By Margaret Ransom
Santa Anita Park kicks off its winter/spring racing season on Sunday with an 11-race card featuring five stakes races, highlighted by the Runhappy Malibu Stakes and the La Brea Stakes, the final Grade 1s of 2021 in the United States.
Also on the card is the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes featuring Pennsylvania Derby (G1) winner Hot Rod Charlie, the popular 3-year-old who ran third in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and second in the Belmont Stakes (G2) and has earned more than $2 million in 2021.
First race on opening day is 11 a.m. PT.
While the date for opening day of 78-day season remains the same, a lot has changed at the Great Race Place. A total of 94 stakes, including 10 Grade 1s, are on tap during the six-month meeting, which concludes on June 19.
Led by the $750,000 million Santa Anita Derby (G1) on April 9, the 2021-2022 stakes schedule is rich with Kentucky Derby (G1) prep races and coveted points and includes the Jan. 1 Sham Stakes (G3), worth 10 Derby points to the winner; the Feb. 5 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G2), also worth 10; and the March 5 San Felipe Stakes (G2), which guarantees 50 points to the winner.
Overall, 11 winners of the Santa Anita Derby – and 18 runners in California’s final prep for the Run for the Roses — have gone on to stand in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. The most recent was 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, who joined fellow Triple Crown winner Affirmed, and other first jewel winners California Chrome, I’ll Have Another, Sunday Silence, Winning Colors, Majestic Prince, Lucky Debonair, Swaps, Determine and Hill Gail.
This year, the historic Santa Anita Handicap (G1) will be worth $650,000. The 1¼-mile event is set for March 5. Since its inception in 1935 during the Southern California track’s inaugural season, the winner’s list for the signature event is nothing short of legendary. Seabiscuit captured the 1940 renewal after falling just short in his two previous attempts. Round Table, Prove It, Lucky Debonair, Ack Ack, Triple Bend, Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, Broad Brush, Alysheba, Best Pal, Free House and Shared Belief are just some of the other names to have reached the storied winner’s circle.
But perhaps the best known victors are two-time heroes John Henry, Milwaukee Brew and Lava Man, as well as three-time winner Game On Dude. Accelerate won in 2018 before capturing the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and kicking off a three-race win skein for trainer John Sadler and owners Hronis Racing (Gift Box and Combatant followed) and Idol won the race a year ago.
Santa Anita will also be open Dec. 27 with an 11:30 a.m. post time and then after two dark days, resumes racing on a Thursday-through-Sunday schedule. With exceptions for big days and holidays, such as noon on New Year’s Day, post time every day will be at 12:30 p.m. PT through April.
Race goers also will be offered the track’s standard, fan-friendly and comprehensive pari-mutuel betting menu for the winter/spring meeting. Santa Anita’s Single Ticket Pick Six Jackpot will remain in place as will the popular .50 cent Pick 5.
Santa Anita will also continue to offer takeout of 15.43% on win, place and show wagers, the lowest for any major track. The betting menu also will continue to offer $1 exactas, $2 rolling Daily Doubles, $1 rolling Pick 3s, an early and late .50 cent Pick 4, as well as .10 cent Superfectas. These wagers carry a 20.68% takeout rate.