It was quite an arduous journey, but the Bill Mott- and Chad Brown-trained horses, along with Point of Entry, finally arrived at Santa Anita at 9:15 Monday morning following an 11-hour trip.
With the New York airports nearly shut down, the horses boarded a van at 10:30 at Belmont Park and headed upstate to Stewart Air Force Base in Newburgh, N.Y., which used to be the main quarantine facility for European horses shipping to America. They departed Stewart at 2:15 a.m. and flew down to Louisville, Ky. to refuel and pick up several Kentucky-based horses. They landed at Ontario Airport in California at 6:45 Monday and then headed to Santa Anita.
By this time, the horses had had enough traveling and couldn’t wait to get off the van. The most anxious of all was Royal Delta, who tried to bust free from the chain and then literally dashed down the ramp. Once in her stall, she was quite antsy checking out her new surroundings. Accompanying her were stablemates Flat Out, Ron the Greek, and To Honor and Serve, as well as Point of Entry. A few minutes earlier, the Chad Brown horses stepped off their van. The bulk of the New York brigade had arrived safe and sound.
According to a Tex Sutton representative, the same procedure would be attempted with the remainder of the Todd Pletcher-trained horses and Mucho Macho Man, who were scheduled to depart New York on Tuesday. But there is some uncertainty with the bridges being shut down. One horse still in Kentucky is Whitney winner and Classic contender Fort Larned, who wasn’t able to get on this morning’s flight due to lack of room. But even if it takes until Thursday, Tex Sutton has assured trainer Ian Wilkes they will get the horse here.
Fort Larned indicated his sharpness on Sunday, working five furlongs in 1:00 2/5 at Churchill Downs.
One of the recent arrivals for the Classic, Nonios, went to the track for the first time this morning, looking, fit and happy. The handsome, nearly black son of Pleasantly Perfect, who is built more like a European stayer, made an attractive appearance and turned in a solid gallop. He is scheduled to have a half-mile work tomorrow.
When asked about the decision to run in the Classic instead of the Dirt Mile, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said Nonios has run well against some of the best horses in the country, including a strong second-place behind Game On Dude in the Awesome Again Stakes. Previously, he was second to Paynter in the Haskell Invitational. In both races, he was stuck down on the rail and his connections are hoping for a cleaner trip and clear run this time.
Dale Romans would have preferred to run Dullahan in the Classic, mainly because of the larger purse and “Win and you’re In” provisions, but left the decision up to Donegal Racing president Jerry Crawford, who opted for the Turf. Dullahan isn’t really suited for either race. He has shown he handles the turf, but it’s uncertain whether a mile and a half will be to his liking. On the other hand, he is a grade I winner at a mile and a quarter, defeating Game On Dude in the Pacific Classic, but that was on a synthetic track, over which he is a three-time grade I winner. He did run a strong third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, but followed that up with poor efforts in the Belmont and Haskell, so it is possible he just may favor the Churchill Downs surface, which has been known to be conducive to grass horses.
If there was any uncertainty about the strategy Doug O‘Neill plans to employ with Handsome Mike, it might have been reduced considerably after the son of Scat Daddy blew out three furlongs Monday in :34 2/5. Whether he can outrun Game On Dude early if the Bob Baffert colt wants the lead is another matter. But it does seem as if O’Neill has speed on his mind, especially considering he is also running the stone closer, Richard’s Kid in the Classic.