The week's heavy rain could delay the 4-year-old debut of Tiznow, last November's Breeders' Cup Classic winner and the favorite to be named horse of the year later this month.
"We'll have to see what the rain has done to the track," trainer Jay Robbins said Thursday, when 10 opponents, a surprisingly large number, showed up at entry time for Saturday's $250,000 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes at Santa Anita.
Chris McCarron, who has ridden Tiznow in his last four starts--a second-place finish in the Pacific Classic followed by wins in the Super Derby, the Goodwood Handicap and the Breeders' Cup Classic--is scheduled to be aboard again in Saturday's 1 1/16-mile race.
"I'll confer with Chris early Saturday," Robbins said. "What he thinks of the track will determine whether we run."
McCarron has five early mounts on the San Fernando card. Santa Anita's track was listed as sloppy Thursday morning, when only a few horses posted official workouts. The track was muddy for the start of racing in the afternoon.
Tiznow, accompanied by a pony, jogged two miles at Santa Anita Thursday morning.
"He did all right," Robbins said. "But like most California horses, he's never seen an off track or even trained over one."
Tiznow's nine starts--all last year--were on fast tracks. Since the Breeders' Cup, he's trained with problem front feet. There's a quarter crack on his right front hoof, which has been treated with an acrylic patch.
"He's missed some training," Robbins said. "He hasn't missed going to the track that much, but sometimes he's been limited as to what he can do after he gets there. I guess he's missed the equivalent of about four training days overall."
The San Fernando is to be Tiznow's prep for the $500,000 Strub Stakes, at 1 1/8 miles, Feb. 3.
In 1990, Robbins trained Flying Continental, a horse that thrived on off tracks, as he won both the San Fernando and the Strub. Flying Continental finished third, behind Ruhlmann and Criminal Type, in the Santa Anita Handicap, a $1-million race that is also on the schedule for Tiznow.
Robbins said that Tiznow is not a candidate for the $6-million Dubai World Cup in the United Arab Emirates on March 17. The Santa Anita Handicap, worth $1 million, will be run March 3.
Tiznow, the first California-bred to win a Breeders' Cup race, is a finalist, along with Kona Gold and Lemon Drop Kid, for horse of the year. Eclipse award voting ended early this month, but there should be little drama when the name of the champion is announced in New Orleans on Jan. 30. Lemon Drop Kid, after winning four consecutive stakes in New York, tailed off badly at the end of the year and ran fifth, 5 1/2 lengths behind Tiznow, in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Kona Gold, winner of the Breeders' Cup Sprint, received all 221 votes in the sprint division, assuring him of that title, but sprinters seldom get much support in horse-of-the-year voting. In 1999, for example, Artax, another crack sprinter, couldn't dent the favoritism of Charismatic, who was horse of the year even though he collected only 26% of the votes.
Robbins had expected only five or six rivals for the San Fernando, but some of the trainers who entered might be hoping that Tiznow is scratched. Or perhaps they believe the distance is not to his advantage. Tiznow has won two of three starts at 1 1/16 miles--in fact, he broke his maiden at that distance May 31 at Hollywood Park--but he built his reputation in longer races.
Tiznow also drew the outside post for Saturday, not a good spot for a horse that won his last three races by running on the lead. This is the tentative field, in post-position order:
Grey Memo, Nurdlinger, David Copperfield, Jekyll And Hyde, Walkslikeaduck, Capo Di Capo, Remember Sheikh, New Advantage, Tribunal, Wooden Phone and Tiznow, who's carrying high weight of 122 pounds, either two or six pounds more than any other starter.
Trainer Bob Baffert, who won the 1998 San Fernando with Silver Charm, is running Tribunal and Wooden Phone, but will leave his best 4-year-old, Captain Steve, in the barn. Captain Steve, beaten by Tiznow twice as he ran second in the Goodwood and third in the Breeders' Cup Classic, is expected to run in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 3.
Walkslikeaduck, who won the Del Mar Derby and the Bay Meadows Derby on grass late last year, will return to dirt for the first time since June. Trainer Paddy Gallagher's colt made the first three starts of his career on the main track, breaking his maiden at Hollywood Park in May. Walkslikeaduck ran 12th in the Breeders' Cup Mile.
Tiznow's owners, Mike Cooper and Cee StraubRubens, paid a $360,000 supplementary fee to win $2,438,800 in the Breeders' Cup. Because Tiznow wasn't nominated--for $500--for the Breeders' Cup program in the year he was foaled, he's running Saturday for only $150,000 of the $250,000 purse. Straub-Rubens died three days after the race.