(Favorable Outcome winning the Swale Stakes earlier this year / Photo Courtesy of Santa Anita)
It’s the “Day After.” As a kid, I hated it. All the packages have been torn open. The surprises all revealed. The glitter gone. The glamour of another Christmas celebration just an echo in the halls that were once decked. The tree now doesn’t burn as bright; the lights don’t glimmer with the same sparkle.
But, then, you remember. And, it’s “Opening Day.” The start of the new meet at Santa Anita. And, as an adult, I loved it. New highlights. New packages to open and handicap. New fun.
Today, Santa Anita begins anew and the Stakes races are full of pretty names and the packages of excitement are ready to open — again.
There is the G1 Malibu Stakes — which will include the likes of Pavel, Favorable Outcome, the undefeated C Z Rocket, and, perhaps, a new superstar to be born from the barn of Bob Baffert in Dabster.
There is the G1 La Brea Stakes — which will include the brilliant Unique Bella, the sometimes brilliant Paradise Woods.
There is the G2 San Antonio Stakes — which will include the dynamic Baffert duo of Hopportunity and Collected.
And, there is the G2 Mathias Brothers Mile on the Turf — which may be the most wide open, hotly contested event on the card.
Here’s a closer look at each:
Eastern invaders Favorable Outcome and C Z Rocket head a wide-open field of nine sophomores in Santa Anita’s Grade I, $300,000 Malibu Stakes.
Trained by Chad Brown and based in New York, Favorable Outcome comes off a scintillating neck victory in 6 ½ furlong allowance on Nov. 26–a race in which he earned a career top and Malibu best last-out Beyer Speed figure of 104.
Undefeated in three starts at Saratoga, Keeneland and Churchill Downs, Florida-bred C Z Rocket has a bullet half mile of 47.60 seconds locally on Dec. 13 for trainer Al Stall, Jr., and he’ll be trying stakes competition for the first time in the Malibu.
The primary Malibu contenders are as follows:
Owner: Klaravich Stables, Inc. and William H. Lawrence Trainer: Chad C. Brown
A winner of Gulfstream Park’s Grade II Swale Stakes going seven furlongs three starts back on Feb. 4, this Kentucky-bred colt by Flatter comes off a hard fought neck victory in a second condition allowance going 6 ½ furlongs on Nov. 26 at Aqueduct and has remained in training at Belmont Park. With four-time Eclipse Award Champ Javier Castellano in to ride, Favorable Outcome seeks his first Grade I victory on Tuesday.
C Z Rocket:
Owner: Frank Fletcher Racing Operations Inc. Trainer: Albert Stall, Jr.
A first-out maiden winner going 6 ½ furlongs at Saratoga Sept. 1, C Z Rocket rallied from off the pace to win a first condition allowance going seven furlongs by 2 ½ lengths on Oct. 11 at Keeneland. He then ventured to Churchill Downs, where he stepped up to a third-level allowance going a one turn mile, winning by two lengths as the even money favorite. An $800,000 Ocala 2-year-old in training sale purchase in 2016, C Z Rocket has a tractable style and undeniable talent, which should serve him well in his initial stakes engagement Tuesday.
Owner: Donegal Racing Trainer: Bob Baffert
A Kentucky-bred colt by Pioneerof the Nile, he comes off a good second going a mile and one eighth in the Grade III Native Diver Stakes Nov. 25 and will cut back in distance off of five consecutive routes for Baffert. A first-out maiden winner going six furlongs in his only start at age 2, Irish Freedom will hope to be rallying from off the pace under “Big Money” Mike Smith.
Owner: Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum Trainer: Bob Baffert
Disqualified from victory in his first start here going seven furlongs on opening day a year ago, this $1 million 2-year-old in training sale purchase has finished first in all three of his career starts, including a game 1 ½ length win in a seven furlong allowance at Del Mar on Nov. 3. With Flavien Prat set to ride him back, this Kentucky-bred son of Curlin lends considerable depth to the Malibu lineup in his first stakes assignment.
City of Light:
Owner: Mr. and Mrs. William K. Warren, Jr. Trainer: Michael McCarthy
Although he has but a maiden win to his credit from four starts, this $710,000 Keeneland September yearling by Quality Road has three seconds to his credit, including his most recent start, where he was beaten 1 ½ lengths as the 6-5 favorite going seven furlongs by Baffert’s Dabster on Nov. 3 at Del Mar. Favored in three out of his four races, City of Light will be ridden for the fifth consecutive time by Gary Stevens in what will be his first stakes engagement.
