If you didn’t know any better, you would swear trainers Richard Mandella and Art Sherman were finishing each other’s sentences this week.
As the champions in their barns were readied for their final preps in advance of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 4-5, the veteran horsemen expressed similar sentiments.
That Sherman got 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome back in his barn for what has been a powerhouse 5-year-old campaign is more than the affable conditioner could have hoped for after their storied run at a Triple Crown two years ago. That champion Beholder is still the queen of the distaff ranks at age 6 makes every additional accolade she earns mere gravy for her Hall of Fame caretaker.
“He really can’t prove anything more to me,” Sherman said of his charge this week.
“There’s no way we would ever be disappointed in her,” Mandella stated of the bay mare.
Having faced each other last time out, with California Chrome delivering a run for the ages when he bested Beholder in the Grade I Pacific Classic on Aug. 20, the two stars will share a card again this weekend as the headline acts on a spectacular Super Saturday slate of racing that features eight Grade I races between Belmont and Santa Anita Park.
In the Grade I Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita, California Chrome seeks to further lock down his status as the top handicap horse in training when he faces six rivals in the 1 1/8 -mile test. One hour later, three-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder will aim to win the Grade I Zenaytta Stakes for a fourth straight year as she and fellow champion Stellar Wind stand tall in the five-horse field.
Here is your weekend cheat sheet for Super Saturday Part 1:
Grade I, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Stakes for 3-year-olds and up going 1½ miles on the turf at Belmont Park
Post time: 3:26 p.m. EDT
Key contender: Multiple Grade/Group I winner Flintshire has dominated the turf ranks this year, winning each of his three starts including the Grade I Sword Dancer at Saratoga last time out. Rain in the New York forecast is a concern, but he faces just three other challengers.
Others to watch: Money Multiplier was second behind his stablemate Flintshire in the Sword Dancer and has been the runner-up in two other Grade I outings this season.
Grade I, $350,000 Vosburgh Stakes for 3-year-olds and up going 6 furlongs at Belmont Park
Post time: 5:11 p.m. EDT
Key contender: A.P. Indian stands as the top East Coast-based sprinter, having won all five of his starts in 2016 including the Grade I Forego Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 27. The gelded son of Indian Charlie has earned four of his 10 wins over the Vosburgh’s 6-furlong distance, but trainer Arnaud Delacour said he would probably scratch A.P. Indian if the track comes up wet. “I wouldn’t like to run on a wet track because he hasn’t done that well in the past. But other than that, I’ve been very happy with him,” Delacour said.
Others to watch: Graded stakes winner X Y Jet makes his first start since being sidelined with an ankle chip that was discovered after he finished second in the Dubai Golden Shaheen at Meydan on March 26. The Kantharos gelding won the Grade III Gulfstream Park Sprint Stakes on Feb. 27 prior to shipping to Dubai.
Grade I, $400,000 Beldame Stakes for fillies and mares 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/8 miles at Belmont Park
Post time: 5:45 p.m. EDT
Key contender: Grade I winner Forever Unbridled has been an ultra-consistent performer, finishing worse than third just twice in 12 career starts. This year’s winner of the Apple Blossom Handicap was most recently third behind Cavorting in the Grade I Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 27. Trainer Dallas Stewart said impending wet weather could be a concern.
Others to watch: Paola Queen stretches out after her 55-1 triumph in the Grade I Test at Saratoga on Aug. 6 while Off the Tracks won the Grade I Mother Goose over the Belmont surface on July 2 before finishing third and fourth, respectively, in the Test and Prioress Stakes at Saratoga.
Grade I, $300,000 FrontRunner Stakes for 2-year-olds going 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita Park
Post time: 6 p.m. EDT
Watch: NBCSN, TVG
Key contender: Bob Baffert’s Klimt easily bested Straight Fire last time out in the Grade I Del Mar Futurity, drawing off to win by 4 1/4 lengths in his fourth career start. The son of Quality Road previously won the Grade II Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 13 and broke his maiden at Santa Anita Park on July 10.
Others to watch: Straight Fire came into the Del Mar Futurity as the favorite off a 10 1/2 -length win to break his maiden on Aug. 6.
Grade I, $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes for 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/8 miles at Santa Anita Park
Post time: 6:30 p.m. EDT
Watch: NBCSN, TVG
Key contender: It has been all California Chrome, all the time this season. He has shown zero weaknesses in winning each of his five prior starts this year and barely drew a hard breath when he defeated Beholder by 5 lengths in the Grade I Pacific Classic on Aug. 20.
Others to watch: Grade I winner Dortmund has been beaten by California Chrome in each of his last two starts, but the massive son of Big Brown did give the champion all he could handle when he finished just a half-length behind him in the Grade II San Diego Handicap on July 23.
Grade I, $300,000 Rodeo Drive Stakes for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up going 1 1/4 miles on the turf Santa Anita Park
Post time: 7 p.m. EDT
Watch: NBCSN, TVG
Key contenders: Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella will have a two-pronged attack in Avenge and Majestic Heat. Fresh off back-to-back victories at Del Mar, including a head win in the Grade II John C. Mabee Stakes, Avenge will be seeking her third consecutive win. Majestic Heat most recently won the Solana Beach Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 14.
Others to watch: Decked Out will run in her sixth consecutive graded stakes race and enters off a solid second-place finish in the Grade I Del Mar Oaks at 1 1/8 miles on the turf Aug. 20.
Grade I, $300,000 Zenyatta Stakes for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up going 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita Park
Post time: 7:30 p.m. EDT
Watch: NBCSN, TVG
Key contenders: Beholder previously defeated Stellar Wind in the Grade I Vanity Mile at Santa Anita Park on June 4 but the tables turned the next time out with her younger rival prevailing by a half-length in the Grade I Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar on July 30.
Others to watch: This is clearly a two-horse race with Off the Road, Vale Dori, and Tara’s Tango looking to pick up the pieces if one of the big two falters.
Grade I, $300,000 Chandelier Stakes for 2-year-old fillies going 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita Park
Post time: 8 p.m. EDT
Watch: NBCSN, TVG
Key contender: Champagne Room won the Grade II Sorrento Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 6 and was most recently third in the Grade I Del Mar Debutante Stakes on Sept. 3.
Others to watch: A full sister to Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, American Cleopatra was second in the Del Mar Debutante Stakes in her second career start and broke her maiden by 2 lengths on July 31.