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Road to success often begins in California
ARCADIA, Calif. - Prize money was not the main issue when trainer Richard Mandella decided between Saturday's $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park or the $500,000 Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita for the comeback of handicap star Rock Hard Ten.
Keeping the Breeders' Cup Classic hopeful at home was the deciding factor, and with good reason. Mandella is the latest trainer to prove that the Goodwood-BC Classic double is achievable, having accomplished that feat in 2003 with Pleasantly Perfect.
"It really has become an important race," Mandella said of the Goodwood. "It worked great with Pleasantly Perfect."
Pleasantly Perfect was the sixth horse to start in a prep race at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting and go on to BC Classic glory.
Those half-dozen winners represent a fraction of the Breeders' Cup winners to have started at the Oak Tree meeting. Since the Breeders' Cup began in 1984, 31 horses have started at the meeting and then won on Breeders' Cup championship day.
"If you can win in California, you can win anywhere," trainer Bob Baffert said.
Only Belmont Park has produced more Breeders' Cup winners, with 38, but that track has an advantage with the way the racing calendar plays out. Breeders' Cup hopefuls can run at Belmont Park in two sets of preps - in early September and/or early October - while California horses have time for only one set of prep races at Oak Tree during the first two weekends of the meeting. By comparison, horses that have run at Keeneland, which offers one set of preps in early October, have won 20 Breeders' Cup races.
This year, there are six prep races for the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita on Saturday and Sunday and two more on Oct. 8.
If recent history is accurate, those races should produce a few Breeders' Cup winners. Since 2000, 13 horses have run at Oak Tree and gone on to win on Breeders' Cup Championship Day. Last year at Lone Star Park, Sweet Catomine won the Oak Leaf Stakes at Oak Tree and went on to win the BC Juvenile Fillies, while Singletary finished third in the Oak Tree Mile and pulled an upset in the BC Mile.
The most productive Oak Tree race since 2000 has been the Goodwood, which has produced three Classic winners - Tiznow (2000-01) and Pleasantly Perfect.
Mandella says staying at home and keeping Rock Hard Ten in the Goodwood is ideal for a colt who has not started since winning the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap in March.
"I don't like taking them away from home," Mandella said. "It's safer and healthier here. The more they are on the road, the more you're asking for trouble."
Plus, the Goodwood will not be as tough as the Jockey Club Gold Cup, which will include two top California invaders - Lava Man, the winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup, and Borrego, the winner of the Pacific Classic.
"I expect he will be as good as he has ever been when he comes back, maybe better," Mandella said of Rock Hard Ten. "The important thing is to take as little out of him as I can and get him a prep."
Aside from the familiarity of home, trainers cite race conditions and timing as other reasons why racing at Oak Tree can provide Breeders' Cup success. With the Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park on Oct. 29, Baffert would rather give his hopes for the 2-year-old races - Diamond Omi (Juvenile Fillies) and Bob and John (Juvenile) - a start around two turns at 1 1/16 miles rather than a one-turn race at that distance at Belmont Park.
"When you're going one turn over a mile and a sixteenth, I think it's more of a grueling race than two turns," he said.
He recalled that in 2001, the last year the Breeders' Cup was at Belmont, Baffert won the Champagne Stakes in early October with Officer, who only finished fifth as the odds-on favorite in the BC Juvenile.
"I think I squeezed the lemon dry," Baffert said.
Singletary may attempt to defend his title in the BC Mile, but only after a prep in the Oak Tree BC Mile on Oct. 8. Last year, trainer Don Chatlos worried that a three-week gap between those races would be too short for Singletary until retired Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron reminded him that a break of that length should keep Singletary sharper.
"It turns out he was right," Chatlos said.
Plus, Chatlos is not keen on taking on a top turf miler such as Artie Schiller in the Kelso Handicap this weekend at Belmont and again in the BC Mile, while making two cross-country trips.
"I don't want to run against Artie Schiller on his home track and have to ship to New York and then ship back home," Chatlos said. "I would worry about missing training because of bad weather.
"I think he's better coming back in three weeks," he said. "It worked out perfect last year."
At a glance: Oak Tree stakes schedule
RACING SCHEDULE: Wednesday through Nov. 6. Dark Mondays and Tuesdays, except Oct. 10.
