Santa Anita Autumn Stakes 2012: Preview and picks

Rob Carr - Getty Images

Game On Dude looks to solidify his status as one of the favorites for the 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita's Autumn Championship on Saturday.

Santa Anita Park, home to the 2012 (and 2013) Breeders' Cup, kicks off it's Autumn Championship meeting with five Grade 1 stakes races on Saturday afternoon. The feature race of the day is the Awesome Again Stakes led by the top contender for this year's Breeders' Cup Classic, Game On Dude.

Let's take a look at the graded stakes action on tap Saturday at the Great Race Place, Santa Anita Park.

Race 6 - Grace 1 Chandelier Stakes
Distance/Surface: 1 1/16 Miles, Dirt
Conditions: Two-year-olds, Fillies
Purse: $250,000
Breeders' Cup Challenge Division: Juvenile Fillies

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Traditionally, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies is a race won by the "now" filly -- the filly that sporting the best form heading into the race. It's a race that typically features a winner with low odds, with some small exceptions. That being the case, the filly to watch in the Chandelier on Saturday is 7-Executiveprivilege (6/5), an undefeated daughter of First Samurai out of a Unaccounted For mare (Refugee). Executiveprivilege has raced four times in her short career, winning all four starts including the G2-Sorrento and the G1-Del Mar Debutante.

One thing to keep in mind with this race (and the FrontRunner Stakes in race 7): most of these juveniles have raced exclusively over synthetic tracks prior to stepping on the Santa Anita dirt. Executiveprivilege ran her first two races over the Cushion Track at Betfair Hollywood Park and the last two over the Polytrack at Del Mar. While the favorite probably won't have a big problem transitioning to the dirt, there is an element of the unknown with respect to the surface switch.

The Pick

Despite the aforementioned surface questions, Executiveprivilege is the most accomplished and talented filly in this field. About the only filly that appears to possess the class to beat the favorite is 5-Beholder (3/1), at least when you look at the race on paper. Of course, a horse race takes place on the track, not on paper, and anything can happen. Since Executiveprivilege is likely to be bet down to unplayable odds, perhaps there's value to be found elsewhere.

9-Salamera (5/1) ships to Southern California after finishing second to classy juvenile filly Kauai Katie in the G2-Adirondak at Saratoga. Unlike many of her rivals in this race, Salamera has already proven herself over a dirt surface and she's shown enough talent to be considered a legit contender for the win.

Race 7 - Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes
Distance/Surface: 1 1/16 Miles, Dirt
Conditions: Two-year-olds
Purse: $250,000
Breeders' Cup Challenge Division: Juvenile

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Only two horses in the FrontRunner Stakes have ever raced over a dirt surface: 1-Carving (6/1) and 11-Wild Student (50/1). Wild Student has an almost zero percent chance at winning this race - he's never won a race and his speed figures are abysmally slow to win a race of this caliber. Carving, on the other hand, is a more intriguing contender.

Carving, a trainee of Bob Baffert, broke his maiden over the Polytrack at Del Mar and then returned to score a nice win in an ungraded stakes race over dirt at Fairplex in his last start. Fairplex is an odd track in that it's a bull-ring (six furlongs in circumference as opposed to the minimum one mile at most tracks) and that most of the big trainers in Southern California skip the Fairplex meet once Del Mar closes. However, there's no denying that Carving has 1) shown he can run on dirt (something his other rivals haven't proven), and 2) his speed figure from the Fairplex race puts him in the mix with the top contenders in this race.

The Pick

Carving is a decent price play in this spot at 5/1 but, if you're looking for even fatter odds, there's some value to be had with 9-Den's Legacy (12/1). A nicely bred son of Medaglia d'Oro out of a War Chant mare (Sunshine Song), Den's Legacy broke his maiden over the Polytrack at Del Mar in his most recent start. Given his pedigree, he should love the added ground in the FrontRunner. The surface change is always a question mark but his sire was quite the dirt runner and he's worked fairly well over the Santa Anita dirt track in the last month.

Race 8 - Grade 1 Zenyatta Stakes
Distance/Surface: 1 1/16 Miles, Dirt
Conditions: Three-year-olds and up, Fillies and Mares
Purse: $250,000
Breeders' Cup Challenge Division: Ladies' Classic

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

This race might have the most intriguing runner of the day at Santa Anita: 1-Amani (CHI (3/1). This filly was a mystery horse earlier in the season when she shipped to the United States from her native Chile. Prior to coming to North America, she won just about every major race for three-year-olds in Chile, most of which came against males and all of which occurred on dirt.

After arriving in Southern California, trainer Neil Drysdale decided to start Amani in the G1-Clement L. Hirsch on the Del Mar Polytrack on August 4th. She ran well in her North American debut, finishing 3rd, beaten one and three-quarters lengths. In her next start, Drysdale put her up against the boys in the G1-Pacific Classic where she finished a well beaten 6th. Both of her previous two starts are the only two times she's run over a synthetic surface in her career.

Flash-forward to Saturday's Zenyatta Stakes and Amani will finally get to try good old dirt for the first time since leaving South America. Drysdale worked her over the Santa Anita main track on Sept. 21st where she ripped off five furlongs in a sizzling 1:00 and 3/5th seconds, the fourth fastest of 48 horses to work that distance on the day.

The Pick

This is a very solid field of fillies and mares but many of them have run their best races over turf or synthetic surfaces in prior races. Amani is the intriguing filly due to her dominating performances in South America and a very high probability that she'll improve off of her last two starts when switching back to her preferred surface -- dirt.

Race 9 - Grade 1 Rodeo Drive Stakes
Distance/Surface: 1 1/4 Miles, Turf
Conditions: Three-year-olds and up, Fillies & Mares
Purse: $250,000
Breeders' Cup Challenge Division: Filly & Mare Turf

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

11-Marketing Mix (5/2) rolls into the Rodeo Drive Stakes on a tremendous run of form which includes victories in four of her last six races and a head defeat to I'm A Dreamer (IRE) in the Beverly D. on August 18th. Pay attention to the results of the Flower Bowl at Belmont earlier in the day on Saturday; if I'm A Dreamer is able to repeat her Beverly D. run and win over a tough field in New York, it becomes very tough to ignore the overwhelming class of Marketing Mix in this race.

The Pick

It won't be a race that will pay for your kids' education but, if Marketing Mix runs back to her Beverly D. form, it's difficult to envision any other fillies in this field denying the favorite the victory.

Race 10 - Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes
Distance/Surface: 1 1/8 Miles, Dirt

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Following his near miss in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, 1-Game On Dude (3/5) has spent the majority of 2012 as one of the future book favorites to win the 2012 Classic. In the Awesome Again Stakes on Saturday, he faces what appears to be an over-matched field of eight other colts.

Of the top contenders to Game On Dude, 3-Nonios (12/1) showed some flashes of talent a few races back but could only finish 5th in the G1-Travers, a race that looks pretty weak on paper. Additionally, 7-Richard's Kid (9/2) and 9-Rail Trip (6/1) are quality colts but are generally better on synthetics than dirt.

The Pick

Unless one of his rivals is able to step up and run the race of their life, or Game On Dude suffers a bad bread or compromised trip, it's clearly the favorite's race to lose.

Nonios might be a good play for some value in the exacta or the trifecta pools.

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