09/25/2008 11:00PM

Cup berths riding on Norfolk, Oak Tree Mile

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PHOENIX – There’s little doubt Sunday’s Grade 1 Norfolk and Grade 2 Oak Tree Mile at Santa Anita carry a lot of weight and prestige on their own merit. And this year the ramifications of what might transpire in those two races figures to ring loud and clear to Saturday, Oct. 25, for the second day of the Breeders’ Cup.

Oak Tree Mile

What’s at risk? They are shooting to sort themselves out among the Southern California turf milers, to see who fits in the Breeders’ Cup Mile a month from now. Of course, without the circuit’s ranking milers in here (Daytona and Whatsthescript are awaiting the BC Mile, Monzante and Ever a Friend are sidelined) a victory here might not really establish much, except possibly for Hyperbaric.

Hyperbaric is trained by Julio Canani, who knows a thing or two about what it takes to be a top miler, having trained Silic, Val Royal, Ladies Din, Tuzla, and Charmo. He thought earlier this spring, after Hyperbaric came off a long layoff, that he had that kind of horse. Alas, defeats at the hands of some of those aforementioned bigshots showed he still had some work to do. A class drop at Del Mar seemed to spring him back to life – he won an allowance race there and then blasted home to win the restricted Brubaker there. This spot doesn’t seem a whole lot tougher and actually that may help him take the next step to the BC Mile next month.

What will we see? Hyperbaric has more versatility than your standard turf miler. He’s a bit like Daytona in that he can be placed anywhere, but doesn’t necessarily have Daytona’s natural high-paced gallop. What he does have, though, is enough speed to be forwardly placed and out of trouble – and can still finish. He should be in line for that kind of trip here.

What are the ramifications? As far as the BC Mile goes, this race probably won’t have the type of impact it has had in past years. A big race by Hyperbaric can gain him entry, but he still will have to face the top U.S. milers as well as Euro heavyweights like perhaps Henrythenavigator, Tamayuz, Raven’s Pass and Goldikova, and that still leaves him with the tag “outsider.”

Norfolk Stakes

What’s at risk? With no thoroughly dominant 2-year-old in the country there’s a lot riding on this. It will establish route form, ability on the Pro-Ride track (which is important since next month’s BC Juvenile will be run on this surface), and quality. So far the big names have established their reputations sprinting. Some have done so on dirt back East, and even those who have done it in Southern California, like Azul Leon, Midshipman and Street Hero, have not done it on this particular surface.

What will we see? Midshipman ran his guts out to win the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity and deserves a ton of credit. Still, it’s an entirely different ballgame to win a seven-furlong race and then switch tracks and win a race at 1 1/16 miles, particularly after such a grueling run. Still, he figures to make his presence felt. Azul Leon has made me a believer and skipped the Del Mar Futurity to point directly for this. That’s an interesting tack, but this guy has all sorts of athleticism and ability, and being by Lion Heart there’s no reason he shouldn’t go at least this far. His connections have been comparing Azul Leon to BC Juvenile winner and juvenile champion Stevie Wonderboy, both trained by Doug O’Neill.

Easterners Regal Ransom and Silent Valor are harder to figure. They have run very fast back East – on dirt. Like the Californians they must answer the route question and the track surface question – with the added issue of shipping a couple thousand miles for the privilege.

When they turned for home in the Del Mar Futurity, I thought Street Hero was going to win. After a lousy start he was toward the back and gamely fought his way through traffic. Even in the final half-furlong he looked plenty scary with his good finish, and he finished third, less than a length behind Midshipman. The surface question persists but this guy is by Street Cry, himself a multiple Grade 1 route winner and sire of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense and the unbeaten Zenyatta, and he has Summer Squall as his damsire. So, there should be no question about the distance.

What are the ramifications? They should be significant. Save for Charitable Man and Coronet of a Baron, most of the big 2-year-old names are here. Again, this new surface and new distance is a hurdle for all of them. The feeling here is Street Hero wins and heads to next month’s BC Juvenile as one of the ones.