2020 Awesome Again Stakes Cheat Sheet

Recent Grade 1 winners Maximum Security (left) and Improbable headline the field for Saturday’s Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita Park. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Saturday’s Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita Park is the centerpiece of an action-packed opening weekend that features seven Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” races at the picturesque Arcadia, Calif. track.

The $300,000, Grade 1 Awesome Again offers a fees-paid berth to the Nov. 7 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland to the winner and has proven to be a key prep race for the Classic in recent years, as 2018 Awesome Again winner Accelerate won the Classic at Churchill Downs and 2019 runner-up McKinzie repeated that second-place finish in last year’s Classic.

The 1 1/8-mile Awesome Again Stakes drew a five-horse field, headlined by two stars from Bob Baffert’s barn: TVG Pacific Classic winner Maximum Security and Whitney Stakes winner Improbable. The race, along with all other Breeders’ Cup preps from Santa Anita, will be televised live on TVG. Post time is set for 8 p.m. ET.

Read on to learn more about all five contenders in the 2020 Awesome Again Stakes.

BENOIT photo

1. Take the One O One

Jockey: Jose Valdivia Jr.

Trainer: Brian Koriner

Owner: Jay Em Ess Stable

Career record: 16 starts – 6 wins – 1 second – 3 thirds

Career earnings: $429,326

Earnings per start: $26,833

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 109

Pedigree: Acclamation – North Freeway, by Jump Start

Color: Dark bay or brown

Age: 5

Running style: Pacesetter

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Take the One O One has earned more than $400,000 through three seasons racing in California, winning two listed stakes and finishing third in a Grade 1 as a juvenile. He’s done especially well on dirt, posting five wins in 10 starts – although his only win at the Awesome Again’s 1 1/8-mile distance came in a listed turf stakes for California-breds in 2018. This horse returned to racing in February 2020 after missing 15 months, and his two victories since then have come in two-turn mile events, including his most recent race, a 2 ½-length victory at Del Mar on the TVG Pacific Classic Aug. 22 undercard. In that race, he set the pace throughout and was not challenged late, a scenario that is unlikely to play out against Maximum Security and Sleepy Eyes Todd. Still, this Acclamation colt is an honest type that figures to show up and try hard against a group that’s far more accomplished than what he’s used to facing. Even with his best effort, it’s hard to see him in the mix and with a chance to win when the field turns for home.

Janet Garaguso/NYRA Photo

2. Improbable

Jockey: Drayden Van Dyke

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owners: WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and SF Racing

Career record: 13 starts – 6 wins – 3 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $1,529, 520

Earnings per start: $117,655

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 120

Pedigree: City Zip – Rare Event, by A.P. Indy

Color: Chestnut

Age: 4

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Improbable enters the Awesome Again off of arguably his career-best performance and looms as the main threat to stablemate Maximum Security. He shipped to Saratoga for the Aug. 1 Whitney Stakes, and won that prestigious race over a small but very accomplished field, besting subsequent Alysheba Stakes winner By My Standards by two lengths, with Grade 1 winner and leading Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic contender Tom’s d’Etat finishing third. Prior to his Whitney score, Improbable won the 1 ¼-mile Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita on June 6 by an easy 3 ¼ lengths over Higher Power, and in his first start of the year, he lost by only three-quarters of a length to Tom’s d’Etat in the Oaklawn Mile Stakes on a wet track. In his only matchup against Maximum Security, Improbable finished fifth and was placed fourth in last year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve when first-place finisher Maximum Security was disqualified. Improbable has improved considerably since then, and so has Maximum Security, but this colt has a legitimate upset chance against the favorite, and it will be interesting to see if jockey Drayden Van Dyke urges him to contest the early pace with Maximum Security, Sleepy Eyes Todd and Take the One O One or positions him just off of the leaders in a good stalking spot with no closers to worry about. Bob Baffert has won the Awesome Again five times: Silver Charm (1998), Richard’s Kid (2010), Game On Dude (2011 and 2012), and Mubtaahij (2017). He finished second in last year’s renewal with McKinzie.

