Santa Anita Park, nestled under the majestic San Gabriel Mountains in southern California, will host a live race meeting for the 80th time on Monday, Dec. 26, the traditional opening day date for the Great Race Place’s signature Winter Meet. The uncharacteristic wet weather that hit the Arcadia, California, area early Christmas Eve is expected to clear out by Monday and the day is expected to provide dry conditions with cooler afternoon highs in the low 60s.
A total of 58 stakes races will be offered over the next six months at Santa Anita, led by the $1 million Santa Anita Derby (GI) on April 8, a last-stop for California-based sophomores looking to secure a spot in the coveted Kentucky Derby (GI) gate, and the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap (GI) for older handicap stars, a 1 ¼-mile event which has been scheduled for March 11. Overall 17 winners of the Santa Anita Derby have gone on to wear the garland of roses in Louisville on the first Saturday in May, the most recent being 2104 winner California Chrome, who has earned Horse of the Year honors and since became North America’s richest racehorse of all time.
A talent-packed nine-race card featuring four graded stakes will await fans on opening day, with a pair of Grade I, $300,000 races at seven furlongs – the Malibu Stakes (GI) for 3-year-old colts and geldings and the La Brea Stakes (GI) for 3-year-old fillies. Additionally, the $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile (GIIT) and the $100,000 San Simeon Handicap (GIIIT) at 6 ½ furlongs down the hillside turf course round out the day’s graded stakes action.
A total of 72 days of live racing will be conducted on a mainly Thursday-through-Sunday schedule through April 9 and will be followed by the Spring Meet, which will run from April 14 through July. Post time for the first week of racing through the new year will be 12:30 p.m. every day, followed by 1:00 p.m. on weekdays and 12:30 p.m. on weekends, with the exception of Super Bowl Sunday, holidays and into spring when post times on weekends are pushed back to accommodate the increasing Southern California temperatures.
Racing fans also will be offered a comprehensive pari-mutuel betting menu that includes an enhanced Pick Six with a single-ticket jackpot component. Seventy percent of the pool will continue to be paid out to those with six winners, and the same 70 percent will be carried over in the event there are no tickets with six winners. Consolation tickets will now be paid with 15 percent of the remaining pool, while the remaining 15 percent will be allocated for a separate “jackpot,” which will be paid in the event of a single winning ticket. On a mandatory payout day, consolation payoffs will be made just as they ordinarily would on any other racing day.
Santa Anita will also continue to offer the nation’s lowest major-track takeout of 15.43 percent on win, place and show wagers, as well as the popular $.50 Players Pick Five, $1 exactas, $1 trifectas, $2 rolling daily doubles, rolling $1 pick threes, early and late $.50 cent pick fours, a $1 super high five and $.10 superfectas.
Additional wagering opportunities for the meet are:
- $500,000 guaranteed Late Pick 4 each weekend (excluding Sunday, February 5).
- $300,000 guaranteed Late Pick 4 each weekday.
- $100,000 guaranteed Pick 6 each weekend.
- The $.50 cent Players Pick 5, comprised of races one through five, the Pick Five features a low takeout of 14 percent.
If no one correctly selects all five winners, 100 percent of the net pool is carried over to the next racing day.
Opening Day Stakes Action
The sixth race on opening day, the San Simeon Handicap, kicks off the day’s $.50 all-stakes pick four and in the 6 ½-furlong turf event, 14 older downhill specialists are expected to go postward, including lukewarm 9-2 choice Holy Lute off a sixth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (GIT) seven weeks ago. The nearly 7-year-old son of Midnight Lute is especially fond of the unique grass course, having logged a record of 10-2-4-0 at the disance, including the Eddie D. Stakes (GIIIT) in late September. He drew a favorable post for the course in number 12 and the Jim Cassidy-trained gray will again carry jockey Jamie Theriot.