THE GRADE I MALIBU STAKES WITH JOCKEYS & WEIGHTS IN POST POSITION ORDER
Race 8 of 9 Approximate post time 3:30 p.m. PT
- City of Light–Drayden Van Dyke–120
- Edwards Going Left–Tyler Baze–120
- Irish Freedom–Mike Smith–120
- Favorable Outcome–Javier Castellano–122
- The Street Fighter–Edwin Maldonado–120
- Pavel–Mario Gutierrez–122
- Heartwood–Hector Rosario, Jr.–120
- Dabster–Flavien Prat–120
- C Z Rocket–Jose Lezcano–120
Special early first post time on Tuesday is at 12 noon. Admission gates will open at 10 a.m. For more information, please visit santaanita.com or call (626) 574-RACE.
Regarded as nothing short of a sensation this past spring, trainer Richard Mandella’s Paradise Woods, along with trainer Jerry Hollendorfer’s brilliant Unique Bella, headline an exceptional field of 10 sophomore fillies going seven furlongs in the Grade I, $300,000 La Brea Stakes.
In addition to the top two, Bob Baffert’s Faypien, who was second going the same distance two starts back in Saratoga’s Grade I Test Stakes and Jeff Bonde’s talented California-bred Miss Sunset, a recent Grade II winner going seven furlongs at Keeneland, also merit strong consideration in the 45th running of the prestigious La Brea.
The primary La Brea contenders are as follows:
Owner: Steven Sarkowsky, Pam and Martin Wygod Trainer: Richard Mandella
A devastating 11 ¾ length winner of the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks in her third start on March 10, she went to the sidelines for nearly four months following a dismal effort as the 6-5 favorite in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks May 5. Although well beaten in her comeback race, the Grade III, one mile Torrey Pines Stakes at Del Mar Aug. 27, she rebounded with a scintillating gate to wire victory going a mile and one sixteenth in the Grade I Zenyatta here on Sept. 30. A solid third, beaten 3 ½ lengths in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Distaff at a mile and one eighth on Nov. 3, she cuts back in distance a quarter mile and appears to be the horse to beat on Tuesday.
Owner: Don Alberto Stable Trainer: Jerry Hollendorfer
Although second as the 1-5 favorite in her five furlong debut here June 23, this gray daughter of Tapit then rattled off five consecutive wins by a combined 32 ¼ lengths–the most recent being a 3 ½ length score two starts back in the Grade III LA Woman Stakes going 6 ½ furlongs here on Oct. 8. A disappointing seventh as the even money favorite in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint going seven furlongs on Nov. 4, she can be expected to show plenty of early zip as she’ll be out to make amends in the La Brea. The leading money earner in the field, Paradise Woods has earnings of $653,545.
Owner: Baoma Corporation Trainer: Bob Baffert
Well suited at the distance, this Florida-bred daughter of Ghostzapper broke her maiden going seven furlongs here in her second start on April 23 and then took a minor stakes at the same distance on May 14. Second, beaten four lengths as the 2-1 favorite by the highly regarded American Gal in the Test Stakes Aug. 5, she was a disappointing second as the 3-5 favorite in the six furlong Beverly J. Lewis Stakes on Sept. 9 at Los Alamitos. Fresh and dangerous, Faypien figures to get a stalking trip in the La Brea.
Owner: Alan Klein and Phillip Lebherz Trainer: Jeff Bonde
Although a five-time stakes winner, she notched her first graded victory in the Grade II Raven Run going seven furlongs at Keeneland on Oct. 21, and thus would appear to rate a big chance in the La Brea. A California-bred filly by Into Mischief, she was bred in part by co-owner Alan Klein. A winner of the seven furlong Fleet Treat Stakes three starts back on July 30, she’s perfect in both of her starts at seven furlongs. With seven wins from 11 starts, she’s amassed earnings of $600,390–which is second only to Paradise Woods.
Owner: Cicero Farms, LLC Trainer: Bob Hess, Jr.
