Santa Anita Park kicks off its annual winter/spring season on a Tuesday this year and while the actual date for opening day of the highly anticipated season remains the same, a lot has changed at the Great Race Place for her 81st season of thoroughbred racing. A total of 62 stakes, including nine Grade 1s, are on tap during the 60-day meeting, which concludes on April 8.
The 2017-2018 stakes schedule is rich with Kentucky Derby (GI) prep races as well. Led by the $1 million Santa Anita Derby (GI), which is worth 100 Road-to-the-Kentucky-Derby points to the winner, on closing day, the list of sophomore preps also includes the Jan. 6 Sham Stakes (GIII), worth 10 points to the winner, the Feb. 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GII), also worth 10 points to the winner, and the March 10 San Felipe Stakes (GII), which guarantees 50 Kentucky Derby points to the winner.
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 is a two-time Horse of the Year and was once North America’s richest racehorse of all time.
This year, the historic Santa Anita Handicap will be worth $600,000 and the 1 ¼-mile event has been scheduled for March 10. Since its inception in 1935 during the Southern California track’s inaugural season, the winner’s list for the signature event is nothing short of legendary. Seabiscuit captured the 1940 renewal after falling just short in his two previous attempts. Round Table, Prove It, Lucky Debonair, Ack Ack, Triple Bend, Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, Broad Brush, Alysheba, Best Pal, Free House and Shared Belief are just some of the other names to have reached the storied winner’s circle. But perhaps the best known victors are two-time heroes John Henry, Milwaukee Brew and Lava Man, as well as three-time winner Game On Dude.
Post time for the first two days of racing will be noon, followed by 1:00 p.m. most weekdays and 12:30 p.m. on Mondays that feature racing and weekends, with some exceptions.
Racegoers also will be offered a new, fan-friendly comprehensive pari-mutuel betting menu for the winter/spring meeting. In addition to a $1 million guaranteed late pick-4 pool on opening day, an extra 50-cent pick-5 and rolling $1 super high-five wagers will be available. Santa Anita’s single-ticket pick-6 jackpot will remain in place, as will the popular 50-cent early pick-5, which offers a low 14-percent takeout on the first five races each day.
Santa Anita will also continue to offer a takeout of 15.43 percent on win, place and show wagers — the lowest for any major track. The betting menu also will continue to offer $1 exactas, $2 rolling daily doubles, $1 rolling pick-3s, an early and late 50-cent pick-4, as well as 10-cent superfectas.
Additional wagering opportunities for the meet are:
- Two separate 50-cent pick-5s, to be offered on the first and last five races each day.
- Rolling $1 super high-fives. This wager requires bettors to correctly select the first five finishers in each race (minimum of eight runners). If no one selects the top five finishers in exact order, 100 percent of the net pool carries over to the next race featuring the super high-five.
- $500,000 guaranteed late pick-4 each weekend.
- $300,000 guaranteed late pick-4 each weekday.
- $100,000 guaranteed $2 pick-6 each weekend.
- $2 win, place and show wagering on each race, featuring the lowest takeout (15.43 percent) of any major racetrack in the nation.
- 50-cent trifectas on each race (minimum of four runners required).
- 10-cent superfectas will be offered on all races (minimum of six horses scheduled to start).
- $1 exactas on each race.
- $2 pick-6 with a single-ticket jackpot will be offered on the final six races each day.
- The 50-cent early pick-4 will cover races two, three, four and five each day.
- The late pick-4 will cover the final four races on each card.
- Rolling $2 daily doubles, which feature a 20-percent takeout.
- $1 rolling pick-3s will be offered beginning with the first race each day.
Perhaps the most exciting new innovations related to the upcoming racing season benefits everyone — horsemen, handicappers and fans. In an effort to stimulate entries and boost pari-mutuel handle, Santa Anita has made some major changes to the condition book.
This meet, the usual “restricted” maiden special weight races for two- and three-year-olds will be available, but with a twist. These races will now be available to homebreds, as well as horses that have been sold at public auction for $100,000 or less. Plus, purses on all maiden special weight races — restricted or otherwise — will remain the same. Additionally, restricted claiming races of $20,000 or less, for 3-year-olds and up, will be offered exclusively to trainers who have 20 stalls or less.
