ARCADIA, Calif. -- He's red, like a giant cardinal, the red of Queen Elizabeth's satin or The Annunciation's stained glass, and so even in the dawning light, he stood out. And he caused a stir. There couldn't have been more anticipation and excitement if Christina Hendricks had walked onto the track. But, of course, it was California Chrome.
He backtracked. And then, turning, he eased into his light exercise. Nothing too serious. He glided around the Santa Anita track, just galloping, his ears up and his stride graceful. He was enjoying himself. A few moments later, he went to the starting gate, stood there, looked around, walked out and stood like a red statue, as if waiting for compliments or maybe photographers.
He's doing well. To this eye, California Chrome is training as well as he did before he won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and looking every bit as sharp. But that's not the question. He's not running against Commanding Curve and Danza in Saturday's $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic. California Chrome seems poised to run his race and give his best effort, but will that suffice?
Can he succeed against Shared Belief, who's unbeaten in seven races, and Tonalist, who improved significantly in the Jockey Club Gold Cup? Like many 3-year-olds, Shared Belief and Tonalist have taken a step forward this fall, and California Chrome is due to take his. But even if he does, will it suffice, and even if he is as good as his rivals here, can he beat them while racing four-wide? California Chrome drew the No. 13 post position, and he prefers to shun traffic and race outside of horses.
All the questions surrounding California Chrome invite skepticism, which is why Shared Belief, who already has taken the step forward and who has proven he can win regardless of the trip and the trouble, is the horse to beat in America's richest race. Shared Belief could be a special kind of horse.
Bayern, who has trained well here, enjoys rolling on the lead, but he could have company in Moreno, another speedster. The pace will be lively, probably contentious, and Shared Belief and California Chrome should be able to get good position behind the early leaders. Shared Belief and California Chrome could have their first -- and we can hope for many more -- eye-to-eye confrontation in the second turn, with Prayer for Relief giving his best, too.
Tonalist, the Belmont Stakes winner, has run his best races on larger ovals: Belmont Park and Gulfstream. If he can adapt to Santa Anita, he'll also get into the game in the second turn and prove tough to withstand when he charges through the stretch. Candy Boy, who has been compromised by speed-biased tracks of late, will do his best running late, along with Zivo and perhaps V. E. Day. In many hearts and minds, the wish to see red might be strong, but in deep stretch the reality could look like gabbro, a black granite.
1. Shared Belief
3. California Chrome
4. Prayer For Relief
Juvenile Fillies: Angela Renee had a perfect trip while winning the Chandelier Stakes, and the same could happen here. Still, although she's talented and reliable, she hardly inspires. She's good, but there lingers a suspicion that just being good might not suffice. Puca, on the other hand, just might be special. She never has run in a stakes race and never has defeated anybody of quality, but in her maiden victory, jockey Junior Alvarado never moved on her, never asked her to run, and she won by 16 lengths, and then she galloped out strongly. She'll have to come from much farther back Saturday, but she has looked good in the mornings, going to the track with Cigar Street, and she'll race on Lasix for the first time Saturday. Conquest Eclipse has been in California since the summer for one reason: this race. She rallied well to finish second to Angela Renee in the Chandelier, but a faster pace here could put her in the winner's circle. Majestic Presence raced very wide around both turns in the Chandelier.Top Decile broke slowly but otherwise had a good trip in the Alcibiades, where the rapid pace worked to her advantage.Take Charge Brandi is quick, and if a speed bias develops, she could be a dangerous long shot.
2. Conquest Eclipse
3. Angela Renee
4. Majestic Presence
Filly & Mare Turf : This comes down to whether Dank is herself. If she's close to being the same horse who won this race a year ago, she'll repeat. And here at Santa Anita she hasn't given any reason to doubt her. But in her two races this year, after returning from an injury, the outstanding mare hasn't shown the same early speed she once possessed -- she stalked Emollient a year ago -- and has run poorly. Granted, in both she took on some outstanding males. Still, she wasn't very competitive, and that's reason enough to be skeptical. If she's not herself, this could be a wide-open affair. The pace could be a little livelier than is usual for this distance because of Dayatthespa, who's essentially a miler. She never has raced this far, but she has won at 1-1/8 miles. Most importantly, she has approached her training here with energy and eagerness, and to this eye has never looked better; she's a threat to take this from start to finish. Just The Judge, who was sensational as a 2-year-old and then hit a rough patch at 3, seems to be on her way to fulfilling her potential. She's not flashy, and she doesn't have a burst, but she's just relentless. With a better trip, the might have been closer in the Beverly D, might even have won, but she ran into some traffic down the lane. Still, as always, she kept coming; she finished third. More recently, or very recently, she won the E. P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine. That was just two weeks ago, but she has made a positive impression here. Stephanie's Kitten has finished first and second in her two starts at this distance; although not very big, she has a big late kick.
