Returning to Santa Anita Park for the fourth time in seven editions, the Las Vegas Dirt Mile (GI) has yet to accumulate the same kind of prestige as its grass cousin, the Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI), held on Saturday, but draws some star power this year with Kaleem Shah’s Dortmund ready to take up a stall. With heavy favorites capturing the last three runnings, he is set to devour the lion’s share of the win pool while the more persnickety bettors search for value horses.
Success in the Dirt Mile has much to do with current form as well as track layout preferences — a mile on Santa Anita’s main is two turns — and, with Dortmund showing early speed, it’s smart to look at those who will take up a stalking position.
- Dalmore – A three-year-old who got lost in the shuffle of the Triple Crown races, the Keith Desormeaux trainee won the Affirmed Stakes (GIII) at Santa Anita earlier in the spring, surprising one of my favorites and one of the quickest colts of the crop, Danzing Candy. He was dealt a heartbreaker when Texas Chrome outfinished him late in the Super Derby (GIII), but now that he’s back on his home turf, I expect a nice showing from him as a consistent late runner. It would be a fitting upset, as Big Chief Racing and Keith just lost Exaggerator to retirement and Dalmore’s sire Colonel John was just sold to stand in North Korea.
- Gun Runner – Featuring the same owner/trainer combo as fellow Dirt Mile upset winner Tapizar, the son of Candy Ride [ARG] runs his eyeballs out every time and, unlike the spring chickens he faced in the classics, he’s getting even better with age. While a wire-to-wire job won him the Matt Winn Stakes (GIII), Steve Asmussen may elect to send Gun Runner out with a different strategy, such as the stalking trip that almost won the Pennsylvania Derby (GII) last time out.
- Tamarkuz – Lightly raced this year with just three starts, nobody expected the six-year-old Speightstown horse to do much with Frosted in the Met Mile (GI) freshh off a layoff, and he ran two bang-up seconds to an unstoppable A.P. Indian and Todd Pletcher trainee Anchor Down in subsequent starts. His Forego Stakes (GI) runner-up was especially flattering, considering he was shuffled back early and moved well late, but had no momentum built up to catch A.P. Indian. With Kiaran McLaughlin winning at 27 percent with third-off-the-layoff types, Tamarkuz heads into the Dirt Mile live.
While most have conceded the race to Grade I winner Dortmund, who has been running second-fiddle all year to the world’s best racehorse, California Chrome, the race begs for a close-up inspection. After all, who saw Tapizar coming when that horse won the 2012 running at 15-1?