Updated on 09/16/2011 9:35AM

A day to shoot for the moon

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Benoit & Associates
Grey Memo, shown winning the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar, needs a fast pace to set up his move from out of the clouds in the Cal Cup Classic.

ARCADIA, Calif. - What is racing coming to, anyway? For one glorious day each autumn at Santa Anita, the answer is encouraging.

The 13th California Cup, highlight of the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita, is offered Saturday in a celebration of California racing that has become the blueprint for statebred racing festivals. It's a party, with 10 races for Cal-breds with purses of more than $1.3 million, full and competitive fields, and something for every bettor and every horseman.

"It's a day that people all over the state look forward to - breeders, owners, and trainers," said prominent California owner-breeder John Harris. "People will take a shot at running a horse on Cal Cup Day that they wouldn't otherwise."

It shows in the entries - 111 horses entered the 10 races. They include international star Grey Memo, winner of the Godolphin Mile in Dubai; turf graded stakes winner Continental Red; and graded stakes-placed Hot Market. Those three entered the $250,000 at 1 1/8 miles, one of eight races with six-figure purses. On Cal Cup Day, anyone with a decent statebred is invited to take a shot.

"It's not the Breeders' Cup or the Derby," Harris said, "but you take a lot of pride that you're part of that day, more so than a normal race when you'd run a horse because you think that's where the horse fits. The races come up pretty contentious. If somebody looks at the Beyers of horses in these races, they're comparable to graded stakes all over the country."

Harris is entitled to wax enthusiastic. He is a California Horse Racing Board member and chairman of one of the state's most prominent breeding operations - Harris Farms in central California. Saturday, Harris will do some cheering of his own. He bred and co-owns Hot Market, early favorite for the Cal Cup Classic, in addition to Matron favorite Super High, Sprint contender Unlimited Value; and Distaff choice Top of Our Game.

First post Saturday is noon Pacific, and bettors can shoot for the moon. A $1 million guaranteed pick six pool is offered on races 5-10. Bob's Lady is favored in the $100,000 Distance Handicap (fifth race); Stormy Jack is the horse to beat in the $150,000 Sprint (sixth race); Top of Our Game goes in the $150,000 Distaff (seventh race); Spinelessjellyfish is the right horse in the $175,000 Mile (ninth race); and Amber Hills is the one to beat in the $125,000 Juvenile Fillies (10th race).

Between the supporting races, the Cal Cup Classic (ninth race) presents a supreme handicapping challenge. "It has everything - speed, stalkers, and huge closers," noted trainer Pete Eurton, whose three-other-than Bonus Pay Day will be one of the longshots in the Classic.

Bonus Pay Day is returning from a two-month layoff, a minor challenge relative to the hurdles facing the three favorites. Hot Market is a potential pace casualty racing at the longest distance of his 14-race career; turf star Continental Red has not raced on dirt in 18 months; and Grey Memo is less efficient on harder tracks such as Santa Anita

"He [Grey Memo] has never won on the dirt here," trainer Warren Stute said. "It's not his favorite track, but it's where the races are. He likes a deeper track, he's partial to Hollywood Park."

Grey Memo was partial to Nad Al Sheba in March, when he sprang an upset over an international field in the Grade 2 Godolphin Mile. Grey Memo has won eight races and more than $1.3 million, but he only has one way to win.

"He has to come from off the pace," Stute said, "not just from behind. He has to come from way behind. That's his style."

Unless the pacesetters run each other into the ground, it probably won't work. But then, one reason Grey Memo and other outsiders entered is because of the nine-furlong distance. "There is some question of the distance capability of the others," said John Sadler, trainer of Slippery When Bet. "It's worth taking a shot." Slippery When Bet is taking a big shot. He is eligible to the first allowance condition, but hits the Classic off a big second-place comeback in a race that was designed as a prep for the Classic.

While class handicappers will expect Continental Red to win based on his excellent form early this year in graded turf stakes, the 6-year-old gelding concedes his perceived class advantage by running on dirt.

Beyond the obvious surface change, dirt racing presents entirely different dynamics. Whereas turf races are typically run at a slow pace and won by the best finishers, dirt races in California typically favor horses with speed. The principle works against Continental Red, while favoring Hot Market.

Hot Market, a gelding by Cee's Tizzy, has not raced since Aug. 18 when he finished second by a head in the Grade 2 Pat O'Brien Handicap at seven furlongs. In the 2 1/2 months since, trainer Craig Lewis has pointed the front-running Hot Market toward the Classic, while working on improving his stamina.

A winner of five races and $257,760 from 14 starts, Hot Market will be ridden by Jose Valdivia. If he can avoid a speed duel, Hot Market could be gone.

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