Santa Anita Win and You’re In

 

Across both coasts, top horses in all divisions put in their final preps for the Breeders’ Cup championships to be held at Santa Anita next month. The Great Race Place featured two races for top juveniles (FrontRunner and Chandelier Stakes), a race for turf females (Rodeo Drive) and the Zenyatta Stakes and Awesome Again Stakes for the Distaff and Classic divisions. While all were Grade I races, the latter two featured champion Beholder and undefeated champion Shared Belief.

Beholder was coming off a long layoff after being injured in the Ogden Phipps on Belmont Stakes day. She looked the part, appearing business-like in the paddock and in good physical form. A somewhat plain bay mare, Beholder looks a lot more filled out as a four-year old than she did last year, and strikes a more imposing presence. She had to fight for it a little bit today, as Tiz Midnight battled her down the stretch, but Beholder returned as a repeat winner of the Zenyatta. She’ll target a repeat victory in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff next month.

Shared Belief arrived to put his undefeated record on the line against elders for the second time. This was my first time seeing last year’s two-year-old champion in person. The nearly black gelding is on the small side, but was clearly on his toes today. Breaking from the 4 post, Shared Belief was floated very wide into the first turn by Victor Espinoza on Sky Kingdom. He also was caught wide on the far turn, and found himself in a tough battle with Fed Biz throughout the entire stretch. But as Mike Smith said in his post-race interview, whatever anyone handed them, Shared Belief battled through to win. After winning all of his other races in mostly uncontested fashion, Shared Belief proved he could take it to them as well. He’ll be a worthy favorite in the Classic.

After Bob Baffert’s brilliant speedster American Pharoah (yes, that’s how his name is spelled) ran off with the FrontRunner Stakes for two-year-old colts, his hard-knocking campaigner Game On Dude was paraded and led into the winner’s circle one last time. Dude was ridden by his regular exercise rider, Dana Barnes, who was seen wiping tears away as she took Dude past the stands. In some ways it was fitting that one superstar California gelding retires as his heir apparent made himself heard. Here’s to a great retirement, and thanks for all the memories.

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