The Oak Tree Racing Assn.'s 36th season opens today at Santa Anita with the Grade III Sen. Ken Maddy Handicap. But that's only a warmup for the meet's first two weekends, which are dotted with major stakes that will prepare several horses for the Breeders' Cup.
A year ago, when five horses -- four of them trained by Richard Mandella -- ran in Oak Tree preps that led to wins in the Breeders' Cup, the Breeders' Cup was also run at Santa Anita. This time, the Oak Tree stakes will be preliminaries for the Breeders' Cup at Lone Star Park, near Dallas, on Oct. 30.
Pleasantly Perfect, who won the Goodwood Handicap at Santa Anita and went on to a victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic, won't try for his third consecutive Goodwood win when the 1 1/8 -mile stake is run on Saturday. Mandella has stuck to his plan, which was not to give Pleasantly Perfect another race after he won the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 22. Pleasantly Perfect will enter the Breeders' Cup off a 68-day layoff.
None of this year's Goodwood candidates are considered top contenders for the Breeders' Cup, but sometimes the Classic is won by a horse who comes on late in the year. One of the best examples is Cat Thief, who had won only one of 11 starts in 1999 before winning that year's Classic. Among the Goodwood probables is Total Impact, whose only win this year came in the Hollywood Gold Cup in July. Total Impact ran third, less than two lengths behind Pleasantly Perfect, in the Pacific Classic.