Top racehorses from around the world have begun making their way to Santa Anita in preparation for the Breeders' Cup on Nov. 1-2 at the Arcadia track. The 24-day autumn meeting begins Friday, and veteran trainer Mike Mitchell envisions a lot of intriguing days ahead.
"I like what management has done with the racetrack," he said. "It's a good, safe track. I've breezed a lot of horses over it, and everyone hits the ground real good. It's going to go over nicely for the Breeders' Cup. I'm excited."
Mitchell, with 2,663 career victories, has a month to prepare his barn's star horse, Obviously, to take on the reigning horse of the year, Wise Dan, in a rematch of last year's Breeders' Cup Mile. Obviously set the pace before finishing third. Wise Dan has won nine consecutive races.
"It's such an advantage, I think, if you're stabled where they hold the Breeders' Cup," Mitchell said. "Would you take a horse like Obviously to run against Wise Dan? No. I wouldn't ship back East to run against him. But I'm here in my own backyard.
"If I have to run against him, I have to. I really think Wise Dan could win the Classic, and I'm not trying to duck him. I thought last year he could have won the Classic. I'm not taking anything away from Game On Dude, but I'd take Wise Dan. He's a superstar."
On Saturday, Santa Anita will offer five $250,000, Grade I races on an 11-race card in what is being dubbed "Breeders' Cup Challenge Day." It will be a final prep for horses preparing to race in the Breeders' Cup. The Awesome Again Stakes, at 1 1/8 miles, has Classic contenders Mucho Macho Man and Paynter among its expected entrants.
Fans will get their first look at Santa Anita's $15-million renovation that includes a new clubhouse mezzanine designed to offer a new audio-visual experience. There are 50 high-tech televisions and surround sound that creates a theater-like atmosphere.
Soaking it all in and enjoying every moment will be Mitchell, who has returned to full-time training after receiving treatment for a brain tumor.
"I'm really feeling good," he said. "I'm having real good days. My morning is super. They had me on some heavy chemo that made me tired. I'm off that. I'm really enjoying training horses."