2021 Santa Anita Autumn Meet Preview

Following a fun summer at Del Mar and a quick stop at Los Alamitos, the Southern California racing circuit is back at Santa Anita as 2021 enters its final quarter.

With a big opening weekend planned, as well as several stakes and a return to the hillside turf course on tap for the next month, the interest and excitement for this meet is already palpable.

There are star horses aplenty as we gear up for the last part of this year, and everyone is looking for momentum with the Breeders' Cup on the horizon. And with the annual fall event back at Del Mar, the local horses and riders will have extra attention on them as they prepare for what could be some big wins over the next few weeks.

But first comes Santa Anita's action, and here are some stories to follow as the autumn session quickly approaches.

1.) Opening Week: It is no secret that opening week for the autumn meet is among the most action-packed we see all year. With several graded stakes in the lineup, major horses from the circuit square off in what is basically a Breeders' Cup preview.

And this year is no exception.

We have an exciting filly in Grace Adler, who seeks victory in the Grade II Chandelier Stakes after her smashing victory in the Grade I Del Mar Debutante. Then there is United, the talented turf horse who is in pursuit of a second Grade I John Henry Turf Championship. Smooth Like Strait, who has had a fine year, is a major player in the Grade II City of Hope Mile. Going to Vegas could head back to Del Mar if she wins the Grade I Rodeo Drive. And Dr. Schivel is on the rise in the local sprint division, and could be in the mix in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

But the main event of opening week is undoubtedly the Grade I Awesome Again, which features quite the showdown with Kentucky Derby champion Medina Spirit, Santa Anita Handicap winner Idol, San Diego Handicap champ Express Train, and Pacific Classic victor Tripoli. The winner gets a berth in the Breeders' Cup Classic (which Tripoli already has thanks to gis Pacific Classic score), but this has the makings of a poosible race of the meet. Can Medina Spirit beat older horses in his first try? Or will Idol follow up his Big 'Cap performance with another Grade I in Arcadia? Might Tripoli or Express Train spoil their aspirations?

The Awesome Again could very well be an awesome race when all is said and done.

2.) Welcome Back: After more than two years, racing returns on the hillside turf course, and fans are excited. Known for its unique right-hand turn, the hillside has long been a staple of Santa Anita racing, and it's back as it hosts the Eddie D. on Friday.

Although the hillside events are not going to be as plentiful as in years past (at least for the time being), there is no question that having them back on the schedule is a positive for the circuit. Those will be fun to watch, and here's hoping more of them are added for the winter/spring meet.

3.) Field Size: After Del Mar's successful summer meet that saw largely decent field sizes, Santa Anita is hoping to build on what the seaside venue accomplished. It's no secret the track struggled in this department earlier in the year, and Del Mar's Ship and Win program has carried over to the Great Race Place. The hope is to bring more horses to the daily cards.

The opening week entries look good, which is to be expected. But the real question is how it will look after that. Santa Anita is working to get the horse population up, so let's see if it goes up during the fall and maybe carry over into the winter and spring.

4.) Flavien vs. the Colony: There is no denying that Flavien Prat is the top rider in the Southland right now. And if a morning line existed as to who would win the riding title, Prat would probably be at even money, if not odds-on. He is on a different level right now, but Thoroughbred racing is an unpredictable sport.

Keep an eye on Juan Hernandez, who has turned into one of the top jockeys out here after relocating from Northern California. Umberto Rispoli has easily become a top-five rider in this area, and he could benefit from races returning to the hillside given his talent for turf riding. The veteran Joe Bravo did well at Del Mar and could transfer that success out here, too. And Abel Cedillo is more than capable of having big days on track.

Anyone can win the riding title, but as it stands right now, the prize goes through Prat.

5.) The Other Title: Whereas Prat will be at the top of many lists to be the top jockey, you can make a case for several trainers taking first place at this meet. Peter Miller will be a principal contender, as will Bob Baffert. Phil D'Amato and John Sadler are no strangers to meet titles, and Richard Baltas could have a big meet as well. And Doug O'Neill could be in the mix, too.

Any one of these conditioners could be number one by meet's end, and it won't be surprising if we see a close battlein this division for at least part of the meet.

6.) Keep An Eye on Them: Some jockeys who may not contend for the riding title but could have a good meet are Kent Desormeaux, Victor Espinoza, Geovanni Franco, Jessica Pyfer, and Mike Smith. All of them know how to get to the winners' circle, and each of them could get multiple wins during October.

As for the trainers, Simon Callaghan, Vladimir Cerin, Peter Eurton, Mark Glatt, Steven Miyadi, and John Shirreffs all quietly had good Del Mar campaigns, and they can be expeted to saddle winners in Arcadia. Watch out for master horseman Richard Mandella, too. He can rattle off several winners at a good clip.

And that takes us to...

7.) What is Your Wager?: You could do well with your tickets if any of the aforementioned personalities win a race. And that is just for maybe, say, a win bet. But that can translate into something that proves instrumental in netting a nice Pick 4, Pick 5 or Pick 6 score. Or maybe a lucrative trifecta, superfecta or Daily Double.

There will be no shortage of betting options throughout the meet, and you can expect there will be folks leaving the races richer than they were a few hours before. And that is especially true if the Rainbow 6 Jackpot carryover keeps growing. So far, closing day is the only mandatory payout day, so could we see a major haul from a handicapper before then. Or will it happen closing day?

Get ready for some great racing action! We'll check back after closing day.

Published September 30, 2021