The sun had yet to come up, leaving the track dark and dimly lit as morning works began. Slowly, the sky grew lighter, illuminating the San Gabriel Mountains that greet you from across Santa Anita’s grandstand. Masses of Thoroughbreds – and the occasional Arabian – passed by, their noses snorting, their manes flowing, their feet dancing over the dirt. On their saddle towels, I could read their names, my eyes focusing upon the top-class equine athlete before me. The crowd gathered along the rail from the gap to the finish line, chatting about the horses on the track and their upcoming races – some of the most important races of the year. Each time one of the “big horses” stepped upon the track, the crowd would seemingly bulge as the clicking sound of cameras increased.
This was the scene at Clocker’s Corner at Santa Anita on the Wednesday before the 2013 Breeders’ Cup. A large portion of the horses competing in this weekend’s championship races stretched their legs on the track this morning, jogging or galloping before their many admirers. Each of these horses has been primed for this moment, but a few made a more remarkable impression than others. Check out the horses that caught my eye this morning:
Dance with Fate (Juvenile): This Pete Eurton trainee appeared very eager in his works, displaying notable fitness. He carried himself with presence while galloping on the track and schooling in the paddock.
Dank (Filly & Mare Turf): My top pick for the Filly & Mare Turf, Dank exuded class while joining a string of Europeans on a tour of the track this morning. She appeared very comfortable while strolling about the track, exhibiting balance and good condition.
Game On Dude (Classic): Standing at the gap during a renovation break, Game On Dude appeared very relaxed and content, receiving praise from not only his exercise rider, but the crowd gathered to see him. He was very alert and appeared to be more fit than ever as he exercised over the track.
Little Mike (Turf): The reigning champion of the Sprint, Little Mike seemed very healthy, as apparent in his developed muscle tone and gleaming coat. He conveyed great confidence as he took to the track.
Outstrip (Juvenile Turf): My top pick for the Juvenile Turf, Outstrip seemed very calm and collected. Observing his conformation as he walked onto the track, I noticed how balanced and correct he is. Although quite alert, he remained very composed.
Paynter (Classic): Paynter gives no indication that he nearly died several months ago, as he was on his toes during his visit to the racetrack this morning. He was full of energy, raring to go while standing at the gap and nearly charging off the track after his gallop. Although small, Paynter is very muscular and appeared quite powerful and well-conditioned.
Poker Player (Juvenile Turf): Another very spirited horse, Poker Player was eager to leave the gap during the renovation break, channeling Zenyatta as he repetitively struck out with his front leg. A very robust colt, Poker Player galloped well prior to leaving the track with plentiful energy.
Ron the Greek (Classic): The Jockey Club Gold Cup winner was strong in his gallop, traveling over the track with ease and good energy while being restrained by his rider. After this, he schooled in the gate, remaining calm before returning to the barn.
Royal Delta (Distaff): The two-time defending champion of the Distaff exuded class and confidence as she jogged over the track. She appeared extremely fit, displaying good muscle tone as she reached the track at the same time as stablemate and fellow Distaff contender Close Hatches. After traveling over the track, Royal Delta schooled in the gate without a problem and exited the track in a serene manner.
Secret Circle (Sprint): Standing at the gap several minutes before heading out, Secret Circle was incredibly alert and calm, taking in his surroundings and admirers like it was no big deal. Despite having raced only once since April of 2012, Secret Circle was in very good shape, displaying notable muscularity.
Secret Compass (Juvenile Fillies): Another Bob Baffert trainee that was both very calm and attentive at the gap before taking to the track, I was impressed by the beautiful conformation Secret Compass possesses. In addition to being very well-balanced, she was quite powerfully built for a two-year-old, boasting a muscular frame.
Strong Mandate (Juvenile): Winner of the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga this summer, Strong Mandate looked very powerful and robust, exhibiting remarkable sturdiness for such a young horse. He galloped strongly prior to leaving the track alongside D. Wayne Lukas’ pony Diamond.
Summer Applause (Filly & Mare Sprint): Runner-up in the Spinster Stakes (gr. I) last out, Summer Applause was energetic as she left the track. She seemed quite ready as she jogged past me, impressing me with her athletic appearance.
The Fugue (Turf): One of the most impressive horses of the morning, The Fugue radiated with class, strolling along in a very quiet, poised manner while remaining watchful. A mare boasting outstanding conformation, The Fugue’s appearance made it even more evident that she will be difficult to beat on Saturday.
Untapable (Juvenile Fillies): Out for a gallop this morning, Untapable traveled over the track well, appearing alert as she did so. Exhibiting an impressive frame for a two-year-old, this undefeated filly was very professional on the track.
Verrazano (Dirt Mile): Perhaps the most impressive-looking horse I saw all morning, Verrazano exhibited great robustness and confidence. While waiting at the gap during a renovation break, he maintained an air of composure as his striking appearance became apparent to all those watching. He was even more remarkable in his gallop, traveling about the oval with a perfect combination of ease and power.
Vorda (Juvenile Fillies Turf): The morning line favorite for the Juvenile Fillies Turf depicted a very athletic appearance, jogging past me with effortless strides.
Worldly (Marathon): The Brendan Walsh trainee boasted a commanding presence, having notable muscularity and balance. A very confident horse, Worldly was very energetic and alert during his morning outing.