Eight Rings, Eight Others Attempt To Earn Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Spot in American Pharoah
Baffert Seeks Ninth Winner In Santa Anita Staple
By Margaret Ransom
The connections of Eight Rings — SF Racing, Starlight Racing and Madakat Stables – are no doubt hoping for a little more than just winning luck than in his last race when he heads postward as the 9-5 favorite in a field of nine in Friday’s $300,000 American Pharoah Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita. In the September 2 Del Mar Futurity, the $520,000 son of Empire Maker unfortunately ducked in at the gap sharply after clearing the chute and dropped jockey Drayden Van Dyke, also impeding Storm The Court, who veered away and dumped his jockey, Flavien Prat. Neither horse was injured, though Van Dyke nursed a sore arm for the past month, and now both are back with something to prove, especially the Bob Baffert-trained morning line choice.
This race will not only decide who is the top juvenile on the West Coast, the winner will also qualify to race in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as it is again a “Win & You’re In” qualifying event for the main event for 2-year-old colts and geldings on November 1.
The American Pharoah was initially contested as the Norfolk Stakes beginning in 1970 and was renamed the Frontrunner Stakes in 2012. It is now in it’s second running named for the 12th Triple Crown winner, who was victorious here in 2014.
Other historically significant names to have won the event through the years include champions and Kentucky Derby (G1) winners Game Winner and Nyquist, as well as other other champions/millionaires Lookin at Lucky, Dixie Union, Free House, Bertrando, Best Pal, Capote, Snow Chief, Chief’s Crown and Flying Paster.
Eight Rings, who broke his maiden at first asking by 6 ¼ lengths at Del Mar back in early August, will wear blinkers for the first time after his last kerfuffle and will carry Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who was selected by Baffert for the assignment when it wasn’t clear if Van Dyke would be back in time for the race. This colt has been training forwardly since his last and has some tactical ability to go with his raw talent, which can only help him in his first two-turn test.
Though Steve Asmussen likes to ship well in advance of the Breeders’ Cup races and prep many over the surface the event is set to run over, he rarely runs horses in prep races this far west unless he has a reasonable belief they’ll be competitive. So this year he sends Grandview Equine, Cheyenne Stables and LNJ Foxwoods’ Shoplifted to Santa Anita off a nice runner-up finish in the Hopeful Stakes (GI) at Saratoga last out. The $800,000 son of Into Mischief should like this first start at a route and will carry regular rider Joel Rosario, who is in town to accept the mount.
Best Pal Stakes (GII) winner Collusion Illusion is back in action after skipping the Del Mar Futurity to focus squarely on this race and earning a guaranteed spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile gate. The Mark Glatt-trained son of Twirling Candy, who is owned by Dan Agnew, Rodney Orr, Jerry Schneider and John Xitco has been training exceptionally well for his two-turn debut, which his pedigree indicates shouldn’t be too much trouble. Joe Talamo rides.
CRK Stable’s Express Train, who broke his maiden in his second start at a mile at Del Mar a month ago by a widening 14 lengths in near gate-to-wire fashion, makes a logical step into graded stakes company. It’s not a typical move for trainer John Shirreffs, who likes to take a lot of time with his horses, though the move worked for him with Gormley in 2016. This talented son of Union Rags is bred to run all day and the extra sixteenth of a mile will only help, as will having Mike Smith aboard.
The Rockingham Ranch-owned Nucky, a well-bred son of Ghostzapper trained by Pete Miller, was the runner who benefitted most from Eight Rings ducking into the gap in the Del Mar Futurity as he was able to cruise to a 2 ¾-length victory under jockey Norberto Arroyo Jr. largely unchallenged. Though he did break his maiden in impressive fashion by 10 ½ lengths wearing a $100,000 price tag and is a grade 1 winner, his last was a bit sub-par compared to his juvenile counterparts around the country and he’d need to improve to repeat.
American Theorem is ironically a maiden-winning son of American Pharoah and Fore Left is a stakes winner in New York.
The field for the American Pharoah, in post position order with jockeys and morning line odds, is:
- American Theorem, Tiago Pereira, 5-1
- Fore Left, Mario Gutierrez, 15-1
- Eight Rings, John Velazquez, 9-5
- Express Train, Mike Smith, 4-1
- Storm the Court, Flavien Prat, 15-1
- Defense Wins, Rafael Bejarano, 15-1
- Shoplifted, Joel Rosario, 6-1
- Nucky, Norberto Arroyo, Jr., 10-1
- Collusion Illusion, Joe Talamo, 5-1The American Pharoah has been carded as the day’s 8th race with a post time of 4:40 p.m. PT.