Santa Anita Celebrates 82nd Season
Legendary Track Nestled Beneath San Gabriel Mountains Offers Great Racing Start To Finish
by Margaret Ransom
Santa Anita Park kicks off its annual winter/spring season on a Wednesday this year, and while the actual date for opening day of the highly anticipated season remains the same, a lot has changed at the Great Race Place for her 82nd season of Thoroughbred Racing. A total of 60 stakes, including eight grade 1s, are on tap during the 60-day meeting, which runs on a Thursday-through-Sunday basis and concludes on April 7.
Led by the $1 million Santa Anita Derby (GI) on April 6, the race which produced Triple Crown champion Justify just eight months ago, the 2018-2019 winter meet stakes schedule is rich with Kentucky Derby (GI) prep races and coveted points and also includes the January 5 Sham Stakes (GIII), worth 10 points to the winner; the February 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GII), also worth 10; and March 9 San Felipe Stakes (GII), which guarantees 50 Kentucky Derby points to the winner. Overall 18 winners of the Santa Anita Derby have gone on to wear the garland of roses in Louisville on the first Saturday in May, proving Southern California is a veritable breeding ground for top Derby candidates.
This year, the historic Santa Anita Handicap (GI) will be worth $500,000 and the 1 ¼-mile event has been scheduled for March 9. Since its inception in 1935 during the track’s inaugural season, the winner’s list for the signature handicap 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.
Post time on opening day has been set for 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 for the first week of racing through New Year’s Day, except Saturday, December 29, when first post has been set at noon. After that, post time every weekday will be 1:00 and 12:30 on weekends, except Super Bowl Sunday February 3 (11:00), Big ‘Cap Day March 9 (Noon) and Santa Anita Derby Day April 6 (Noon).
Wednesday’s talent-rich card features ten races, of which five are stakes, including four graded and the signature opening-day events – the grade 1 La Brea Stakes for fillies and Malibu Stakes for colts and geldings, both of which are restricted to 3-year-olds. The two other graded stakes on the card are the $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile (GIIT), 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.
New Wagers Compliment Old Standards
In addition to the standard wagers – win, place, show, exacta, trifecta, superfecta, pick3s, pick 4s, Super Hi Fives and the Rainbow Pick 6, this year the track will also offer the first season of Horseracing Roulette, a fan-friendly $2 wager that combines casino wagering and horseracing. For a complete wagering menu, click here.
Malibu Marks Last Grade 1 Of The Year
The names of 16 sophomores looking to capture the last grade 1 of the year were dropped into the Santa Anita entry box last Friday for the the $300,000 Malibu, which is the 9th on the day and set to break from the gate at 4:00 local time, led by four runners from Hall of Famer Bob Baffert’s talented arsenal. Grade I winner McKinzie is the somewhat lukewarm 7-2 morning line favorite off a dull 12th-place finish in the Nov. 3 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Churchill Downs. The Pegram, Watson and Weitman Pennsylvania Derby (GI) winner is an early type who drew post 13, but there’s a good run up the backstretch in Santa Anita’s seven furlong chute, so all he may need is a good break to get good position under Hall of Famer Mike Smith.
Zayat Stable’s multiple grade 1-placed Solomini is back after a long summer/fall break following his 10th-place showing in the Kentucky Derby and a f somewhat troubled third-place finish at odds of 2-5 odds in the Affirmed Stakes (GIII) in early June. Jockey Joel Rosario, back on the circuit, has the mount aboard the son of Curling for the first time and the pair will break from the outside, which isn’t a huge concern considering Solomini seems to like a little pace to run at late.
Hal and Patti Earnhardt’s stakes winner Ax Man hasn’t started since July, but the consistent (6-3-0-2) son of Misremembered has been working well at Santa Anita for weeks in preparation for this comeback. Drayden Van Dyke is aboard the confirmed frontrunner, whose connections are hoping gets his first graded score in his last chance of the year.
Magnier, Smith and Stonestreet Stables’ lightly raced Nero returns to stakes company after capturing an optional claiming event at Del Mar in mid-November. Last year’s San Vicente Stakes (GII) runner-up, who is a $950,000 son of Pioneerof the Nile has a win over this track and will carry Joe Talamo once again.
San Vicente Stakes (GII) and Laz Barrera Stakes (GIII) winner Kanthaka is back after a seven-month break and the one-time Kentucky Derby hopeful has found a perfect spot, seven furlongs (his record is perfect 3 at the distance) and his favorite track (three wins from four starts). The West Point Thoroughbreds-owned son of Jimmy Creed has been firing bullets in the morning preparing for his return and regular jockey Flavien Prat returns, which can only help.
The Steve Assmussen-trained Grade 2 winner Copper Bullet won a Churchill Downs allowance race last month off a 15-month layoff and the son of More Than Ready has been in California since, training for his return to graded stakes company. Last year’s Saratoga Special (GII) winner will have Eclipse Award winner Jose Ortiz aboard for the first time, and ironically, his brother Irad had the honors in the Saratoga Special last year.
Slam Dunk racing’s well-traveled Axelrod, who won the Indiana Derby (GIII) and Smarty Jones Stakes (GIII) before finishing second to the top choice here McKinzie in the Pennsylvania Derby, was a dismal ninth finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but is back at home where he owns a win over this track from two starts. John Velazquez will be in town to ride the Mike McCarthy trainee, who seems to prefer two turns but may enjoy a bit of a cutback in distance.
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 the also-eligibles.
The Malibu is the ninth race with a post time of 4:00 p.m. PT.
La Brea Draws Nine
A purse of $300,000 is also on the line in the La Brea Stakes, which is the day’s 6th with a post time of 2:15 p.m. PT, and the undefeated grade 1 winner Dream Tree is the early 8-5 favorite. The $750,000 daughter of Uncle Mo, who is owned by Phoenix Thoroughbreds, won the Prioress Stakes (GII) last out before a throat issue kept her out of the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (GI) and also the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale. The Bob Baffert trainee has been working impressively for several weeks and will surely be fit off the three-month layoff, and Drayden Van Dyke returns after a one-race absence.
The Wesley Ward-trained grade 3 winner Happy Like A Fool drew the unfortunate innermost post position for this seven-furlong main track test, but she’s already successfully faced some adversity before, this time starting at her tenth track in just her 10th career start. She clearly has the talent to be competitive and John Velazquez rides after a two-race break.
Godolphin’s stakes winner Emboldened is the “other Baffert” in her first start since mid-May. She’s jumping into graded company after winning the Angel Flight Stakes last out, but has a win at this distance and two of three over Santa Anita’s main track. Joe Talamo rides.
Betty Grable Stakes winner Spiced Perfection is a super consistent runner (13-5-4-2) and the daughter of Smiling Tiger also owns a win at this distance and also one over this track. Flavien Prat is back aboard last out.
Completing the field for the La Brea are Mo See Cal, Kelly’s Humor, Heavenhasmynikki, Hot Autumn and Cathedral Reader.