What’s Happening at Santa Anita This Weekend

by Victor Ryan for Santa Anita

HONG KONG HARRY RETURNS IN CONTENTIOUS GII CITY OF HOPE

As would be expected when running the top turf barn in California, trainer Phil D’Amato looks to have a pair of live chances in Saturday’s GII City of Hope at a mile on turf.

Set to go for D’Amato are multiple graded-stakes winner Hong Kong Harry, who has been off since the GI Shoemaker Mile here May 29, and Cathkin Peak, who was a close-up second in last year’s City of Hope.

Santa Anita San Gabriel

copyright Cheryl Ann Quigley

In the Shoemaker Mile, Hong Kong finished third by 1 ½ lengths to winner Exaulted, who earned an automatic bid to the Breeders’ Cup Mile with the victory and is bypassing the City of Hope. Hong Kong Harry was subsequently given the summer off by design before returning to the work tab in late July at Del Mar.

In the City of Hope, Hong Kong Harry will be ridden for the first time by Santa Anita’s perennial leading rider Juan Hernandez.

“We freshened him up and he’s come back in good order,” D’Amato said of the 6-year-old Irish-bred gelding. “He’ll have a new pilot and hopefully he’s ready to go.”

Cathkin Peak was most recently a troubled seventh, beaten 2 ¾ lengths, in the GII Del Mar Handicap at 1 3/8 miles. The City of Hope will be his third start following a nearly 10-month layoff.

“We experimented running him 1 3/8 miles last time and I think it was a little too far, so we’re going to cut him back to a mile. He ran good in this race last year,” D’Amato noted.

In last year’s City of Hope, Cathkin Peak was beaten just three-quarters of a length when second to Beyond Brilliant. That was the final race of his 4-year-old campaign.

D’Amato is expecting a big effort from Cathkin Peak on Saturday.

“He’s coming in good. In fact, he’s trained extremely well,” D’Amato said. “I think he’s the dark horse in the race.”

Among the D’Amato pairs chief rivals are Twist for John Sadler and Astronomer for Simon Callaghan.

Twist was beaten just 2 ½ lengths by winner Du Jour in the GII Del Mar Mile despite a troubled trip on Sept. 2. With Kent Desormeaux up, Twist hopped at the start, found traffic leaving the second turn and then had to check at the stretch. Sadler feels it was enough to cost Twist a better placing.

“We thought he would have been second without the trouble line, but he wasn’t going to beat the winner,” Sadler said of the 6-year-old gelding bred in France. “He’s come back and trained really well. He’s on an improving-type pattern and didn’t get beat too far, so we’re going to give him another chance.”

Desormeaux will be replaced by Hector Berrios, who guided Twist to an allowance win at Del Mar prior to the Del Mar Mile.

“Hector gave him a really a good ride last time,” Sadler said.

Astronomer has run well in two starts after being sidelined for 16-plus months due to what Callaghan said was bone bruising. Owned by Michael Tabor and Alice Bamford, the 4-year-old gelding by Air Force Blue flashed speed and faded in an allowance at Del Mar July 21, but then returned with a promising upset victory at the level Aug. 19 at Del Mar.

“We’ve had high hopes for him since he was a 2-year-old,” Callaghan said. “We had to be patient through his 3-year-old year. We’re really looking forward to see how he does against these better horses. We think he fits.”

The City of Hope goes as the 10th and final race on Saturday’s card. Post time is approximately 5:30 p.m. Pacific. The field in post position order: Il Bellator, Alejandro Gomez (15-1; War At Sea, Victor Espinoza (8-1); Hit the Road, Joe Bravo (15-1; Hong Kong Harry, Juan Hernandez (5-2); Astronomer, Antonio Fresu (6-1); Flavius, Jose Valdivia Jr. (12-1); Twist, Hector Berrios (3-1); Cathkin Peak, Umberto Rispoli (4-1); Irideo, Mike Smith (8-1).

I’M A GAMBLER SHORTENS UP FOR GLATT IN GII EDDIE D

I’m a Gambler was a multiple stakes winner in England and Ireland. Since joining Mark Glatt’s barn last year, he’s been close in three stateside stakes tries, all going a mile on turf. Glatt thinks a move to the hillside turf course in Saturday’s GII Eddie D could provide a breakthrough.

“I think the hillside course will fit him like a glove,” Glatt said Thursday.

