From the Santa Anita Media Team:
SHIRREFFS ON OPENING DAY STAKES STREAK
John Shirreffs has done it all.
In a career spanning a quarter century, the 74-year-old native of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas won the Kentucky Derby with 50-1 shot Giacomo in 2005 and masterfully conditioned the magnificent mare Zenyatta, who won 19 of 20 career starts including a victory over males in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita. In 2010, she was named Horse of the Year.
But come Saturday, it will mark a new milestone for the former Marine who served in Vietnam, later heading to Hawaii to Hang 10 as a surfer.
Shirreffs will saddle horses in three straight stakes for the first time when he sends out streaking Midcourt in the Grade II San Antonio, going as the fifth of 11 races; Giza Goddess in the Grade I American Oaks, race six; and Hard Not to Love in the Grade I La Brea, race seven.
(Shirreffs won the American Oaks with Harmonious in 2010 when it was run at Hollywood Park).
Noted for maintaining a low public profile when it comes to personal publicity, Shirreffs is in his comfort zone out of the limelight, shunning even winner’s circle photos. Often he’s less prominent than guys in the Witness Protection Program, so it was no surprise he was reticent about taking credit when addressing Midcourt’s success since taking over as trainer five races back, winning four including the Grade III Native Diver Nov. 23.
“He seemed to rise to the occasion,” was Shirreff’s succinct explanation for the improvement. “He’s trained very well for this race. We’re happy with how he’s doing.”
Giza Goddess, a gray daughter of Cairo princess, is back with three-year-olds in the American Oaks after finishing eighth against older in the Grade I Matriarch on Dec. 1. She gets a new rider in Victor Espinoza. The Oaks will be decided at 1 ¼ miles on turf.
“Only two of those entered have ever run beyond a mile and an eighth, so it’s a new distance for all of them,” Shirreffs pointed out. “No one knows exactly how their horse will run, so I think it’s worth a try.”
Not Hard to Love has three wins and a third from four career races despite compromising starts in three of them.
“She only has one eye (her right),” Shirreffs said of the daughter of Hard Spun. “She lost her left when kicked by another horse as a yearling when she was being broken. I think she’s distracted in the gate. She’ll hear a noise, then turn her head to see what it is. The gate can sometimes be a little awkward for her.”
As for having horses entered in three consecutive stakes races, Shirreffs says it is a first for him. “I can’t recall that ever happening before,” he said, “so it’s a big day for us.”
Santa Anita’s opening week schedule offers live racing Sunday, Dec. 29; New Year’s Day, Wednesday, Jan. 1; and Friday, Jan. 3 through Sunday, Jan. 5.
First post time opening day is 11 a.m. Admission gates open at 9 a.m.
The fields for Santa Anita’s opening day stakes: $75,000 Lady of Shamrock: Keeper Ofthe Stars, Abel Cedillo, 5-2; Brill, Flavien Prat, 3-1; Bodhicitta, Rafael Bejarano, 8-1; Mischiffie, Drayden Van Dyke, 6-1; Angel Alessandra, Joel Rosario, 6-1; Lucky Peridot, Javier Castellano, 4-1; Sold It, Mario Gutierrez, 10-1; and Lakerball, Joe Talamo, 12-1.
The Grade II San Antonio, race five: Gray Magician, Javier Castellano, 4-1; Gift Box, Joel Rosario, 9-5; King Abner, Tyler Baze, 10-1; Draft Pick, Joe Talamo, 9-2; Mugaritz, Ricardo Gonzalez, 10-1; Midcourt, Victor Espinoza, 2-1; and Fight On, Abel Cedillo, 20-1.
The Grade I American Oaks, race six: So Much Happy, Tiago Pereira, 30-1; Apache Princess, Javier Castellano, 5-1; Mucho Unusual, Joel Rosario, 4-1; K P Slickem, Jorge Velez, 15-1; Lady Prancealot, Joe Bravo, 2-1; Pretty Point, Mike Smith, 30-1; Giza Goddess, Victor Espinoza, 7-2; and Vibrance, Abel Cedillo, 3-1.
The Grade I La Brea, race seven: First Star, Drayden Van Dyke, 4-1; Del Mar May, Joe Bravo, 12-1; Free Cover, Abel Cedillo, 15-1; Stirred, Geovanni Franco, 20-1; Bellafina, Flavien Prat, 9-5; Bell’s the One, Javier Castellano, 7-2; Hard Not to Love, Mike Smith, 6-1; Motion Emotion, Mario Gutierrez, 15-1; and Mother Mother, Joel Rosario, 6-1.
The Grade III Robert J. Frankel, race eight: Tiny Tina, Flavien Prat, 6-1; Excellent Sunset, Joel Rosario, 7-2; Don’t Blame Judy, Victor Espinoza, 5-1; Streak of Luck, Jose Valdivia Jr., 5-1; Curlin’s Journey, Ruben Fuentes, 6-1; Harmless, Abel Cedillo, 6-1; Mirth, Mike Smith, 5-2; and Ms Peintour, Brice Blanc, 20-1.
The Grade I Runhappy Malibu, race nine: Much Better, Flavien Prat, 12-1; Complexity, Javier Castellano, 5-2; Manny Wah, Channing Hill, 8-1; Roadster, Joel Rosario, 3-1; and Omaha Beach, Mike Smith, 4-5.
