Run at 1 1/8 miles on dirt, the $300,000, Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., is a “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Four horses have won the Awesome Again (formerly the Goodwood) and Breeders’ Cup Classic in the same year — Ferdinand (1987), Tiznow (2000), Pleasantly Perfect (2003) and Mucho Macho Man (2013).
Last year’s Awesome Again winner California Chrome finished second to Arrogate in the Classic.
Dortmund’s jockey, Gary Stevens, is all-time leading rider in Awesome Again with five wins and his trainer, Art Sherman, won the race last year with California Chrome.
Bob Baffert (Mubtaahij and Cupid) has won the Awesome Again four times – Silver Charm (1998), Richard’s Kid (2010), Game On Dude (2011, 2012), one shy of all-time leader Charlie Whittingham.
Here are five questions that must be answered …
1. Who is the best of Bob Baffert’s handful of Breeders’ Cup Classic aces?
Even though he’s not starting any of his top three top Breeders’ Cup Classic contenders – defending winner Arrogate, TVG Pacific Classic Stakes winner Collected, or top 3-year-old West Coast – trainer Bob Baffert still will have two of the probable Awesome Again favorites in Cupid and Mubtaahij.
Let’s not forget, Hoppertunity is still in training. That makes six potential Breeders’ Cup Classic starters for Baffert, not to mention Mor Spirit, one of the probable favorites for the Breeders’ Cup Las Vegas Dirt Mile.
Baffert has taken a very conservative approach with Cupid. Talented, yet immature as a 3-year-old, he’s run only twice this year. He fired fresh to take the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes before taking the low-hanging fruit in the ungraded Harry F. Brubaker Stakes on Aug. 23.
Formerly trained by both Mike de Kock and Kiaran McLaughlin, Mubtaahij will wear blinkers for the first time in his initial run for Baffert. He’s been back and forth between Dubai and the U.S., and it will be interesting to see how he adapts to Southern California racing.
Joe’s answer: With his “A” game, Arrogate has proven to be the best dirt router in the world, but we haven’t seen that same horse in a pair of recent starts at Del Mar, this year’s home of the Breeders’ Cup.
A late developer who has proven dominant over his age group in recent romps in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets and Pennsylvania Derby, West Coast is this year’s version of Arrogate, and that comparison could eventually include a win over his elder stablemates in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
2. Can Dortmund bounce back and be competitive?
Third behind eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the 2015 Kentucky Derby, Dortmund hasn’t done much since, with a Grade 3 win the best he could muster.
Transferred from Baffert to Sherman (of California Chrome fame), he failed to be competitive in a pair of spring runs at Santa Anita and was retired in April.
Stating that the time off did him some good, the connections decided to bring him back to the races.
If he’s sound and feeling good, why not? He missed breeding season in the spring and is of no use sitting on a farm.
Joe’s answer: A big run out of retirement would be a great story for racing. I’m certainly rooting for it to happen, but I seriously doubt it will.
3. How will the Awesome Again pace unfold?
Joe’s answer: Midnight Storm, a fresh Dortmund, the miler Curlin Rules, the newly blinkered Donworth, and most likely favorite Cupid all have natural speed.
The pace will be honest to fast for 1 1/8 miles, and Rafael Bejarano has a huge advantage from the extreme outside post with Cupid. He rated just off hot fractions in the 1 ¼-mile Gold Cup, and the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Awesome Again probably suits him even better.
4. Who is the most likely to pull off an Awesome Again upset?
Joe’s answer: Despite being just 3-for-21 lifetime, Breaking Lucky is still a millionaire and in his eight starts since his last win he’s …
He should be in perfect stalking position behind a wall of speed on Saturday at a 1 1/8-mile distance that suits him best. Oh, and he gets Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.
5. Who wins the Awesome Again and why?
Joe’s answer: This is Baffert’s world and we are just living in it. He has lots of cards to play and has been targeting the Awesome Again with Cupid, who should have the run of the race from the cozy, outside post.
Joe’s Awesome Again picks: 1. Cupid 2. Mubtaahij 3. Breaking Lucky 4. Curlin Rules