Sunday, Sept. 28, 6-7 p.m. ET LIVE on ESPN.
Lady's Secret Handicap (live), Yellow Ribbon Stakes (live), Oak Leaf Stakes (tape delay), Clement Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship (tape delay), Hawthorne Gold Cup (tape delay).
On The Air:
The Road To The World Thoroughbred Championships, Powered By Dodge pulls into opening weekend of the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting, where in four weeks, the 20th edition of the Breeders' Cup will be unveiled. Sunday's program will be jam packed with live racing and breaking news from the weekend's major national stakes. Big-time prep races in the Distaff, Filly & Mare Turf, Juvenile Fillies, Turf and Classic divisions all rub elbows in the Sunday spotlight.
Host Kenny Rice heads west for the Oak Tree opener, where he'll be joined by ESPN horse racing analyst Randy Moss. Daily Racing Form national correspondent Jay Privman provides live reporting and interviews.
Azeri makes her ESPN debut in Sunday's Lady's Secret Handicap as the reigning Horse of the Year looks to extend her amazing winning streak to 12 straight. A victory would move her streak into a tie for the ninth longest in North American racing history, and just four shy of the all-time record of 16, shared by Citation, Cigar and Hallowed Dreams.
Taking a similar path as to last years win in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, Azeri aims to claim a fifth title defense of 2003. She's already defended her titles this year in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn, Hollywood's Milady and Vanity handicaps and Del Mar's Clement Hirsch Handicap.
Keep An Eye On:
Got Koko, Azeri's principal rival in the Lady's Secret. Trainer Bruce Headley put her away for the summer hoping to have a stout charge in the fall. While she was a distant second to Azeri in her comeback race at Del Mar last month, expect this filly to run the race of her life Sunday. Whether that's good enough to beat Azeri remains to be seen. If Headley decides to run stablemate Royally Chosen, expect the pace to be fast and further enhance Got Kokos late-running stock.
Frankel Goes For Gold In Yellow Ribbon:
Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel enters the weekend with 20 Grade 1 stakes victories this season, two off of D. Wayne Lukas' single season American record and three off of Aidan O'Brien's world record of 23. With four Grade 1 races on tap for Frankel's New York brigade on Saturday, Sunday's Yellow Ribbon could reach historic proportions.
The remarkably consistent Tates Creek carries the stable banner in the Yellow Ribbon as Frankel aims for his third win in Oak Tree's most prestigious ladies grass race. Tates Creek has finished first or second in 13 of 14 starts on turf, including 10 victories.
Competition in the Yellow Ribbon figures to come from Grade 1 winner Dublino, who dead-heated with Tates Creek for the place money at Del Mar this summer in the John Mabee Handicap.
Facts and Figures:
Oak Tree's 32-day meeting in 2003 features 32 stakes races worth more than $5.25 million, not including the World Thoroughbred Championships on Oct. 25 ... In its 10 previous renewals, the Lady's Secret has gone to the favorite six times. No horse higher than 5-to-1 odds has won this race ... Azeri, Jewel Princess and Hollywood Wildcat all used the Lady's Secret en route to a Breeders' Cup Distaff victory ... Despite its 10-furlong distance, the Yellow Ribbon has been decided by 2 lengths or less in each of the past 18 years ... Yellow Ribbon contender Dublino has been beaten six times in the US -- five by Bobby Frankel trainees ... Hawthorne Gold Cup favorite Perfect Drift is the only horse ever to beat both Congaree and Mineshaft ... Halfbridled has won her two starts by a combined 9 1/2-lengths and could be as low as 1-to-9 odds in the Oak Leaf. Ironically, she was not favored in either of her two prior starts.
Fact or Fiction:
The 128-pound impost on Azeri in the Lady's Secret could bring her back to the rest of the field. Azeri picks up one pound in handicap weight from her most recent score, moving the spread from nine to 10 pounds with Got Koko. More significantly, however, could be the 14-pound spread to Grade 1-winning sophomore Elloluv if trainer Craig Dollase opts to run her.
It's rare for a distaffer to be asked to carry this kind of weight in a route stakes. To the best of my research, only five other championship-winning fillies have toted as much in a handicap race. The results are mixed.
Sky Beauty (130 and 128 pounds) twice carried the weight to wins in the 1994 Ruffian and Hempstead; Bayakoa (128) lost the 1991 Santa Maria at 1-to-5 odds; Lady's Secret (129) won the 1986 Ruffian; Chris Evert (128) won the 1975 La Canada; and Susan's Girl (130) lost the 1973 Long Beach at 8-to-5 odds.
Besides live action in the Lady's Secret and Yellow Ribbon, Sunday's program features a recap of the Hawthorne Gold Cup from Chicago. Top handicap horse Perfect Drift headlines the Gold Cup, where he'll meet Midwestern star Tenpins.
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies early favorite Halfbridled heads what figures to be a short field in Sunday's Oak Leaf Stakes, to be run earlier on the Oak Tree card. She'll aim for her third straight victory and head into the World Thoroughbred Championships as the day's biggest favorite. You'll also see top west coast hopefuls in the John Deere Turf division squaring off in the Clement Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship, featuring 2002 Hollywood Derby winner Johar.
Road To The World Thoroughbred Championships, Powered By Dodge returns next Sunday, Oct. 5 from Oak Tree with another huge Breeders' Cup preview weekend. The 90-minute telecast (6-7:30 p.m. ET live, ESPN2) features the Ancient Title Handicap and Oak Tree Mile, as well as Keeneland's Spinster Stakes and Shadwell Mile. Same-day coverage of Longchamp's renowned Arc de Triomphe rounds out the stellar lineup. Jeff Medders, Randy Moss and Kenny Rice will be trackside.
For those wanting official past performance information -- the best way to follow the sport or learn it from scratch -- you can get free PPs at NTRA.com for all televised Road To The World Thoroughbred Championships, Powered By Dodge races.
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