East Coast horses now holding their own on the West Coast
By Dick Powell
Weather usually blows from West to East in North America. A plane trip from California to New York takes about an hour less than a trip from New York to California. Going west means a strong headwind.
For years when the Breeders’ Cup was held in California, the headwind was too much for East Coast horses. One year, Dick Mandella won four races from his home base at Santa Anita. Another year, there was even talk about Belmont Park holding its own version of the Breeders’ Cup as an alternative to shipping West.
But the past two years, for some reason, East Coast horses have been shipping West and doing quite well. On Friday in last year’s Breeders’ Cup, OSCAR PERFORMANCE (Kitten’s Joy) led things off with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) for Brian Lynch after winning the Pilgrim Stakes (G3) at Belmont Park.
The Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) was upset by TAMARKUZ (Speightstown) at almost 12 to 1 after running second in the Kelso Handicap (G2) at Belmont Park for Kiaran McLaughlin and NEW MONEY HONEY (Medaglia d’Oro) won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly Turf (G1) for Chad Brown after capturing the Miss Grillo Stakes (G3) at Belmont Park.
West Coast-trained horses finished first and second in the Distaff (G1) when BEHOLDER (Henny Hughes) noses out SONGBIRD (Medaglia d’Oro) but finishing a very good third was FOREVER UNBRIDLED (Unbridled’s Song). It was big day for the East Coast horses and the start of what looks like a seismic shift.
Saturday saw CHAMPAGNE ROOM (Broken Vow) kick things off last year with a win for the West Coast in the Juvenile Fillies (G1) then heavy favorite LADY ELI (Divine Park) lost the Filly & Mare Turf (G1) by a nose after winning the Flower Bowl (G1) at Belmont Park. Most of the rest of the day was a mix between West Coast, International and East Coast winners so when combined with Friday’s success, it was a big weekend for the East Coast.
This year, run at Del Mar for the first time, the East Coast continued to do well and maintain the run that began in 2016. On Friday, RUSHING FALL (More Than Ready) won the Juvenile Filly Turf (G1) for Chad Brown off a win in the Jessamine Stakes (G3) at Keeneland. BATTLE OF MIDWAY (Smart Strike) won the Dirt Mile (G1) for Jerry Hollendorfer then Aidan O’Brien won the Juvenile Turf (G1) with $3,000,000 yearling MENDELSSOHN (Scat Daddy) for Ireland. In the Distaff (G1), Forever Unbridled avenged her third-place finish last year with a big rally with new rider Johnny Velazquez. Not as good a Friday as last year but two wins out of four races.
Saturday, this year, saw the East Coast get off to a good start when CALEDONIA ROAD (Quality Road) rallied from behind to win the Juvenile Filly (G1) at 17 to 1 after running second in the Frizette Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park for Ralph Nicks, California ran first and second when Peter Miller swept the top two spots in the Turf Sprint (G1) and the East Coast bounced back in the Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) when 66 to 1 bomb BAR OF GOLD (Medaglia d’Oro) ran down 18 to 1 AMI’S MESA (Sky Mesa) to complete an East Coast sweep.
The Europeans dominated the Filly & Mare Turf (G1) and Turf (G1) while East Coast shipper WORLD APPROVAL (Northern Afleet) won the Mile (G1). The final two dirt races on Saturday were won by Chad Brown’s maiden GOOD MAGIC (Curlin) and GUN RUNNER (Candy Ride) beat Bob Baffert’s quartet in the Classic (G1).
This past weekend at Del Mar for their turf festival, MANITOULIN (Awesome Again) won the Hollywood Turf Cup Stakes (G2) for Jim Toner, MO TOWN (Uncle Mo) took the Hollywood Derby (G1) for Tony Dutrow after winning his turf debut against allowance foes at Belmont Park and DADDY IS A LEGEND (Scat Daddy) won the Jimmy Durante Stakes (G3) off a maiden win at Belmont Park for George Weaver.
The East Coast continued their resurgence on Sunday when OFF LIMITS (Masterscraftsman) won the Matriarch Stakes (G1) for Chad Brown and ANALYZE IT (Point of Entry) finished off the Turf Festival for Brown with a victory in the Cecil B DeMille Stakes (G3) for 2YOs.
It was then announced that George Weaver and Robert Falcone Jr. will ship scores of horses for the upcoming Santa Anita meet that begins the day after Christmas and some other East Coast trainers were considering doing the same thing. Santa Anita now has a “Ship and Stay” incentive program that is starting to pay dividends but some of it has to be the state of California’s strengthening of their drug testing program that has leveled the playing field for everyone.