Tuesday’s opening day card features nine races, including four graded stakes and the signature opening-day races — the La Brea Stakes for fillies and the Malibu Stakes for sophomore colts and geldings. Both are Grade 1 affairs.
Eastern invaders Favorable Outcome and C Z Rocket head a wide-open field of nine sophomores in the $300,000 Malibu, which has been carded as the day’s eighth race and is set to leave the gate at 3:30 p.m. PT.
The Chad Brown-trained Favorable Outcome comes off a recent victory in a 6 ½-furlong allowance at Aqueduct on Nov. 26. The winner of the Swale Stakes (GII) at Gulfstream Park earlier this year, the son of Flatter has a win and a third-place finish in two starts at this seven-furlong distance.
Undefeated Florida-bred C Z Rocket ships in off a recent 2-length score in a Churchill Downs allowance race and makes his first start against stakes company here. The Al Stall Jr.-trained son of City Zip, who was an expensive $800,000 2-year-old in training purchase, has found a good spot to test the tougher waters. Regular jockey Jose Lezcano will be in town to ride.
The locals are well represented and they are led by Donegal Racing’s Irish Freedom. The Bob Baffert-trained colt by Pioneerof the Nile was second last out in the Native Diver Stakes (GIII) on Nov. 25 and will cut back in distance off of five consecutive two-turn events. Baffert’s go-to rider, Mike Smith, will be aboard.
Baffert will also tighten the girth on Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum’s Dabster, who would carry two wins at this seven-furlong distance, but was disqualified from victory in his first start of the year. The son of Curlin, who was a $1 million 2-year-old in training purchase, has actually crossed the wire in front in all three of his career races and won a nice seven-furlong allowance at Del Mar in his last start on Nov. 3. Flavien Prat will be back aboard after their win together last time and have landed in a good spot to try stakes company for the first time.
Others set for the Malibu include stakes winners Edwards Going Left, Heartwood and Grade 3 winner Pavel.
Eight fillies are set to run in the La Brea Stakes (GI), led by multiple Grade 1 winner Paradise Woods. The daughter of Union Rags has won three of four career starts over the Santa Anita Park main track — including her two biggest career scores in the Santa Anita Oaks (GI) and Zenyatta Stakes (GI) — and returns after a little rest following a strong third-place showing in the Nov. 3 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI). She cuts back in distance for Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, but it’s hard to argue with the veteran conditioner’s choices and she will be tough under regular jockey Flavien Prat.
Unique Bella returns to her favorite track after faltering badly to finish seventh as the even-money favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1). She was the biggest thing in racing, aside from Arrogate, in the spring and, after injury sent her to the sidelines for several months, her highly anticipated return to the elite level was a little disappointing. We know she’s better than her last and if she returns to previous form, she will be dangerous for the win. Mike Smith returns in the saddle for fellow Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer.
Bayoma Corporation’s Faypein already has a win at this seven-furlong distance here at Santa Anita, breaking her maiden in her second start back in April. The now stakes-winning Florida-bred daughter of Ghostzapper was second in the Test Stakes (GI) and again in the Beverly Lewis Stakes, but has now been off a while after a fresheining and working well for her return. Drayden Van Dyke rides for trainer Bob Baffert.
Grade 2 winner Miss Sunset returns off a two-month break after taking the Raven Run Stakes (GII) at Keeneland in October. If the California-bred multiple stakes winner by Into Mischief shows the same form here, she is dangerous for the upset for trainer Jeff Bonde. She’s been working well and Julien Leparoux will be in town to ride and lead the field to post.
Others set for the La Brea are recent allowance winner Marley’s Freedom, who will have Hall of Famer Javier Casellano aboard, and stakes winners Princess Karen and Mopotism.
The La Brea is the seventh race and carries a post time of 3:00 p.m. PT.
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.
She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law in Kentucky known as the “Borell Law.”Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time.She lives in Robinson, Texas, with her longtime beau, Tony. She is the executive director of the 501(c)(3) non-profit horse rescue, The Bridge Sanctuary.