The countdown to this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park in early November is underway and the first horse racing in October offers up a great race at that park for two-year-old thoroughbreds with the running of the FrontRunner Stakes as an automatic “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Sentient Jet Juvenile.
The FrontRunner is one of the best early races for up and coming Kentucky Derby hopefuls and this year's field is shaping up to be a good one with probable entries from some of the top trainers in major graded stakes horse racing today. This is just one of a few big graded races on Saturday's card at Santa Anita as a great warm up for this November's Breeders' Cup.
2016 FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita Park
The FrontRunner is a Grade 1 stakes race open to two-year-old thoroughbreds and the total prize purse for this year's event has been set at $300,000. It will be contested on the dirt track at Santa Anita over a distance of 1 1/16 miles.
The probable field for Saturday's FrontRunner may be small with five juveniles listed as probable right now, but it is packed with talent starting with my top choice in a trifecta bet, Klimt. Trained by Bob Baffert, this two-year-old Kentucky-bred colt has already caught the eye of Horse Racing Nation with a lofty rank of No. 11 along with an 8.61 rating.
After starting his racing career with a forgettable fourth-place finish in an early Maiden Special Weight race at Santa Anita, Klimt has run off three consecutive victories including an impressive first-place finish in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 5 over a distance of seven furlongs. Also on the list is a victory in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar at 6 ½ furlongs in mid-August.
My second horse pick for the FrontRunner is trainer Keith Desormeaux's Straight Fire. We may be seeing the beginning of another great rivalry between West Coast horses after he finished second to Klimt in the Del Mar Futurity. That run earned this two-year-old Kentucky-bred colt a No. 55 ranking by HRN with a rating of 8.03.
In his other two events as a juvenile, Straight Fire finished second in a Maiden Special Weight race at DelMar in mid-July over a distance of five furlongs before winning a similar event at that track on Aug. 6 over a slightly longer distance of 6 ½ furlongs. It will be very interesting to see these two Kentucky Derby contenders battle it out on the dirt this Saturday at a much longer distance of 1 1/16 miles.
Rounding out my trifecta pick for this year's FrontRunner is trainer Doug O'Neill's Secret House. While it is still way too early to tell if O'Neill has another Nyquist on his hands, this two-year-old Kentucky-bred colt got off to a solid start to his racing career with a victory in a Maiden Special Weight race at Santa Anita in late May at a short distance of 4 ½ furlongs.
He has struggled early at longer distances with a fourth-place finish in the non-graded Santa Anita Juvenile at 5 ½ furlongs followed by a fifth-place run in mid-August in the Best Pal Stakes, but there has been some solid progress in some of his most recent workouts that suggest he can compete at the Grade 1 level. Right now, Secret House is the only other HRN rated horse in the expected field for Saturday's race at 5.56, all of this is always taken into account across the board.