By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: Bob Baffert is impossible to avoid at his home venue on Saturday as Santa Anita hosts its premier card of Breeders’ Cup prep races, featuring a trio of G1s with Maximum Security the prime attraction.
After winning the Pacific Classic at Del Mar last month, the controversial four-year-old makes his third start for Baffert in the Awesome Again Stakes (formerly Goodwood, 1.14am Sun BST), the west coast’s main trial for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland on November 7.
Maximum Security is reunited for his Santa Anita debut with jockey Luis Saez, who was the Saudi Cup winner’s regular rider in the earlier part of his career, when he represented tainted trainer Jason Servis. Saez could not ride at Del Mar owing to COVID-19 restrictions.
Chief rival in a five-runner field comes from within his own barn in the shape of stablemate Improbable (Drayden van Dyke), who is on a G1 hat-trick after winning the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Whitney.
“Both horses are doing exceptionally well,” said Baffert. :Hopefully they’ll use this race as a stepping stone to the Big Show.
“I hate to really run them against each other, but it gives Improbable an extra two weeks to get ready for the Breeders’ Cup. He runs better when he’s a bit fresher, so that’s why we’re running them together.”
Baffert relies on highly rated Spielberg (Luis Saez) – set to “explode” at two turns, according to the trainer as he seeks his tenth success in the American Pharoah (formerly Norfolk, 12.12am Sun BST), a G1 event for two-year-olds named in honour of the Triple Crown hero.
Weston (Ryan Hanson/Drayden van Dyke) is the only graded stakes winner in the field – but he was nearly four lengths behind Spielberg last time.
Baffert also saddles three of the five runners in the G2 Chandelier (9.35pm BST), headed by Princess Noor (Victor Espinoza), who towers over her competition. The $1.35m filly is unbeaten in two, winning the G1 Del Mar Debutante by 6½ lengths on her second outing.
The third G1 at Santa Anita is the Rodeo Drive (formerly Yellow Ribbon, 11.41pm BST), a ‘Win and You’re In’ race for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
What they say at Santa Anita
Improbable: “He’s always been a great athlete that skips over the ground. He’s going to be tough. He’s a good horse. But I think mentally he’s matured. Physically, he’s matured.” Bob Baffert (trainer, speaking to BloodHorse)
Maximum Security: “He’s training really well. I’m happy with him. He hasn’t regressed or anything like that. I love the way he’s moving.” Bob Baffert (trainer, BloodHorse)
Mucho Unusual: “We’re coming into the race in good shape. She ran well at a mile and a quarter before in the American Oaks, so we’re hoping to get a G1 win. It would be a nice way to close out the year. It’s a competitive field but I think she fits in well. She’s run competitively against them before so we’ll see if we can get lucky.” Tim Yakteen (trainer)
Princess Noor: “She’s fast; she’s shown brilliant speed. She’s coming back a little quick but she’s been handling everything we’ve thrown at her, so we’re looking forward to the race.” Bob Baffert (trainer)
Spielberg: “I think Spielberg should like two turns. They went really fast early in the Futurity and he got beat by a really nice horse [Dr. Schivel]. I really think two turns will be better for him, just the way he moves and all. He’s bred for it; I think he will just explode going two turns.”
Bob Baffert (trainer)
Weston: “A lot of it depends on whether he can get the distance or not – a mile-and-a-sixteenth might be a bit of a stretch right now. He trains and works like he can get two turns. Now it is whether he can get two turns with this level of class. I think the water is getting deeper.” Ryan Hanson (owner-trainer, BloodHorse)