(Charlatan / Photo Courtesy of Santa Anita)
McCARTHY PURSUES RUNHAPPY MALIBU UPSET
While bettors ponder whether Charlatan or Nashville will win the Grade I Runhappy Malibu Stakes on opening day at Santa Anita Saturday, they can be sure of this: one of them will be the odds-on betting favorite.
Charlatan has been odds-on in the last two of his three career races; Nashville has been odds-on in all three, and each has earned a Beyer figure over 100 in five of their six outings.
All that publicity hubbub aside, that didn’t deter Michael McCarthy from entering Independence Hall in the seven-furlong race for three-year-olds as Santa Anita begins its 84th season of world-class racing with six added-money events, two others also ordained with Grade I status, the La Brea Stakes for three-year-old fillies at seven furlongs and the American Oaks, also for three-year-old fillies but at a mile and a quarter on turf.
Independence Hall, winner of four races including the Grade III Nashua by 12 ¼ lengths going a mile at Aqueduct as a two-year-old on Nov. 3, 2019, was ridden to victory by Mike Smith last out at Del Mar on Nov. 8, but Joel Rosario returns to ride for the Malibu.
The future Hall of Famer has ridden the son of Constitution twice previously, winning his debut race at Parx on Sept. 21, 2019, and finishing an eventful fifth in the Florida Derby on March 28 of this year.
“We have Rosario back, he’s excited to ride him and we’re happy to have him,” said McCarthy, scheduled to have a busy opening weekend with stakes performers.
McCarthy’s multiple graded stakes winner Smooth Like Strait is set for Saturday’s Grade II Mathis Brothers Mile, cutting back from the mile and an eighth of the Grade I Hollywood Derby in which he was second by a head under Umberto Rispoli, who retains the mount on Saturday.
On Sunday, Altea and Rideforthecause make their Southern California debuts for McCarthy in the Grade III Robert J. Frankel Stakes for fillies and mares three and up at 1 1/8 miles on turf. “They’re both training like nice fillies,” McCarthy said. “I’ve had them since early November.”
Altea is a well-traveled five-year-old French-bred daughter of Siyouni, a leading sire of two-year-olds in Europe, who has raced at nine different tracks in her last nine races: Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Tampa, Fair Grounds, Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Saratoga, Monmouth and Belmont Park.
Rideforthecause is a four-year-old Candy Ride filly with four wins in 11 career starts, nearly all of them at Woodbine where she captured the Grade II Canadian on Sept. 12. Rideforthecause worked five furlongs Saturday in 1:01.60, while Smooth Like Strait went four furlongs in 50 flat.
Meanwhile, McCarthy expects his two Grade I-winning fillies, Ce Ce and Speech, back at Santa Anita from Kentucky “in the middle of January,” along with Pat Day Mile winner Rushie.
Santa Anita’s traditional opening day is saturated with stakes, six in all, three of them Grade I’s: the $300,000 Runhappy Malibu; the $300,000 La Brea for three-year-old fillies at seven furlongs; and the $300,000 American Oaks for three-year-old fillies at 1 ¼ miles on turf.
First post time on opening day will be 11 a.m.
Strongly supporting the Malibu, La Brea and America Oaks are the Grade II, $200,000 San Antonio Stakes for three-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles, a major steppingstone to the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap on March 6; the Grade II Mathis Brothers Mile for three-year-olds on turf; and the grassy $75,000 Lady of Shamrock Stakes for three-year-old fillies at a mile. Overall, $1,375,000 in stakes money will be up for grabs.
The Runhappy Malibu, race 10 of 11: Collusion Illusion, Flavien Prat, 8-1; Thousand Words, John Velazquez, 8-1; Nashville, Ricardo Santana Jr., 6-5; Charlatan, Mike Smith, 9-5; Express Train, Juan Hernandez, 15-1; and Independence Hall, Joel Rosario, 4-1.
The Mathis Brothers Mile, the fourth race: Whisper Not, Joel Rosario, 5-1; Strongconstitution, Abel Cedillo, 12-1; Storm the Court, John Velazquez, 8-1; Heywoods Beach, Juan Hernandez, 12-1; Smooth Like Strait, Umberto Rispoli, 8-5; Field Pass, Ricardo Santana Jr. 5-2.; and Scarto, Flavien Prat, 4-1.
