Awesome Again Draws Eight In Search of Breeders’ Cup Classic Berth

Cupid headline the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday.

Cupid headline the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday.

Editor’s Note: Dortmund has been scratched.

Saturday’s $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes (GI), inaugurated as the Goodwood Stakes in 1982 at the now-defunct Oak Tree at Santa Anita fall racing season, was re-named in 2012 to honor track owner Frank Stronach’s 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner. And, for more than two decades, it was Southern California’s signature prep for Racing’s Championship Day — even before it gained “Win & You’re In” status several years ago.

Since its inception, the nine-furlong main track feature has drawn some impressive names from around the country and the winners’ list counts several eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic winners, champions and even Horses of the Year. Ferdinand won in 1987 and was that year’s top thoroughbred. He was joined in subsequent years by Silver Charm (1998), Tiznow (2000), Pleasantly Perfect (2002, 2003), Lava Man (2006), Game On Dude (2011, 2012), Mucho Macho Man (2013) and California Chrome a year ago.

The very warm Southern California weather will cool slightly by Saturday, but it will still be warm, with highs reaching into the mid-80s. The main track will be fast throughout the day.

This year, eight will head to the gate in search of a spot in the starting gate for the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar, led by two from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who seeks his fifth winner to tie fellow Hall of Famer Charlie Whittingham as the race’s most successful conditioner with five. And while Arrogate sits on the bench, his status as the division leader in question after two stunning losses over the summer at Del Mar, both Cupid and Mujtaahib make suitable substitutes here.

The only real downside to Grade 1 winner Cupid is his post position. The son of Tapit is a confirmed early runner, preferring to set all the pace or sit just off of it and with some legit speedy types like Dortmund and Midnight Storm to his inside, jockey Rafael Bejarano is going to have to break on top and hustle a bit to get good position heading into the first turn.

Once that happens, though, he’ll be a tough one to beat. Overall, his speed figures are high and he has faced some pretty solid competition, with some success, so far. After a few layoffs and throat surgery last year, he seems back in top form and while this will be a bit of a class test, he’s shown he’s capable of rising to the occasion. He offers no value thanks to his connections, but the expensive Magnier, Tabor and Smith colorbearer has been training lights-out and figures tough in here.

The Phil D’Amato-trained Midnight Storm turned a solid Grade 1-winning career on the turf into a pretty respectable dirt career, winning a couple of graded dirt races and placing in a couple others. The nearly black son of Pioneerof the Nile, who was third in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile (GIT), got some time off over the summer and came back to defend his title in the Del Mar Mile (GIT) in August and faltered to finish fourth, so he’s back on dirt facing a field he’s capable of successfully competing against. While he’s shown he’s probably best suited to a little bit shorter, he has won at this distance and has finished well when going farther, and since he’s likely the early pacesetter, new jockey Tyler Baze will have to do his best to conserve Midnight Storm’s energy for holding off his challengers from behind. Speed and class numbers-wise, Midnight Storm fits. The question marks hanging over his head are about dirt and distance. He’s probably solid to use in the exotics, however.

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum’s globetrotting Mubtaahij, who hasn’t won a race in 10 starts over 2 ½ years since taking the 2015 UAE Derby (GI), makes his first start for Baffert and his first since a fourth-place finish behind Arrogate in the March 25 Dubai World Cup (GI). The Irish-bred son of Dubawi has been training really well in California for three months and probably would not be running if he weren’t ready.

It’s hard to say what the change in trainers will do for him considering the trainer switch from Kiaran McLaughin was as close to a lateral move as you can get, but the scenery has certainly served him well, as he’s looked exceptional galloping and breezing at Santa Anita for a few weeks. Drayden Van Dyke, who doesn’t ride a ton for Baffert, gets the call and if Mubtaahij runs to anywhere near the form he’s shown previously, he’ll get the decent early pace he likes to run at late. He deserves a nice, long look in the paddock.

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Dortmund

Now out of a brief retirement and with trainer Art Sherman, Kaleem Shah’s Dortmund will try to improve off his second to California Chrome in this race a year ago. Once dominant, he had some trouble after moving trainers, which is why he was retired, but knowing Sherman it’s a pretty good bet this horse would not be running if the conditioner didn’t think he was ready and capable. It’s hard to pick him with too much confidence off his last two, but he’s better than that, so maybe a nice play in the exotics is the best wager on Dortmund.

Breaking Lucky ships in for trainer Reade Baker from Canada looking to qualify for a spot in the Breeders’ Cup, but this may be an ambitious spot for the son of Lookin at Lucky, who hasn’t won in 13 months but has put up some decent performances in tough company, including a pair of thirds behind Gun Runner. Because he’s so consistent in hitting the board, that’s a good place to leave him when planning exotic wagers.

Curlin Rules was second to Cupid in the Harry F. Brubaker last time out in what was a pretty solid, hard-trying performance. The John Sadler trainee has never tried this distance on the main track and may be more suited to a little shorter.

Donworth was beaten 35 lengths in the Pacific Classic, but is back for more against a pretty stiff field. I guess the best thing we can say about him here is he was in front of Arrogate and was second in the San Diego Handicap (GII) back in July, but it’s easy to argue that Arrogate was off-form and he finished where he should have that day.

Win The Space has been a useful also-ran, but he’s had one race since being eased in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic and was last out of five, so it’s hard to imagine he’ll improve enough here to have any kind of a major say.

The Awesome Again Stakes has been carded as Santa Anita’s 10th with a post time of 5:05 p.m. PT on Saturday.

Margaret Ransom
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.

After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.

She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.

In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law known as the “Borell Law.”

Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, two Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.

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