Coady Photography

3. Sleepy Eyes Todd

Jockey: Umberto Rispoli

Trainer: Miguel Silva

Owner: Thumbs Up Racing

Career record: 12 starts – 6 wins – 2 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $591,165

Earnings per start: $49,264

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 119

Pedigree: Paddy O’Prado – Pledge Mom, by Wild Rush

Color: Gray or roan

Age: 4

Running style: Pacesetter

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Sleepy Eyes Todd comes into the Awesome Again off of his career-best race, leading the field gate-to-wire in the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic Stakes on Aug. 28 and winning by a dominant 7 ½ lengths. That effort followed up two other strong races where he set the pace as well – a win in a April 29 listed stakes race at Fonner Park and a runner-up finish by a head in the listed Lone Star Mile on June 28. Overall, this colt has been very consistent throughout his career, finishing either first or second eight times in 12 starts. Sleepy Eyes Todd will have a say in the outcome of the Awesome Again stakes as a pace challenger to Maximum Security, but Saturday’s competition is a big step up in quality compared with what he’s faced and he will have to boost his game another notch from his Charles Town Classic performance to have any shot at posting the upset. Getting rising star jockey Umberto Rispoli to ride is a big plus, however.

BENOIT photo

4. Midcourt

Jockey: Victor Espinoza

Trainer: John Shirreffs

Owners: C R K Stable

Career record: 13 starts – 5 wins – 2 seconds – 3 thirds

Career earnings: $510,695

Earnings per start: $39,284

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 112

Pedigree: Midnight Lute – Mayo On the Side, by French Deputy

Color: Dark bay or brown

Age: 5

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Midcourt has fashioned a successful career racing in California over the past couple of years, winning three stakes races and finishing third in this year’s Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap and TVG Pacific Classic and second by a nose to Maximum Security in this year’s Grade 2 San Diego Handicap. Aside from a disappointing fifth-place finish in the June 6 Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita, where he was eased in the stretch, this Midnight Lute gelding has been very consistent since breaking his maiden in his fourth career start back in June 2019. His best form is a cut below that of Maximum Security and Improbable, but Midcourt is good enough to fill out the exacta should one of those two main contenders fail to fire. Look for regular jockey Victor Espinoza to pull him off of the early pace and let Maximum Security, Sleepy Eyes Todd, and possibly Take the One O One duke it out up front before he puts his mount in position to bid for the lead on the far turn. Victor Espinoza won the  2016 Awesome Again aboard fan favorite California Chrome, and trainer John Shirreffs has two wins in this race with Bertrando in 1994 and Tiago in 2007.

Eclipse Sportswire

5. Maximum Security

Jockey: Luis Saez

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owners: Gary and Mary West, Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith

Career record: 12 starts – 10 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $12,191,900

Earnings per start: $1,015,992

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 123

Pedigree: New Year’s Day – Lil Indy, by Anasheed

Color: Bay

Age: 4

Running style: Pacesetter/press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Maximum Security is 2-for-2 since transferring to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, winning Del Mar’s two premier route dirt races for older horses during that track’s summer meet. He defeated Midcourt by a hard-fought nose in the July 25 San Diego Handicap in his first start for Baffert, which came after nearly a five-month break from racing, but then improved considerably when stretched out to 1 ¼ miles in the TVG Pacific Classic. In that Aug. 22 race, he set the pace with mild pressure from Sharp Samurai and drew away from that foe and the rest of the field in early stretch, winning by three lengths. Maximum Security will be making his first start at Santa Anita in the Awesome Again, but has been training well at the track since the Pacific Classic, and his sterling career record proves quite convincingly that he brings his elite form everywhere he goes. Regular jockey Luis Saez is back to ride Maximum Security after missing the two Del Mar wins while he was at Saratoga, and he should hustle Maximum Security out of the gate quickly and use his intimidating cruising speed early on to set the pace. Improbable is a major threat and horses such as Midcourt and Sleepy Eyes Todd are certainly accomplished, but “Max” is a deserving favorite and will be very tough to beat.

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