09/28/2008 12:00AM

Goodwood a crucial Classic prep


ARCADIA, Calif. - There's a big mall next to Santa Anita, which includes a movie multiplex showing the latest hit films. But for a preview of coming attractions on Saturday, head not to the theater, but to the track.

The Oak Tree meeting will culminate with the 25th running of the Breeders' Cup on Oct. 24-25. On Saturday at Santa Anita, six Breeders' Cup races will have their final local preps. Every one is a Grade 1 race. Five of the six - what did Clement Hirsch do? - provide an automatic berth to their respective Breeders' Cup races through the Win and You're In program.

And considering that four of the races will be run over a new Pro-Ride synthetic surface, the importance of these preps cannot be overstated. Those who run well on this surface might very well have the home-court advantage four weeks hence.

That is the reason so many horses - 11 - entered the Grade 1, $500,000 Goodwood Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile prep for the 1 1/4-mile Breeders' Cup Classic. Of the leading contenders for the Classic, Big Brown already has had his final prep, Go Between and Colonel John are being trained into the race, and neither Commentator nor Curlin are certain to show up. The Goodwood winner, by virtue of a victory over Pro-Ride, would immediately become a serious contender for the richest prize in North American racing.

The Goodwood - featuring such accomplished stakes winners as Mast Track, Spirit One, Tiago, and Well Armed - is the 10th race on an 11-race card that begins at 12:30 p.m. Pacific. It is the last of the six Grade 1 races that will be run at Santa Anita on Saturday.

First up is the Hirsch, for horses prepping for the BC Turf. Red Giant and Spring House will be the top two choices in that race. Hystericalady and Zenyatta tune up for the BC Ladies' Classic in the Lady's Secret. And then Street Boss goes for his sixth straight victory in the Ancient Title, a prep for the BC Sprint.

The Ancient Title, the sixth race on the card, is the opening leg of a pick six that has a $1 million guarantee.

Races 8-10 offer three more Grade 1 races. Stardom Bound, who was dazzling in the Del Mar Debutante, stretches out around two turns for the first time in the Oak Leaf Stakes, a prep for the BC Juvenile Fillies. Next, firm turf specialist Wait a While takes on Black Mamba and Vacare in an attempt to win the Yellow Ribbon for the second time in three years and earn a spot in the BC Filly and Mare Turf.

And then comes the Goodwood.

The race is especially crucial for Spirit One, the winner of the Arlington Million, who will be racing on a surface other than turf for the first time in his life. If successful, options aplenty open.

But the horse who might have the most riding on this race is Tiago, who won the Goodwood last year, but has just one win in seven starts since then. This summer, Tiago was training so poorly at Del Mar that his trainer, John Shirreffs, got him out of there and sent him back to Hollywood Park, where he is based. In recent weeks, Tiago has turned in a series of steadily improving works, including bullet moves on Sept. 15 and 21. This will be his first race since June 28.

"He went really well when I worked him the other day," said Mike Smith, Tiago's jockey. "He went really good and straight. If he jumps up and runs a big race, that puts us right in the Breeders' Cup."

Shirreffs believes Tiago is set to run as well as he can.

"I would think with his level of ability and accomplishment he won't need a race," Shirreffs said.

Well Armed, the likely pacesetter, comes off a sharp second-place finish to Go Between in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. Although he has run well at 1 1/4 miles, Well Armed has three wins and a second in his last four starts at either 1 1/16 miles or 1 1/8 miles.

Mast Track was third in the Pacific Classic after leading from start to finish in the Hollywood Gold Cup. In the Goodwood, he landed the outside post in the field of 11.

Surf Cat made a menacing move in the Pacific Classic before flattening out to finish sixth. His trainer, Bruce Headley, said Surf Cat is using the Goodwood as a prep for the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.

A sneaky longshot in the Goodwood is Zappa, who was a deceptively good fourth in the Pacific Classic after encountering traffic trouble at the top of the stretch. He already has earned a berth in the inaugural Breeders' Cup Marathon by virtue of his victory in the Cougar II Handicap at Del Mar in July.

Albertus Maximus was a powerful winner of the Windy Sands Handicap at Del Mar in his first start for trainer Vladimir Cerin.

Slew's Tiznow is only "50-50" to start in the Goodwood, according to trainer Doug O'Neill. His option is to train straight into the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, O'Neill said.

The first 25,000 fans with paid admission Saturday get a free Oak Tree polo shirt.