The 2018 Awesome Again Stakes was won by Accelerate. Jockey Joel Rosario rode this horse to victory as the odds on favorite for trainer John Sadler. Accelerate has 10 wins over his career and has amassed more than $6 million in earnings including winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic as well as 7 other graded stakes.
The 2019 version will feature McKinzie who has won 7 of 12 lifetime starts, and has earned over $2 million. McKinzie is coming off of a victory in the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga. Higher Power won the Grade 1 TVG Classic at Del Mar last time out at 9-1. He defeated 3 others in this Awesome Again field, and did so by more than 5 lengths. Flavian Prat will be back aboard for trainer John Sadler who attempts to wins this race for the 2nd year in a row.
Trainer Bob Baffert had this to say about Jockey Mike Smith and McKinzie: “I think Mike’s got him really figured out now,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “He’s a horse that he can put him wherever he wants.”
Trainer John Sadler talks about Higher Power: “He came out of the Pacific Classic really well—his energy is fabulous,” Sadler said. “So rather than wait for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, we’re going to prep right here at Santa Anita, similar to what we did with Accelerate last year.”
On what figures to be an important day of Breeders’ Cup preps nationwide, we’ll save the best for last with a key dress rehearsal for the Classic. The G1 Awesome Again at 1-1/8 miles will be held over the Breeders’ Cup home track this year at Santa Anita and features the top-ranked colt in the division, McKINZIE. It headlines a card that also boasts the G1 Rodeo Drive for the Filly & Mare Turf division, as well as the G2 John Henry Turf Championship for west coast hopefuls in the Turf division.
McKINZIE lends instant G1 credibility to the lineup, but he’s not the only one. SEEKING THE SOUL has bagged more than $3 million and is a G1 winner. The 1-2-3 finishers in the G1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar are back, namely HIGHER POWER, DRAFT PICK and MONGOLIAN GROOM. And the 6-pack includes ISOTHERM, a G2 winner who was third in this race a year ago.
There’s not much early speed in this race, and fields of 6 or less oftentimes turn into cat-and-mouse games. McKINZIE might find himself on the lead as he did in the Alysheba at Churchill. But I suspect Joe Talamo will be aggressive aboard DRAFT PICK to the inside of McKINZIE and take command with rider intent. A deep closer would seem against the race flow in the Awesome Again and have to be much the best to succeed.
McKINZIE obviously is the horse to beat and his proven consistency validates that opinion. He’s 11-for-12 lifetime in the exacta with his only flub in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic in Kentucky. That makes him 6: 3-3-0 at Santa Anita, a highly admirable mark, but one that’s 50/50 in victory. So there’s some hope when you consider he was narrow runner-up at 40 cents on the dollar in the Santa Anita Handicap and at 50 cents on the dollar in the San Pasqual in his 2 local appearances this year. Regular rider Mike Smith bypassed a trip to Belmont to ride star mare Midnight Bisou in a very understandable decision, but one that indicates that it’s still good to be Mike Smith …
HIGHER POWER joins McKINZIE under top weight of 125 pounds in the Awesome Again. He dominated the Pacific Classic by more than 5 lengths for a John Sadler barn that was remarkable in Del Mar stakes all summer. The 9-1 upset seemingly came out of nowhere after being the beaten favorite in the restricted Wickerr Stakes and never having prior won a stakes. It was his first pairing with Flavien Prat, and if the pace gets cat-and-mouse as it could, Prat would be the rider you want aboard in such a scenario. He’s obviously improved since not factoring in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita upon his west coast arrival in June. But it seems the day to catch him was August 17 at Del Mar even if he’s worked well enough since then.
SEEKING THE SOUL adores Churchill Downs and has run most all of his best races there, including the Clark, Stephen Foster and Ack Ack. Truth is, he’s 0-10 in stakes away from Louisville. With a deep-closing style and a pace scenario not likely to benefit him, I’ll take a pass on him after disappointing as the favorite in the Pacific Classic.
DRAFT PICK comes in fresher than most with only 3 starts on the season. Like McKINZIE, he’s 3-for-6 at Santa Anita in his career, including a win in the Affirmed last summer. He gets in light at 121 pounds, a 4-pound allowance vs. the favorites. True, he was clearly second-best in the Pacific Classic at 13-1 to HIGHER POWER and the price will shrink from that some given the field size. But he’s likely 4th choice in the wagering here and gets a positive pace set-up as potential speed if hustled. His sire Candy Ride had success in this race with 2014 winner Shared Belief.
ISOTHERM is a former turfer who has yet to win on dirt. A distant third in this race a year ago to stars Accelerate and West Coast at 57-1, he hasn’t lived up to that race in 3 limited tries since.
Certain Exotics Contender: McKINZIE hasn’t missed an exacta at Santa Anita and
gets a pretty favorable pace scenario.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender: MONGOLIAN GROOM has lost his last 7 starts since a February allowance score. He’s been similar in form to DRAFT PICK in a couple of Del Mar outings this year and also gets in lighter at 121 pounds. He was even in the G1 Woodward at Saratoga , just as he was over this track in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita in June. You could see another even effort landing him on the bottom of the trifecta or superfecta at a price if all goes right. But those aren’t wagers I’d recommend given this field size.
Sending it in ($100 bankroll): $100 exacta McKINZIE over DRAFT PICK.