Although Mike Smith has opted to stay with Unique Bella, this Kentucky-bred filly by Blame could be poised for an upset under four-time Eclipse Champion Javier Castellano. Although the La Brea will be her first stakes engagement, Marley’s Freedom exits the best race of her five-race career, a 4 ¼ length romp under Smith as the 8-5 favorite in a first condition allowance going 6 ½ furlongs at Del Mar on Nov. 29.
THE GRADE I LA BREA STAKES WITH JOCKEYS & WEIGHTS IN POST POSITION ORDER
Race 7 of 9 Approximate post time 3 p.m. PT
- Miss Sunset–Julien Leparoux–122
- Marley’s Freedom–Javier Castellano–120
- Unique Bella–Mike Smith–122
- Mopotism–Mario Gutierrez–120
- Faypien–Drayden Van Dyke–122
- Just a Little Hope–Gary Stevens–120
- Paradise Woods–Flavien Prat–124
- Princess Karen–Kent Desormeaux–120
In what will be its 80th renewal, the Grade II, $300,000 San Antonio Stakes will be run for the first time on opening day at Santa Anita, this Tuesday, Dec. 26 and as such, will serve as an important prep to the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 27.
The race, to be contested at a mile and a sixteenth, has traditionally served as a steppingstone to the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap and was taken earlier this year on Feb. 4 by Hoppertunity, who seeks his third consecutive San Antonio win on Tuesday.
Trained by Bob Baffert, who will have a potent one-two punch with probable favorite Collected, Hoppertunity is one of several eying a potential start at Gulfstream on Jan. 27.
The primary San Antonio contenders are as follows:
Owner: Speedway Stable, LLC Trainer: Bob Baffert
A three-time “slayer” of his highly publicized former stablemate, Arrogate, he rode a four game winning streak (consisting of victories in the Grade I Pacific Classic, the Grade III Precisionist Stakes, the Grade II Californian and the Santana Mile) into the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 4, and finished second, beaten 2 ¼ lengths, by likely Horse of the Year Gun Runner. With four stakes wins from five stakes engagements this year, this Kentucky-bred colt by City Zip will be ridden for the first time by Mike Smith, as his regular rider, Martin Garcia, has relocated to New York. By any accounting, he’s the horse to beat as Baffert seeks his sixth win in the last nine runnings of the San Antonio.
Owner: Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman Trainer: Bob Baffert
Most recently third, beaten 1 ½ lengths in the Grade I, 1 1/8 miles Clark Handicap on Nov. 24, this 6-year-old full horse by Any Given Saturday has been a joy to behold through four racing seasons with Baffert. A solid 14-4-5-2 at Santa Anita, “Hop” as he’s known at the Baffert barn, seeks his eighth win from 29 overall starts as he tries to pad an enviable bankroll of $4,329,025. Ridden by Florent Geroux in the Clark, he’ll be reunited with Flavien Prat, who had ridden him in his previous three starts, including his Feb. 4 win in the San Antonio.
Owner: D P Racing Trainer: James Cassidy
Thought to be better suited on turf earlier this year, Prime Attraction ran lights-out on dirt in winning the Grade III, 1 1/16 miles Native Diver Stakes by 2 ½ lengths on Nov. 25. A close second early, Prime Attraction rallied to win with authority under Victor Espinoza, who rides him back on Tuesday. With the $16 million Pegasus looming on the horizon Jan. 27, Prime Attraction, a 4-year-old Unbridled’s Song colt, will hope to prove his Native Diver win at 7-1 was much more than an equine mirage.
Top of the Game:
Owner: Holly and David Wilson Trainer: Vladimir Cerin
A solid fit in the department of “What have you done for me lately?” Top of the Game will try to rebound off a disappointing fourth place finish behind Prime Attraction in the Nov. 25 Native Diver. A winner of three consecutive races and a devastating 4 ¼ length winner over Hoppertunity two starts back in the one mile Comma to the Top Stakes here on Oct. 28, Top of the Game was off at 2-1 in the Native Diver. Unbeaten in four starts at The Great Race Place, this 4-year-old gelded son of Desert Party need only run back to his race in the Comma to the Top to be a major force on Tuesday.