TALENT APLENTY IN SANTA ANITA RIDING COLONY
Santa Anita’s Big Meet that starts Saturday has a plethora of available riders, from budding plebes to seasoned professionals.
Horsemen won’t have to look beyond the local jocks’ room to find a quality reinsman, be it a veteran Hall of Fame member, one who on his way to racing’s hallowed shrine, or a young pup of an apprentice.
Santa Anita has it all. Take it from knowledgeable veteran man about racing Tom Knust, agent for a jockey bound for glory, Abel Cedillo.
“Joel Rosario is here and he’s a top rider anywhere he goes,” Knust said. “(Flavien) Prat and (Umberto) Rispoli are established leaders in Southern California and they’re back.
“Then there’s Juan Hernandez and Ricky Gonzalez making an impact after coming in from the Bay Area. They’re both very solid riders and deserve to be down here, so it’s going to be a good jockey colony.
“Jessie (Jessica) Pyfer, the bug rider, was hot at Los Alamitos where she almost won the riding title, so there are plenty of riders to choose from, and that’s a good thing, because we have a lot of good horses and a lot of good trainers.
“There’s enough for everybody here. Hopefully, Abel will be in the hunt, too.”
Based on her performance in her brief career, so will seven-pound apprentice Pyfer. The 22-year-old native of Denver earned her spurs working for Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella and has ridden for and impressed the likes of Del Mar’s leading trainer Richard Baltas and runner-up Phil D’Amato, who happens to be Pyfer’s step-father.
Cedillo, Hernandez and Pyfer finished first, second and third with 13, 12 and 11 victories, respectively, at the Los Alamitos meet that concluded Sunday.
“We’re looking forward to Santa Anita,” said 33-year-old, Brandon O’Bryan, a third-generation agent following in the footsteps of father Craig, who represents Hernandez, and his grandfather, George, a living legend who, bless his soul, celebrated his 100th birthday on Oct. 20.
In a long and storied career, George represented Hall of Fame members Johnny Adams, Ralph Neves, Donald Pierce, Manuel Ycaza and Laffit Pincay Jr.
“Our goal was to ride more races to gain needed experience,” Brandon said of his promising novice, whom he has represented going on five months. “Winning was a plus because people noticed that Jessica is capable and has the ability to be a very good jockey.
“I’ve learned a lot from my father and grandfather, and this is what I’ve always wanted to do.
“I enjoy working with young riders and I believe Jessica is the game’s next big name. Support and opportunities from top trainers like Mandella, Baltas and D’Amato speaks volumes.
“This riding colony covers the whole spectrum, including Jessica. She has the talent and she’s fun to watch.”
NEIGE BLANCHE HOPES TO DWARF OAKS FOES
Neige Blanche has progressed in her two United States stakes, a fourth in the Del Mar Oaks and a third in the Belmont Oaks, each a Grade I.
Leonard Powell hopes the trend continues for the French-bred daughter of Bianca Neve in Saturday’s Grade I American Oaks at 1 1/8 miles on turf, her first race in more than three months.
“She’s doing very well,” the trainer said. “She started her three-year-old season very early in Europe (making her first start Feb. 22 in France). This summer she traveled from California to New York and back, then we decided to give her a brief break.
“She’s been working steadily and she should be ready on Saturday.”
Powell has another French-bred entered in the Oaks in Guitty, fourth by only two lengths after a slow start in the Grade III Autumn Miss last out on Oct. 17, but one couldn’t blame Powell for dreaming of a fairytale ending with Neige Blanche.
In English, her name translates to Snow White.
The American Oaks, which goes as race nine: Red Lark, Drayden Van Dyke, 10-1; Miss Addie Pray, Mike Smith, 30-1; Capital Structure, Joel Rosario, 4-1; Going to Vegas, Mario Gutierrez, 8-1; Lucky Money, Ricardo Santana Jr., 7-2; Guitty, Juan Hernandez, 20-1; California Kook, Ricardo Gonzalez, 12-1; Duopoly, Flavien Prat, 4-1; Sharing, John Velazquez, 3-1; and Neige Blanche, Umberto Rispoli, 12-1.
FINALISTS NAMED FOR PRESTIGIOUS WOOLF AWARD
Santa Anita Park has announced a distinguished group of five finalists for the 2021 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, with the winner to be announced in February. One of the most prestigious awards in American racing, the Woolf Award, which is determined by a vote of jockeys nationwide, can only be won once.
