By Ed McNamara
American Pharoah was the long-awaited unicorn who in 2015 ended a Triple Crown drought that began in 1979. In 2018, Santa Anita renamed the FrontRunner Stakes, which Pharoah won as a 2-year-old, in his honor. He’s one of trainer Bob Baffert’s nine winners of a race that until 2012 was known as the Norfolk, and on Friday Baffert will have three chances to get No. 10.
He’ll send out two potential stars, debut winners Rockefeller and Corniche, who dominated by 4 1/4 lengths at 5 1/2 furlongs with a 98 Beyer Speed Figure, the highest by a 2-year-old this year.
Mike Smith, the 56-year-old Hall of Famer who rode Corniche, said: “He came with a lot of high expectations. The way he ran, he lived up to them, and he’s got a whole lot of upside. Colts like him will help keep me around.”
The third Baffert colt in the field of seven is Flying Drummer, a son of the sensational first-crop sire Gun Runner. He’s been second in both his starts but is one of only two in the race who’s been around two turns.
Victory in the 1 1/16-mile, Grade 1 American Pharoah will guarantee a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 5, Future Stars Friday, at Del Mar. The Santa Anita opening-day card features two other “Win and You’re In” stakes for 2-year-olds, the Grade 2 Chandelier (Juvenile Fillies) and the Grade 3 Speakeasy (Juvenile Turf Sprint).
The winner of the 6 1/2-furlong, Grade 2 Eddie D. Stakes won’t be automatically eligible for the 5-furlong Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint on Nov. 6 but most likely will be pointed there.
Predictably, five in the field of seven led throughout a maiden win, so let’s try to find the speed of the speed. I’ll go with the filly trained by 2-year-old wizard Wesley Ward. Miss Alacrity (5) blazed through fractions of 21 1/5 and 44 3/5 seconds in ruling Monmouth’s 5-furlong Colleen Stakes. That 2 3/4-length grass win followed a runaway by 10 on dirt in the New York-bred’s debut.
Anmer Hall (3) got up by a head first time out after stalking in midpack at 5 furlongs on grass. If there’s a pace meltdown, he could be the one to capitalize. Forbidden Kingdom (4), a son of turf influence American Pharoah, would be no shock in his turf debut.
Baffert has the horse to beat in Grace Adler (4), who surged from midpack to crush the 7-furlong Del Mar Debutante by 11 lengths. She’s by Curlin, so the farther the better for her. Desert Dawn (5) won by daylight at a mile and should appreciate the extra sixteenth. Elm Drive (6) is very fast and could control the pace but must avoid a head-to-head duel like the one that cooked her last time.
They’ll be on The Great Race Place’s hillside turf course, a tricky layout that favors agile types with a finishing kick. Horses turning back in distance from a route often do well.
Snapper Sinclair (9) just went wire to wire at a mile and 70 yards at undulating Kentucky Downs, and he’ll draw lots of action. But he’s erratic, never has run at Santa Anita, and I’m not feeling it for him.
I’ll take a shot with the mare Charmaine’s Mia (4), who’s 3-for-4 on Santa Anita’s grass this year. Two wins were at a mile, and one was at 6 furlongs. Ignore her last two, sixth-place finishes around two turns in a Grade 1 and a Grade 2, because she was in over her head. Those losses darkened her form and will boost her price as she gets class relief.
Stalker Gregorian Chant (1) has three wins in 2021 over the Arcadia turf, though none were at 6 1/2 furlongs. Chaos Theory (6) is a solid finisher and will be a nice price.
Corniche (1) stretches out from 5 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/16 miles in only his second start, which is a lot to ask. But he’s lightning-fast, gets the rail and might be another in Baffert’s endless line of 2-year-old freaks. Oviatt Class (4) needed three starts to get his first win, but he aired by 4 1/4 at a mile and is the only two-turn winner in the field. Baffert’s Rockefeller (6) also is very quick and could easily win this.
Ed McNamara is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about thoroughbred racing for 35 years. He has handicapped races for ESPN.com, Newsday and The Record of New Jersey. He is the author of “Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown” and co-author of “The Most Glorious Crown,” a chronicle of the first 12 Triple Crown champions.