1. Just The Judge
3. Stephanie's Kitten
Filly & Mare Sprint : Artemis Agrotera has looked as good as any horse here at Santa Anita this week: She has been buoyant with energy. And that observation alone is why she sits atop these selections. In the Gallant Bloom, she took advantage of a meltdown, and at Saratoga she was able to control a modest pace. She probably won't have those advantages here. Still, she's training purposefully and eagerly, and even if there's no meltdown the pace will be sufficiently quick to set up her late run. Look for her to come charging down the stretch from about five lengths back. Second in this race a year ago in what was probably the best effort of her career, Judy The Beauty has been aimed at this for some time, and she could enjoy a perfect stalking trip. Leigh Court has won five of her last six, her only loss coming at 1-1/8 miles. She has natural speed, and she has won at this distance. She just might be this good. Stonetastic has looked happy training here. She's a lightning bolt and probably will lead the field into the stretch. But she never has won beyond three-quarters of a mile. Still, if Santa Anita is being especially kind to speed, she'll win this at a nice price.
1. Artemis Agrotera
2. Judy The Beauty
3. Leigh Court
Turf Sprint: From here, this looks like one of the most contentious and unpredictable of Breeders' Cup races, in part because of the unique down-the-hill course, which gives the outside post positions an advantage, but also because these horses are just so evenly matched. If you're investing in the short-term futures market, particularly in some multi-race venture, this might be a good place to spread out. Reneesgotzip and Tightend Touchdown, who finished in a dead heat for second in this race a year ago, have returned, but neither has drawn especially well. Because of the course, a sprint here is unlike any turf sprint elsewhere. Most turf sprints elsewhere, at five-eighths of a mile or five-and-a-half, emphasize speed; but the turf sprint here plays more like a mile. Speed is important, but finishing strongly is essential. Mizdirection, for example, won each of the last two editions here, rallying from three lengths back last year and from seven back in 2012, and swinging five-wide both times. From here, although he never has sprinted down the hill, Silentio is most intriguing partly because he's a quality miler and at 8-1 in the morning line should offer rewarding odds, but also because he just might be most talented. In the one-mile American Stakes here, he chased the speedy Obviously through a half-mile in 45.55 seconds and three-quarters in 1:08.56 before surrendering. For you numbers folks, a speed figure for Silentio based on that three-quarter split would be the highest of any horse in the field. Caspar Netscher raced with some of the top milers in Europe and turned back effectively to win recently at Woodbine. Undrafted might have been best when third at Kentucky Downs but was blocked in the stretch; he's owned, by the way, by Wes Welker of the Denver Broncos. And Ambitious Brew has an obvious home-field edge, winning three of his four races down the hill.
2. Caspar Netscher
4. Ambitious Brew
Juvenile: What do Spend A Buck, Tank's Prospect, Danzig Connection, Alysheba, Bet Twice, Easy Goer, Go And Go, Pine Bluff, Sea Hero, Point Given, Tabasco Cat, Editor's Note, Lemon Drop Kid, Afleet Alex, Lookin At Lucky, Mine That Bird and Union Rags all have in common? Yes, they all won Triple Crown races. They also ran in but didn't win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Around Derby time, or perhaps even Saturday, you'll hear somebody, either on television or a barstool, expound on why the Juvenile isn't significant, and the ersatz pundit will point out that only Street Sense, among the Juvenile winners, also won the Kentucky Derby. True enough, but that's a deceptively narrow view. In truth -- and please excuse me for dispelling any dear misconception -- no American race for 2-year-olds is more telling or important than the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Just getting to the Juvenile and then running well, even if not winning, validates potential. The Juvenile itself rewards, more than anything, speed and precocity, and so the winner here might not go on to profound success at 3 while those finishing behind him very well could. Alysheba, for example, finished third in the 1986 Juvenile, 2-1/2 lengths behind Capote and just ahead of Bet Twice. Lemon Drop Kid finished fifth behind Answer Lively; Point Given second behind Macho Uno; Afleet Alex second behind Wilko; Tabasco Cat third behind Brocco.
Anyway, about this race and these promising youngsters, there should be two questions. The first is, who among this group can become a major player next year? There's no rush to answer: The question can be contemplated for quite some time. The second and more immediate question is, who's going to win? And so for the moment, the challenge is to identify the precocious and speedy 2-year-olds that could succeed Saturday. That search begins with Daredevil, who has looked nothing less than spectacular in his two races; he won the Champagne pricking his ears. He has sufficient speed to overcome his outside post position and secure a comfortable stalking position. The other unbeaten colt from the stable of Todd Pletcher, Carpe Diem, has been equally impressive; his victories include a romp in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. And both have made a positive impression here. As for others, Souper Colossal wasn't asked at all while winning the Sapling at Monmouth Park, and he sparkled in a workout here Monday. But was it too fast? Maybe, but he looked sharp when he returned to the track for an easy gallop Thursday, prancing off the track. He could be the early and dangerous leader. Upstart can rally, and Texas Red, who raced very wide in the Frontrunner, could have some late impact. The Great War, a European invader, is something of a mystery, but his pedigree suggests he could step forward in his first race on dirt. As for future consideration, keep an eye on all these youngsters.
