like the surface at Del Mar, host of this year’s Breeders’ Cup.
“We’re not sure,” Baffert said of the surface mystery. “When we first got there it was a totally different kind of surface. A lot of horses were struggling with it. The last couple of weeks it started playing like the old Del Mar.
“I think it set up there at the end and I know they are adding more material to it. We don’t know what it’s going to be like, but you can’t worry about that.”
Baffert was unnecessarily beating himself up over Arrogate’s two defeats on a recent morning at Santa Anita’s Clockers Corner. After all, he’s famous for saying every horse, at one time, will get beat.
“I think a lot of it had to do with backing him up to 1 1/16th [of a mile],” he said. “I went into unchartered waters. If I had to do it over, I would have stuck to my plan and pointed him to the mile-and-a-quarter [Pacific Classic].
“I really threw his psyche completely off by shortening him up. You learn from your losses. I learned more from [Triple Crown winner] American Pharoah when he got beat at Saratoga than when he won.”
Finding Baffert in the winner’s circle around 5:10 p.m. on Saturday is a distinct possibility.
Cupid, a 2-1 morning line favorite, has won his last two races and four of his last five. He’s won twice at Santa Anita in three tries.
Cupid was scheduled to make his debut in the Californian in April at Santa Anita. But just before the race, while being washed down, he slipped and cut his hock and had to be scratched.
He made his debut in May winning the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup by 3 ¼ lengths.
“I was going to bring him down there [to Del Mar] and he got sick, had a temperature,” Baffert said. “So you have to treat him and you lose a few weeks. I really couldn’t get him ready to run 1 ¼ against Arrogate and Collected.”
Instead, the 4-year-old Tapit colt was placed in the one-mile Harry F. Brubaker Stakes at Del Mar. He won by 3/4-length and was never contested. Rafael Bejarano is his regular rider.
The Awesome Again, won last year by California Chrome, is only 1 1/8 miles. Baffert isn’t at all concerned about him going longer.
“The older they get, the farther they can go,” he said. “Like Collected, he couldn’t go that far when he was a 3-year-old, but he’s learned to relax and he’s a different horse now that he’s matured.”
Mubtaahij, Baffert’s other horse, has bounced around between Dubai and the East Coast. His previous U.S. trainer was Kiaran McLaughlin. The 5-year-old Irish-bred colt is making his Santa Anita debut with Drayden Van Dyke in the saddle.
“He’s been working really, really well,” Baffert said. “I wasn’t really pointing him to this race but the way he’s worked I thought he deserved a chance to run. So we’re in there with two really nice horses.”
Midnight Storm is the second favorite at 3-1. He has won 10 of 25 races lifetime, seven of those wins on turf. After finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Mile, trainer Phil D’Amato sent him off in the Native Diver on the dirt and he won by 7 ¾ lengths. At 6 he’s the oldest horse in the race.