The Grade II Mathis Brothers Mile, race 10: Sash, Drayden Van Dyke, 12-1; Originaire, Umberto Rispoli, 15-1; Ocean Fury, Flavien Prat, 12-1; Never Easy, Rafael Bejarano, 15-1; Mo Forza, Joel Rosario, 9-5; Neptune’s Storm, Abel Cedillo, 3-1; Kingly, Mario Gutierrez, 6-1; Proud Pedro, Tyler Baze, 15-1; Barristan The Bold, Javier Castellano, 12-1; Loafers Boy, Tiago Pereira, 50-1; and Bob and Jackie, Heriberto Figueroa, 6-1.
MIRAHMADI, RUNHAPPY, SANTA ANITA SOLID TRIO
Frank Mirahmadi not only has promptly found his niche as Santa Anita’s track announcer, he’s a perfect fit as its goodwill ambassador as well.
Rarely at a loss for words, the ebullient Mirahmadi greeted the sunrise on a wet and windy morning at Clockers’ Corner Thursday prior to doing an interview with Spectrum News One’s Kristen Lago set to air tonight at 5 p.m.
There are seven stakes races on Saturday’s opening day program, headed by the Grade I Runhappy Malibu, the Grade I La Brea, and the Grade I American Oaks.
The Malibu is sponsored by Runhappy, winner of the 2015 Malibu who ran medication-free prior to being voted that year’s Eclipse Award-winning sprinter. Jim McIngvale, popularly known as “Mattress Mack,” stands Runhappy at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky., where he owns some 75 percent of the stallion’s breeding rights, with a stud fee of $25,000.
Claiborne also stands super stud War Front, sire of Omaha Beach, Jon White’s 4-5 morning line favorite to win Saturday’s Malibu.
“When I flipped through the calendar we’re giving away on opening day, there were pictures of several horses that are running in Saturday’s stakes,” said Mirahmadi, whose passion for the game is unflagging. “That gives you an indication of the outstanding card (Vice President of Racing and Racing Secretary) Steve Lym and his staff has assembled.
“There’s a beautiful picture of Gift Box in a dramatic photo with McKinzie (winning the Santa Anita Handicap by a nose), and Bellafina, with her ears up.
“I called Runhappy’s win in the 2015 Malibu. That night, Mack’s group was celebrating at a steak house in Pasadena, and Bernie Sams of Claiborne Farm was in attendance. Mack showed me his socks which were bright yellow and that was an indication Claiborne Farm was the frontrunner to stand him.
“After Mr. McIngvale delivered the keynote speech at the University of Arizona’s symposium on racing earlier this month, he flew here to get a complete tour of Santa Anita. He absolutely loves Santa Anita Park and is proud to now be a huge sponsor.”
SANTA ANITA’S POPULAR WALL CALENDAR FREE ON OPENING DAY
A “must-have” among racegoers for decades, Santa Anita’s traditional wall calendar will be available free to all fans with paid admission on opening day Saturday. This year’s calendar will include racing highlights from the past 12 months and information about the California Retirement Management Account (CARMA), which is based at Santa Anita and assists retired racehorses in finding their next career and home.
CARMA, which operates largely on purse money which is designated by Thoroughbred owners, facilitates funding and networking for over 20 aftercare charities in addition to running a placement program serving horses that have competed at Santa Anita, Del Mar and Golden Gate Fields.
CARMA hosts a variety of fund raising events on a monthly basis, including Thoroughbred Classic Horse Shows, in which retired racehorses can compete against each other in multiple disciplines. CARMA also assists with aftercare awareness events and placement success stories.
Special first post time opening day is 11 a.m. and admission gates open at 9 a.m. For additional information, please visit santaanita.com or call (626) 574-RACE.
SANTA ANITA HOSTS CRAFT BEER & CIDER FESTIVAL OPENING DAY
In addition to world class racing and Santa Anita’s coveted traditional wall calendar on opening day, fans will be treated to some of the best brews and ciders in Southern California as the track stages it’s popular Craft Beer and Cider Trackside Festival as well.
Available to those 21 and over, the Opening Day Beer and Cider Festival will provide attendees with trackside seating and mouth-watering barbeque, provided by Meathead BBQ. The following packages are available at santaanita.com:
VIP PACKAGE ($55):
–Eight (3 oz.) Beer or Cider tastings
–3 oz. Tasting Cup
–One Signature BBQ Plate from Meathead BBQ
–$5 Wagering Voucher
–Access to Special VIP Trackside Seating
–Club House Admission
–Wagering Tip Sheet
–Access to Trackside and Grandstand Seating
GENERAL PACKAGE ($32):
–Eight (3 oz.) Beer or Cider Tastings
–3 oz. Tasting Cup
–$5 Wagering Voucher
–Club House Admission
–Wagering Tip Sheet
–Access to Trackside and Grandstand Seating Areas
Please note, children are welcome in trackside seating areas, but you must be 21 or over to purchase the package. Seating is not guaranteed.
For additional information regarding opening day and Santa Anita’s upcoming Winter Meet, please visit santaanita.com or call (626) 574-RACE.
FINISH LINES: Del Mar training king Richard Baltas has 10 horses entered on opening day, two each in the Lady of Shamrock Stakes and the Mathis Brothers Mile . . . Jockey Joel Rosario is named to ride in 10 of the 11 races on the card, the first 10 in a row, while Abel Cedillo is engaged in nine of the 11 races, five of his mounts drawing the extreme outside post positions, four of them in a row, in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth races . . . Zuma Beach winner Hit the Road, last seen in the Cecil B. DeMille at Del Mar, is being freshened by trainer Dan Blacker with a spring return to the races in mind . . . Jockey Aaron Gryder braved wet, wintry conditions early this morning at Clockers’ Corner and shared his thoughts on Santa Anita’s run-up to opening day with Spectrum News . . . With temperatures in the high 30s, dawn’s early light revealed snow at about the 1,500-foot range in the nearby San Gabriel Mountains.