Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif.
The only graded stakes in North America this weekend fall on Santa Anita’s traditional day after Christmas opening day, when the Arcadia, Calif., track unwraps six graded stakes on an 11-race card that gets under way at 11 a.m. Pacific/2 p.m. Eastern.
Three of the six stakes are G1: the Runhappy Malibu for 3-year-olds going seven furlongs on dirt, the La Brea for 3-year-old fillies going the same distance, and the American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/4 miles on turf in a race scheduled to begin on the reopened Santa Anita downhill turf course.
New to the expansive Santa Anita betting menu is a special opening day mid-pick 4 wager offered on races five through eight and featuring a 50-cent minimum. The bet will be offered on days when 11 races are carded.
Following Sunday’s opening-day program, Santa Anita will offer a special nine-race Monday card that kicks off with a 12 noon PT first post.
While Santa Anita’s day after Christmas opening is the gift many horseplayers and fans have been waiting for, there is non-graded stakes action on Sunday at Laurel Park in Maryland, Florida’s Gulfstream Park and Fair Grounds in New Orleans, La.
Here’s a brief preview of Santa Anita’s opening day graded stakes:
4:08 p.m. ET – G2 San Gabriel Stakes at Santa Anita
The fifth race on the card, the San Gabriel will see Dan Blacker-trained Hit the Road, a More Than Ready colt who earlier this year won the G1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes at Santa Anita going one mile, stretch out to nine furlongs for the first time. Umberto Rispoli, a perfect three-for-three aboard Hit the Road, will be back aboard the 4-year-old colt after Florent Geroux handled him in his last four starts. Look for Michael McCarthy-trained Friar’s Road to be flying late under Jose Ortiz, who traveled west to ride several horses for McCarthy on the opening day card. The Quality Road colt has yet to win a stakes but was third, beaten a head, in the G2 John Henry Turf Championship Stakes two starts back at Santa Anita.
San Gabriel entries
4:40 p.m. – San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita
G1 Pennsylvania Derby winner Hot Rod Charlie was not disgraced when fourth behind likely Horse of the Year Knicks Go in his first try against older horses in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar on Nov. 6. He’s the heavy morning line favorite in the San Antonio under regular rider Flavien Prat, and trainer Doug O’Neill is removing blinkers from the Oxbow colt’s equipment after they were added for the Breeders’ Cup. Kiss Today Goodbye defends his San Antonio title for trainer Eric Kruljac and Bob Baffert has two runners – Eight Rings and Azul Coast – in the field of seven.
San Antonio entries
5:12 p.m. – Santa Anita Mathis Brothers Mile Stakes
With Hit the Road opting to stretch out in the San Gabriel, the Mathis Brothers Mile came up a very competitive race, with Del Mar’s G1 Hollywood Derby upset winner Beyond Brilliant the 5-2 morning line favorite for trainer John Shirreffs and jockey Kent Desormeaux. Du Jour is the second choice at 3-1 on the morning line for trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Flavien Prat. The Temple City colt is two-for-two over the Santa Anita turf, breaking his maiden and adding an allowance win there earlier this year. He also won the G2 American Turf Stakes on Kentucky Derby day at Churchill Downs.
Santa Anita Mathis Brothers Mile entries
5:44 p.m. – La Brea Stakes at Santa Anita
Private Mission threw down ridiculously fast fractions before hitting the wall on the stretch turn and finishing last in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff going 1 1/8 miles at Del Mar. The Into Mischief filly trained by Bob Baffert showed the ability to win against good company going two turns in the G2 Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita in October, but she might find the elongated seven-furlong sprint distance even more to her liking here. The 8-5 morning line favorite will be ridden by Flavien Prat. None of the other six fillies have faced as tough a competition as Private Mission has, though the other Baffert filly in the line-up, Kalypso, did win the G2 Santa Ynez over the same distance at Santa Anita last January.
La Brea entries
6:49 p.m. – Runhappy Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita
How good is Flightline? The Tapit colt earned respective Beyer Speed Figures of 105 and 114 while winning his first two starts by a combined 18 lengths – a maiden race at Santa Anita in April and a Sept. 5 allowance race at Del Mar – but this will be the first stakes test for the John Sadler runner. The $1-million Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling purchase hasn’t missed a beat in his training and gets leading West Coast rider Flavien Prat, also the regular rider of Dr. Schivel, the second choice in the morning line for the Malibu. Dr. Schivel, who lost the G1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint by a nose to Aloha West, always brings his “A” game, and the Mark Glatt-trained colt by Violence figures to be right in the thick of things. Rising Southern California star Juan Hernandez, who rode Dr. Schivel to a maiden victory in 2020, will be aboard. An interesting wild card is Baby Yoda, a Bill Mott-trained invader from the East who received a 114 Beyer Speed Figure for an allowance race win at Saratoga on Sept. 4 the day before Flightline won at Del Mar. He’s had two disappointing runs since then but gets Jose Ortiz back aboard.
Runhappy Malibu entries
7:20 p.m. – American Oaks at Santa Anita
It’s impossible to overlook Going Global’s perfect four-for-four record over the Santa Anita turf course or her overall mark of seven wins in 11 starts. The five-time graded stakes winner is one of two Phil D’Amato runners in the line-up for the American Oaks, which begins midway down the hillside turf course and takes one lap around the infield oval. Michael McCarthy has four entered in the 11-horse Oaks field, none of them stakes winners but all capable of improvement. The best of his quartet might be Nicest, an Irish-bred daughter of American Pharoah who was good third in the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot in June and third in the G1 Irish Oaks a month later. She will have John Velazquez aboard for her third U.S. stakes try. Two other shippers, Chad Brown-trained Fluffy Socks, a two-time graded stakes winner, and Victoria Oliver-trained Core Values, make the American Oaks a challenging race to handicap.
American Oaks entries
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