ADMISSION: General $5, Clubhouse $8.50, Turf Club $20. General parking $4, preferred $6, valet $10.
LOCATION: 285 W. Huntington Dr., Arcadia. South of 210 (Foothill Freeway), east of Baldwin Ave.
POST TIMES: 1 p.m. weekdays; 12:30 p.m. on weekends and Oct. 10; 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 30, and Oct. 7, 14, 21, and 28; 9:40 a.m. on Oct. 29; 11:15 a.m. on Nov. 6.
PHONE: (626) 574-7223.
INTERNET: http://www.oaktreeracing.com or santaanita.com
|Wed.,Sept. 28||Sen. Ken Maddy Hcp. (G3)||F&M, 3YO & Up||6 1/2 furlongs (T)||$100,000|
|Sat.,Oct. 1||Goodwood B.C. Hcp. (G2)||3YO & Up||1 1/8 miles||500,000|
|Sat.,Oct. 1||Yellow Ribbon Stakes (G1)||F&M 3YO & Up||1 1/4 miles (T)||500,000|
|Sat.,Oct. 1||Oak Leaf Stakes (G2)||2 YO F||1 1/16 miles||200,000|
|Sun.,Oct. 2||C. Hirsch Turf CHAMPIONSHIP (G1)||3YO & Up||1 1/4 miles (T)||250,000|
|Sun.,Oct. 2||Lady's Secret BC Hcp. (G2)||F&M, 3YO & Up||1 1/16 miles||250,000|
|Sun.,Oct. 2||Norfolk Stakes (G2)||2 YO||1 1/16 miles||200,000|
|Sat.,Oct. 8||Oak Tree BC Mile (G2)||3YO & Up||1 mile (T)||250,000|
|Sat.,Oct. 8||Ancient Title BC Stakes (G1)||3YO & Up||6 furlongs||250,000|
|Sun.,Oct. 9||Cavonnier Stakes||2 YO*||7 furlongs||75,000|
|Mon.,Oct. 10||Cover Gal Stakes||2 YO F*||7 furlongs||75,000|
|Sat.,Oct. 15||Oak Tree Derby (G2)||3 YO||1 1/8 miles(T)||150,000|
|Sun.,Oct. 16||Harold Ramser Sr. Hcp.||3 YO F||1 mile (T)||100,000|
|Sat.,Oct. 22||Sunny Slope Stakes||2 YO||7 furlongs||75,000|
|Sun.,Oct. 23||Anoakia Stakes||2 YO F||7 furlongs||75,000|
|Sat.,Oct. 29||Morvich Hcp.||3YO & Up||6 1/2 furlongs (T)||100,000|
|Sun.,Oct. 30||Carleton Burke Hcp. (G3)||3YO & Up||1 1/2 miles(T)||100,000|
|Sat.,Nov. 5||Las Palmas Hcp. (G2)||F&M, 3YO & Up||1 mile (T)||150,000|
|Sun.,Nov. 6||California Cup Classic||3YO & Up*||1 1/8 miles||250,000|
|Sun.,Nov. 6||California Cup Mile||3YO & Up*||1 mile (T)||175,000|
|Sun.,Nov. 6||California Cup Matron||F&M, 3YO & Up*||1 1/16 miles||150,000|
|Sun.,Nov. 6||California Cup Sprint||3YO & Up*||6 furlongs||150,000|
|Sun.,Nov. 6||California Cup Distaff||F&M, 3YO & Up*||6 1/2 furlongs (T)||150,000|
|Sun.,Nov. 6||California Cup Juvenile||2YO*||1 1/16 miles||125,000|
|Sun.,Nov. 6||California Cup Juvenile||FILLIES2 YO F*||1 1/16 miles||125,000|
|Sun.,Nov. 6||California Cup Distance Hcp.||F&M, 3YO & Up*||1 1/4 miles(T)||100,000|
|Sun.,Nov. 6||California Cup Starter Hcp.||3YO & Up*||1 1/2 miles (T)||50,000|
|Sun.,Nov. 6||California Cup Starter Sprint Hcp.||3 YO & Up*||6 furlongs||50,000|