I’m a Gambler is the 6-1 co-third choice on the morning line behind Bran (5-2) for John Sadler and Lane Way for Richard Mandella. I’m a Gambler returned from a nearly six-month layoff July 23 in the one-mile Wickerr Stakes at Del Mar and was third, beaten just a length by winner Du Jour. In the subsequent GII Del Mar Mile on Sept. 2, also won by Du Jour, I’m a Gambler had a narrow lead at the eighth pole before getting overhauled late.

The Eddie D will be I’m a Gambler’s third start on the comeback trail.

“I thought it was a good effort in the Del Mar Mile, he got a big number for the race,” Glatt said in reference to I’m a Gambler’s 97 Beyer Speed Figure. “We’re going to shorten him up a little bit and see if that’s a winning move.”

Antonio Fresu, who has been aboard for both of I’m a Gambler’s starts this year, again has the call on Saturday.

While the Eddie D is a potential steppingstone to the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint going five furlongs here Nov. 4, that will not be the road taken for morning-line favorite Bran no matter how good he runs in the about 6 ½-furlong Eddie D.

Bran returned from nearly a year layoff in the GIII Green Flash going five furlongs at Del Mar Sept.2. Last early in a 12-horse field, the 5-year-old French-bred gelding made a late bid to finish 3 ½ length behind winner Motorious.

“We wanted to run five furlongs because that’s the distance of the Breeders’ Cup,” Sadler said. “But what we thought was true was proven true. It was too short for him.”

Last year, Bran won a pair of stakes on the downhill turf course (Siren Lure, GIII Daytona). Sadler believes a return to the unique layout should make him tough Saturday.

“He’s been great here at Santa Anita, he’s won down the hill and it’s his second start off the layoff,” Sadler said. “He should be a good fit in this spot.”

Top turf trainer Phil D’Amato will saddle Balnikhov (6-1), a multiple stakes winner at a mile on turf, and promising allowance winner Unconquerable Keen (8-1). Balnikhov will be trying the hillside course for the first time.

“We’re trying something a little different,” D’Amato said. “He’s a horse that likes to have speed to run at. I think he’ll have a better chance of getting that scenario going down the hill. We’ll see if this gives him another dimension.”

Unconquerable Keen, a 4-year-old Irish-bred gelding, won a second-level allowance going five furlongs on turf at Del Mar Aug. 31. In June, Unconquerable Keen tried the hill for the first time. He faded to seventh after setting a sharp pace.

“We tried the hill one time and he kind of ran off that day,” D’Amato said. “Joe Bravo’s been working him and getting to know him. I think he’ll get him to relax and finish a little better.” The Eddie D goes as the ninth on a 10-race card. Post time is approximately 5 p.m. Pacific. The field in post position order: Balnikhov, Geovanni Franco (6-1); Bran, Juian Hernandez (5-2); Sumter, Umberto Rispoli (15-1); Mas Rapido, Edwin Maldonado (30-1); Noble Reflection, Mario Gutierrez (6-1); Lane Way, Mike Smith (3-1); I’m A Gambler, Antonio Fresu (6-1); Unconquerable Keen, Joe Bravo (8-1); Ah Jeez, Tiago Pereira (8-1); Packs a Wahlop, Hector Berrios (15-1); Radical Right, Diego Herrera (20-1).

BREEDERS’ CUP: TOP-RATED ARCANGELO ARRIVES AT SANTA ANITA

Arcangelo, the top-rated horse in the official Breeders’ Cup Classic rankings, arrived at Santa Anita Wednesday evening. The GI Belmont and GI Travers winner was bright and alert Thursday morning.

Trained by Jena Antonucci, Arcangelo has a record of 4-1-0 in six starts with earnings of $1,754,900. The Arrogate ridgling hasn’t lost since his second start as a maiden at Gulfstream Park in January.

Also on Thursday, Classic contender White Abarrio jogged over the Santa Anita main track. Trained by Richard Dutrow Jr., the GI Whitney winner last worked on Sept. 20 at Santa Anita. As for when he’ll return to the tab, assistant Chip Dutrow said Thursday morning “we’ll let him tell us.”

In other Breeders’ Cup news, four horses on the grounds trained by Steve Asmussen – Echo Zulu, Clairiere, Gunite and Society – all tack walked, according to assistant Scott Blasi.

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 19-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 of the NHC twice. A former executive with Brisnet.com and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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