Tom Pedulla presents five takeaways from Breeders’ Cup Challenge races this weekend at Santa Anita Park as well as developments leading to the Preakness Stakes on Saturday at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course:
UNSUNG HERO: The unsung hero involved in Improbable’s upset of stablemate Maximum Security in the Awesome Again Stakes Saturday at Santa Anita was the member of the gate crew who helped him enjoy a good start. The 4-year-old son of City Zip was troubled earlier in his career by poor starts. “The gate guy did a fabulous job with him, holding him still,” said jockey Drayden Van Dyke. “He got out clean.” The 4 ½-length victory, worth a fees-paid berth in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 7 at Keeneland Race Course, marked the third consecutive Grade 1 triumph for Bob Baffert-trained Improbable following previous scores in the June 6 Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita and the Aug. 1 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga.
DISAPPOINTING REUNION: Jockey Luis Saez, reuniting with Maximum Security for the first time since the Feb. 29 Saudi Cup, did not get nearly the trip he hoped for in the Awesome Again. His 1-2 favorite was pressed throughout the mile-and-an-eighth contest and paid the price with the end of his six-race winning streak. “There was a lot of pressure along the way and he couldn’t get comfortable,” Saez said. “But that’s how these races go. You win sometimes and don’t others. The good thing is he pulled up pretty good, so let’s see how next time goes.” Next time, of course, will be the highly-anticipated Classic, a race that should go a long way toward determining Horse of the Year.
EMOTIONAL TRIUMPH: Alice Bamford, who co-owns Harvest Moon with Michael B. Tabor, could not help but to be emotional after the filly captured the Zenyatta Stakes, a “Win and In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge race for the Nov. 7 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff. “I’m absolutely thrilled, completely over the moon for Harvest Moon,” Bamford said. “She’s a homebred and she’s just so deep in my heart and my family’s heart… We lost her mother this year, Qaraaba, who was a stunning, stunning filly. Each time I tell her, ‘Harvest Moon, go and do it for your Mama.’ And she has.” The only 3-year-old in the short Zenyatta field won for the fourth time in five career starts for trainer Simon Callaghan.
HIGH STAKES: Swiss Skydiver is poised to become the 55th female to start in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness Stakes. Five fillies have won, the most recent of those the great Rachel Alexandra in 2009. It will be the second time Swiss Skydiver tests males this season after a solid second-place finish to Preakness contender Art Collector in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on July 11 at Keeneland. Trainer Ken McPeek made the decision to send her into the final leg of this year’s reworked Triple Crown after she drilled five furlongs in 1:00.80 on Saturday at Churchill Downs. “I think if she wins a race like this, you’ve got to include her as possible Horse of the Year. She’s danced every dance and she’s been like hickory and she has entertained the fan base like probably no filly in years,” McPeek said. “I think it’s a chance to make history.”
READY TO ROLL: Art Collector, scratched from the Kentucky Derby with a minor foot injury, continues to train impressively in advance of the Preakness. The son of 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini produced a four-furlong maintenance work in 48 seconds flat, seventh of 78 at the distance, and galloped out five furlongs in 1:00.40 for regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr. on Saturday at Churchill Downs. “That’s kind of his maintenance work,” said trainer Tommy Drury. “Brian was letting him cruise along. I didn’t see that he ever moved his hands. We got exactly what we were looking for.” Art Collector put in his major work for the Preakness the previous Saturday at Churchill, drilling five furlongs in 59.40 seconds. “He amazes you every time he goes out there,” Hernandez said. “He just does everything so easy.”