Richard’s Boy has only one off-the-board finish in six starts on the downhill, with two wins, and is the early 5-1 second choice. Victor Epsinoza will ride the Rockingham Ranch-owned son of Idiot Proof for trainer Peter Miller and the pair will break from post eight. Other notable runners for the San Simeon include German Group 3 winner Drummer in his second American start, South American import Ohio, multiple California-bred stakes winner Acceptance, former claimer He Will riding a two-race win streak, and Bettys Bambino, who hasn’t raced in nearly 11 months but owns a graded win over the course from 2014. Post time for the San Simeon has been set at 2:31 p.m. PT.
Eight will go postward in the seventh, the co-featured La Brea Stakes, and the early favorite is Head of Plains Partners LLC and Little Red Feather Racing’s Lightstream, who won the Lexus Raven Run Stakes (GII) at Keeneland in mid-October at this seven-furlong distance. The daughter of Harlan’s Holiday has never finished worse than third in her six-race career and sits as the runner to beat.
Finley’sluckycharm ships in from Churchill Downs carrying a three-race win skein into her first start in Grade I company. The Bret Calhoun-trained daughter of Twirling Candy is accomplished at six furlongs and under, but if she runs the same race as she did to win the Dream Supreme Stakes last month she should be a serious threat to reach the wire in front. The La Brea field is expected to leave the gate at 3:01 p.m. PT.
The main event on the opening day card Monday is the Malibu, which has been carded as the eighth race, and a field of 10 talented sophomore sprinters is expected to line up and face the starter before racing seven furlongs. The early favorite, Mind Your Biscuits, will lead the field to the gate in his first start since a third-place finish (second after the post-race disqualification of runner-up Masochistic) in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) seven weeks ago. The Head of Plains Partners and Summers-owned speedster, who is trained by Robert Falcone Jr., is nothing if not consistent with his worst performance producing a fifth-place finish in the King’s Bishop Stakes last summer. He remained in California after the Breeders’ Cup to prep for this race and has looked exceptional in the mornings, making him a tough customer at what will likely be a short price. The innermost post position out of the chute at the distance is a bit of a concern, but as a later runner, he should be able to let the speed go in front of him and sit comfortably under jockey Joel Rosario until he’s ready to make his move.
Grade I winner Mor Sprit spent most of this fall as capable workmate to Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner Arrogate, but that’s not to indicate he’s not an amazing talent in his own right. He hasn’t raced since a 10th-place finish in the May 7 Kentucky Derby, but before that he won three races (including a Grade I) and was second four other times from seven races. After a nice, long break he’s been a standout in his morning works and trainer Bob Baffert is confident the Michael Lund Peterson-owned son of Eskedereya is well-suited to the seven furlongs under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.
With the absence of Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) hero Drefong due to a slight fever, Baffert will also tighten the girth on Hal and Patti Earnhart’s Ten Blessings for the Malibu. The lightly raced, handsome son of Smart Strike makes his stakes debut off a 4 ¾-length romp in a seven-furlong allowance race on Breeders’ Cup Friday and has been training lights-out over the surface since. Top jockey Rafael Bejarano is back after battling a hand/wrist injury since the Breeders’ Cup, and the pair will be tough from their post position of three, wearing the number four saddle towel.
Post time for the Malibu has been scheduled for 3:30 p.m. PT.
The final stakes race on the card is the day’s nightcap and in the Mathis Brothers Mile, 11 are set to race the one-mile distance over Santa Anita’s turf. The early favorite is Looch Racing, Imaginary Stables and Raquel Ritchie’s Conquest Enforcer. Recently purchased for $750,000 out of the Keeneland November sale, the Into Mischief colt makes his California debut as well as his first start for trainer Phil D’Amato. He’s consistent and has a nice record of 7-4-2-0 so far in his career with all but one of his victories completed over the turf. He appears to have acclimated to the Southern California weather well judging by his nice workout pattern all month (including a bullet five furlongs in :59 on Dec. 19) and will be in capable hands under jockey Flavien Prat.
Reddam Racing’s Frank Conversation won the Twilight Derby (GIIIT) on Breeders’ Cup Friday in impressive fashion, then was third in the Hollywood Derby (GIT) at Del Mar earlier this month. If the Doug O’Neill trainee runs to his Twilight Derby form, he will be a tough customer from his preferred early spot sitting well of the pace. Post time for the Mathis Brothers Mile will be at 4:01 p.m. PT.