Jockeys Alex Birzer, Jorge Martin Bourdieu, Kendrick Carmouche, Aaron Gryder and Deshawn Parker, veteran riders who have stood the test of time and have earned the respect of their peers and horsemen in various geographic regions, comprise 2021’s select group of Woolf finalists.
Presented annually by Santa Anita since 1950, the Woolf Award recognizes those riders whose careers and personal character garner esteem for the individual and the sport of Thoroughbred racing. The trophy is a replica of the life-sized statue of legendary Hall of Fame jockey George Woolf, which adorns Santa Anita’s Paddock Gardens area.
Regarded as one of the greatest big-money riders of his era, Woolf was a household word by virtue of winning the inaugural Santa Anita Handicap aboard Azucar on Feb. 23, 1935 and for his association with the immortal Seabiscuit, whom he rode to victory over Triple Crown Champion War Admiral in a mile and three sixteenths match race at Pimlico Race Course on Nov. 1, 1938.
Affectionately known as “The Iceman,” Woolf was revered by his fellow riders, members of the media and millions of racing fans across America as a fierce competitor and consummate professional.
WORTHWHILE WAGERING MENU HAS WIDE APPEAL
With its highly anticipated Winter/Spring Meeting opener set for Saturday, December 26, Santa Anita Park has announced a comprehensive betting menu that will again feature the popular 20 cent Single Ticket Rainbow Pick Six Jackpot and a myriad of other features, including a North American-low takeout of 15.43 percent on all two dollar Win, Place and Show wagers.
Although Santa Anita remains closed to the public due to continued restrictions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, fans can watch all of the track’s live races free of charge via santaanita.com/live and can watch and wager on Santa Anita racing via a variety of ADW platforms including 1st.com/Bet.
In addition to the 20 cent Rainbow Six, Santa Anita will again offer the 50 cent Early Pick 5, which features a low 14 percent takeout, as well as the 50 cent Late Pick 5.
With the Jackpot provision in place, the 20 cent Single Ticket Rainbow Pick Six requires a perfect single ticket in order to key a potentially life changing payoff. Providing there is no single ticket winner, consolation tickets with the highest number of winners receive a payoff on 70 percent of the net pool. The remaining 30 percent is carried over to a Jackpot pool, which will continue to accrue until there is a single ticket winner or there is a designated mandatory payoff day.
The $1 Stronach Five will again be offered each Friday and will consist of a fast paced series of five races from Santa Anita, Gulfstream Park, Laurel Park and Golden Gate Fields. The Stronach Five offers players a low takeout of 12 percent.
Santa Anita will also continue to offer the $5 Golden Hour Double, and the $1 Golden Hour Pick 4. Both wagers embrace late races at both Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields.
On most race days, there will be an Early and Late 50 cent Pick Four. On opening day, and all other days on which 11 races are carded, there will also be a 50 cent Mid-Pick Four. With 11 races on opening day, this Saturday, the Early Pick 4 will start with Race 2, the Mid-Four with Race 5 and the Late Pick Four will start with Race 8.
Players will also once again be offered one dollar exactas, two dollar rolling Daily Doubles, 50 cent rolling Pick 3s, as well as 10 cent Superfectas on all races with a minimum of six runners.
Additionally, the One Dollar Super High 5 is again available in all races with seven or more declared starters. The wager is available on all races that have seven or more declared starters. There is a 100 percent payout on all tickets selecting five winners, no consolation and a 100 percent carryover to the next race (including to the next day, if applicable).
Special early first post time on opening day, Saturday, Dec. 26, is at 11 a.m. For additional information, please visit santaanita.com or call (626) 574-RACE.
FINISH LINES: Santa Anita’s popular free online “Showvivor” returns opening day with a new Total Win Earnings category and a Monthly Contest provision which will be included in the existing season-long total prize money awarded of $5,000. The contest offers a variety of cash incentives highlighted by the $2,500 top prize, which will be awarded to the longest “Show Streak” over the course of the entire Winter/Spring season which concludes on June 20. For additional information, please visit santaanita.com or call 626 574-RACE . . . Reminder, there is an early first post time of 11 a.m. on opening day, Dec. 26. First post time on Sunday, Dec. 27, will be 11:30 p.m…Tune in early to santaanita.com/live at 9:50 a.m. on opening day for Track Announcer Frank Mirahmadi and Tom Quigley’s analysis of the entire card.