Five Stakes Highlight Traditional Opening Day Card
Santa Anita Park will host a live race meeting for the 81st time on Wednesday, Dec. 26, the traditional opening day date for the Southern California racetrack’s signature winter meet, which runs through Sunday, April 7.
A total of 60 stakes races will be offered during the 3 ½-month winter season, with 34 graded and eight being Grade I. Once again, the $1 million Santa Anita Derby (GI), which in 2018 produced Triple Crown winner Justify, is the featured event of the meeting and has been set for April 6. The last-stop for California-based 3-year-olds looking to secure a spot in the coveted Kentucky Derby (GI) has consistently produced top competitors for the Run for the Roses, including names like California Chrome, I’ll Have Another, Giacomo, Silver Charm, Sunday Silence, Winning Colors, Affirmed, Majestic Prince and Lucky Debonair.
Santa Anita this season will offer the standard variety of wagers from straight bets to exotics like exactas, trifectas, superfectas, pick-3s, pick-4s, pick-5s, super hi fives and Rainbow pick-6, and will also feature the first season of Horseracing Roulette. For a complete wagering menu, click HERE.
Malibu Overflows With Sophomore Talent
Ten races, featuring five stakes, have been set for the first day of the season, including the Malibu Stakes (GI) for 3-year-olds and the La Brea Stakes (GI) for 3-year-old fillies.
An overflow field of 14, plus a pair of also-eligibles, makes up the $300,000 Malibu, led by Grade I winner McKinzie off a dismal 12th-place finish in the Nov. 3 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI). He will be joined by three of his Bob Baffert-trained stablemates — Az Man, Solomini, Super Sol and Nero — but Pegram, Watson and Weitman’s Pennsylvania Derby (GI) winner is certainly the one to beat out of the three. Regular rider Mike Smith returns and, while the 13-hole isn’t ideal for the pair, the run up the backstretch from the seven-furlong chute is significant enough that a guarantee of a clean break is probably the only question mark hovering over a good performance.
Solomini, who has a reputation of being tough and hard-headed, got a long summer/fall break after a poor 10th-place showing in the Kentucky Derby, followed by a somewhat troubled third at 2-5 odds in the Affirmed Stakes (GIII) in early June. He’s been back training regularly since late October and has been posting solid drills. Jockey Joel Rosario, back on the circuit, has the mount for the first time.
Stakes winner Ax Man is unraced since mid-July, with his connections hoping he improves on his record of 6-3-0-2 and finally makes it to the winner’s circle with a graded score under his belt. Leading rider Drayden Van Dyke is aboard the confirmed frontrunner.
Magnier, Smith and Stonestreet Stables’ $950,000 purchase Nero has one winning start in allowance company last month in what was his first start since a second in last February’s San Vicente Stakes (GII) over this track. He has a top-notch pedigree and likes this track, and has Joe Talamo, who Baffert has been using more and more in recent months, in the irons.
West Point Thoroughbreds’ Kanthaka returns to tackle his favorite distance (three-for-three at seven furlongs) looking for his first Grade I after a long break following his score in the Laz Barrera Stakes (GIII) here back in May. Jerry Hollendorfer trains this son of Jimmy Creed, who will again be ridden by top jockey Flavien Prat.
Last year’s Saratoga Special (GII) winner Copper Bullet has been in California for the better part of the month, shipping in to Santa Anita shortly after winning a Churchill Downs allowance race at this distance last month in what was his first start in more than 15 months. The son of More Than Ready is trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen and reigning Eclipse Award winner Jose Ortiz will be aboard.
Indiana Derby (GIII) winner Axelrod is back in action after a disappointing ninth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI). He’s trained by Mike McCarthy, who had a banner year in 2018, and will have John Velazquez aboard, an interesting pairing considering Velazquez is Todd Pletcher’s go-to jockey and McCarthy was Pletcher’s top assistant for years before going out on his own. Axelrod hasn’t sprinted in a while, but may like the speed in front of him here.
Calexman, Majestic Dunhill, Still Having Fun, Identity Politics, Seven Trumpets, Bobby’s Wicked One and Greyvitos round out the field. Super Sol and Cool Bobby are on the also-eligible list.
The Malibu is the ninth race with a post time of 4:00 p.m. PT.
La Brea features undefeated Dream Tree
The La Brea drew nine fillies that will also race the seven-furlong hook on the main track, led by undefeated Grade I winner Dream Tree, who missed the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (GI) in November due to a breathing issue. She subsequently was entered and withdrawn from the Keeneland November sale and put back in training with Bob Baffert where she’s logged a steady stream of impressive morning workouts. With Mike Smith riding longshot Mo See Cal, Drayden Van Dyke will be back aboard.
Globetrotting Happy Like A Fool makes a visit to her eighth racetrack in her tenth career start and the Wesley Ward trainee will be attempting a second straight win after capturing a Churchill Downs allowance race a month ago. She’s been in California training with Blake Heap all month and looking exceptionally well. Her innermost post isn’t idea for the distance, but she’s in capable hands with John Velazquez aboard.
Baffert will also tighten the girth on listed stakes winner Emboldened in her first start since mid-May. She’s making a big jump in class, but that’s never stopped Baffert from having an “other” winner or even an exacta. The Godolphin homebred will be ridden by Joe Talamo.
Spiced Perfection won the Beddy Grable Stakes at Del Mar early last month and the Cal-bred daughter of Smiling Tiger is nothing if not consistent (13-5-4-2) and has a win at this distance and another over this track. Flavien Prat returns from the winning effort last out.
Others entered for the La Brea are Mo See Cal, Kelly’s Humor, Heavenhasmynikki, Hot Autumn and Cathedral Reader.
The La Brea is the sixth race with a 2:15 p.m. PT post time.
The two other graded stakes on the card are the $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile (GIT), which is the seventh race at 2:30 p.m. PT post and the San Antonio Stakes (GII) for handicap runners which is the eighth and set to leave the gate at 3:00 p.m. PT.