THE GRADE II SAN ANTONIO STAKES WITH JOCKEYS & WEIGHTS IN POST POSITION ORDER
Race 3 of 9 Approximate post time 1 p.m. PT
- Hoppertunity–Flavien Prat–122
- Top of the Game–Kent Desormeaux–120
- Giant Expectations–Gary Stevens–120
- Prime Attraction–Victor Espinoza–122
- Accelerate–Javier Castellano–124
- Collected–Mike Smith–124
And, then there is the 4th Graded Stakes event on the card: the G2 Mathis Brothers Mile on the Turf.
In what appears to be a completely wide-open race, Big Score, Bowies Hero, Colonist and Harbour Master all rate solid chances among a field of eight sophomores in the Grade II, $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile on turf.
One of four graded stakes on Santa Anita’s nine-race opening day program, the Mathis Brothers Mile will be run as the sixth race.
The primary Mathis Brothers Mile contenders are as follows:
Owner: George Krikorian Trainer: Tim Yakteen
Most recently third, beaten one length in the Grade I Hollywood Derby at a mile and one eighth on turf Nov. 25, this Kentucky-bred colt by Mr. Big has enjoyed a most productive year, as he’s banked $364,500 from a 2017 mark of 7-1-3-2. Second to highly regarded Sharp Samurai in both the Grade II Del Mar Derby Sept. 3 and the Grade II Twilight Derby two starts back at Santa Anita on Oct. 28, Big Score has two wins from five tries at a mile on turf and should therefore be comfortable cutting back in distance a furlong off the Hollywood Derby. Bred by his owner, George Krikorian, Big Score could go favored in a deeply contentious affair.
Owner: Agave Racing Stable Trainer: Phil D’Amato
By turf specialist Artie Schiller, Bowies Hero was a winner of the restricted one mile turf Oceanside Stakes four starts back on July 19 and ran well in three subsequent graded stakes–finishing second in the Grade II Del Mar Derby on Sept. 3, third in the Grade II Twilight Derby here on Oct. 28 and most recently, fifth, beaten 2 ½ lengths, in the Grade I Hollywood Derby at 1 1/8 miles on turf Nov. 25. With Desormeaux back for the third consecutive time, Bowies Hero would be well suited by a fast pace.
Owner: Stonestreet Stables, LLC Trainer: Jerry Hollendorfer
A close fourth from off the pace in the Grade II Del Mar Derby, this Kentucky-bred colt by Pioneerof the Nile was third, beaten three quarters of a length in the Grade III La Jolla Handicap two starts back on Aug. 6. Although both of his career wins have come on dirt, Colonist is obviously more than capable on turf and will try to “break through” with his first stakes win on Tuesday. Ridden three times by Corey Nakatani this past spring, he’ll be reunited with the veteran reinsman in the Mathis Brothers Mile and he’s one of several who would benefit from a fast early pace.
Owner: Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc. Trainer: Armando De La Cerda
A Florida-bred invader who ships west following a three wins and a second at Gulfstream Park and Gulfstream West, this Florida-bred gelding by The Factor looms extremely dangerous with four-time Eclipse Champ Javier Castellano set to ride for the first time. A two-time minor stakes winner at Gulfstream on Aug. 19 and Sept. 24, he comes off a second place finish as the even money favorite in a one mile turf stakes Nov. 4 at Gulfstream Park West. Quick from the gate, he may be able to dictate terms under Castellano.
Owner: D P Racing Trainer: James Cassidy
Although he was a sharp one mile turf allowance winner on Nov. 18, he loses the services of Kent Desormeaux, but will be ridden by another Hall of Famer, Victor Espinoza. Well beaten in his only other graded stakes attempt when 10th in the Grade II Del Mar Derby four starts back on Sept. 3, English-bred Harbour Master is in good recent form and therefore rates an upset chance on Tuesday.
THE GRADE II MATHIS BROTHERS MILE WITH JOCKEYS & WEIGHTS IN POST POSITION ORDER
Race 6 of 9 Approximate post time 2:30 p.m. PT
- Kroy–Javier Castellano–120
- B Squared–Mario Gutierrez–122
- Colonist–Corey Nakatani–120
- Harbour Master–Victor Espinoza–120
- Bowies Hero–Kent Desormeaux–122
- Holiday Stone–Rafael Bejarano–120
- Hootie–Drayden Van Dyke–120
- Big Score–Flavien Prat–122