2. Carpe Diem
3. Souper Colossal
4. The Great War
Turf: In Europe, Telescope and Flintshire are co-favorites, at 4-1. Here at Santa Anita, Flintshire is the slight favorite in the morning line, at 7-2, with Telescope at 4-1. They're that tough to separate. As a 20-1 outsider, Flintshire recently gave the best performance of his career to finish second in the Arc de Triomphe. Horses that were pointed for the Arc and ran well there generally don't perform nearly as well in the Breeders' Cup. Telescope, on the other hand, has been aimed at this race for months. He never has finished worse than third in his career, and he has looked absolutely regal here in the mornings at Santa Anita. Liking the firm ground and the faster pace of American racing, Main Sequence has won three stakes since coming here from Great Britain, and, as if he's a Hollywood kind of guy, he has done so in the most dramatic fashion, rallying from far back and getting up in the last stride. Brown Panther has won four of his six races at this distance.
2. Main Sequence
4. Brown Panther
Sprint: Rich Tapestry is truly one of the world's top sprinters, having won stakes in Dubai, Hong Kong and, most recently, here. In the Santa Anita Sprint Championship, he stalked a rapid pace (44.25 seconds for the opening half-mile) and then ran down Goldencents with a 23-second final quarter-mile. The performance was, quite simply, remarkable. In fact, he ran the fastest final quarter-mile in any dirt sprint seen here since at least 2012, according to Pat Cummings of Trakus. Rich Tapestry, who has impressed this week, could enjoy a good trip stalking a lively pace Saturday, and that's his game. Still, this race historically has provided some knee-buckling upsets. Could you see Wind Fire winning here? The 3-year-old filly defeated one of Europe's top sprinters, G Force, and her pedigree suggests she might be better on dirt. How about the lightly raced and strangely named Fast Anna? A beautiful colt, he possesses oh-my-gosh speed. And then there's Work All Week, who never has lost on a dirt track. But, to return to the more predictable options, Private Zone is appealing. He ran even better in winning this year's Vosburgh Stakes than he did in taking last year's. Of course, after last year's Vosburgh he came here and finished 10th in the Sprint. But he's fresher and possibly better now. And if the pace gets so fast the race disintegrates, who'll come charging? Bourbon Courage could play that part. Over the last three years, he has tried to take on some of the best horses in country around two turns, chasing home such standouts as Will Take Charge, Game On Dude and Shackleford. Abandoning that quest, he has turned back to the Sprint, and it might be a wise move. He's unbeaten at six and at six-and-one-half furlongs. Look for him to come charging down the lane. Secret Circle might not be quite as sharp as he was a year ago when he won this, but he's still quite capable, and he looks like he's moving forward this week.
1. Rich Tapestry
2. Private Zone
3. Bourbon Courage
4. Secret Circle
Mile: This race went from foregone conclusion to wide-open mystery with the defection of two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan because of injury. Until Wise Dan came along, Europeans dominated this race, and since he has left the stage for the moment, the invaders are likely to return to the winner's circle. Toronado, the 5-2 favorite, has made a favorable impression here. A powerful colt, he's the most accomplished horse in the field and one of the best of the Europeans, but he could have a problem. He has given most of his best performances on a straightaway course, and now he'll be asked to race around not one, but two tight turns. Maybe he's that good: Maybe he can travel halfway around the world, step off the plane into a completely foreign environment and then beat everybody over a course that's completely unlike anything he ever has seen. Maybe he can do that, but the real question is whether you'll take 5-2 odds on his doing it. At 6-1, Mustajeeb is more inviting. An improving 3-year-old, he has won a left-handed course. And Anodin has looked good here. A full brother to the great Goldikova, who won this race three times, he got stopped with about a furlong remaining in the Prix de la Foret, his most recent outing, and he finished two lengths behind Toronado in the Queen Anne Stakes at Ascot, which was run, as you might guess, on a straight. But he looks like an athletic horse who might actually improve on this course. Of the Americans, Obviously might be best. When fourth in the Del Mar Mile, he hesitated and then bobbled at the start, giving his rivals a four-length head start. His best races, though, here at Santa Anita would suggest he's dangerous. He finished fifth in this race a year ago.