Santa Anita Meet Kicks Off With Six Graded Stakes

Santa Anita

Santa Anita hosts six graded stakes on opening day on Dec. 26. (Photo credit: © Cheryl Quigley |

With Opening Day entries for a mega 11-race card taken, the holiday table is set for Santa Anita’s traditional Winter/Spring Meeting, which opens this Sunday. A total of six graded stakes will headline a day of world class racing with special early first post time at 11 a.m.

Admission gates will open at 9 a.m. and three Grade I stakes, the $300,000 Runhappy Malibu, the $300,0000 La Brea and the $300,000 American Oaks, along with the Grade II, $200,000 San Antonio, the Grade II, $200,000 Mathis Mile and the Grade II, $200,000 San Gabriel Stakes, will all figure prominently throughout the day.

Flightline Headlines Malibu

Unbeaten in two starts by a combined 26 lengths, John Sadler’s freakishly good Flightline makes his stakes debut as he faces six sophomores going seven furlongs in Santa Anita’s traditional Opening Day headliner, the Grade I, $300,000 Runhappy Malibu Stakes on Sunday.

A heartbreak nose loser of the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Del Mar Nov. 6, Mark Glatt’s Dr. Schivel, who had been unbeaten in three starts this year, will try to make his case for Eclipse Sprinter of the year honors as he seeks his third career Grade I victory. Throw in Bob Baffert’s Triple Tap, who like Flightline, is unbeaten in two starts and making his first stakes appearance, and Runhappy Malibu appears to have the makings of an instant classic.

A bay colt by Tapit out of the Indian Charlie mare Feathered, Flightline earned a 105 Beyer Speed Figure in his six furlong debut here on April 24, a race he won by 13 ¼ lengths. Idle until Sept. 5, Sadler turned him loose in a six furlong allowance at Del Mar, a race he won by 12 ¾ lengths and in which he earned an astronomical 114 Beyer.

In what is no doubt a resounding endorsement, Flavien Prat, Santa Anita’s Winter/Spring Riding champ three out of the past five years, has opted to stick with Flightline over both Dr. Schivel and Triple Tap. Owned by Hronis Racing, LLC, West Point Thoroughbreds, Summer Wind Equine, LLC, Siena Racing, LLC and Woodford Racing, LLC, Flightline, who was bred in Kentucky by Summer Wind Equine and fetched $1 million as a Fasig-Tipton New York Saratoga Select Yearling in 2019, will no doubt be the focus of the racing world on Sunday.

Seven Line up in San Gabriel

Trainer Dan Blacker’s Grade I winning Hit the Road figures prominently in Sunday’s Grade II, $200,000 San Gabriel Stakes as a field of seven 3-year-olds and up go a mile and one eighth on turf. The San Gabriel, one of six graded stakes on an 11-race Opening Day card, will be run for the 74th time. Special early first post time on Sunday is at 11 a.m., with admission gates opening at 9 a.m.

A winner of Santa Anita’s Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile four starts back on March 6, Hit the Road, a 4-year-old colt by More Than Ready, has been winless since, but he comes off a pair of close third place finishes in graded stakes competition, most recently the Grade II City of Hope Mile (turf) here on Oct. 2, in which he was beaten a half length.

Owned by D K Racing, LLC and Radley Equine, Inc., Taste of Victory Stables, Rick Gold, Tony Maslowski and Dave Odmark, Hit the Road, a four-time stakes winner, has run in 11 consecutive one mile turf races and will be trying a mile and one eighth for the first time.

Ridden by midwestern-based Florent Geroux in his last four starts, Hit the Road will be reunited with Umberto Rispoli, who is a perfect three for three with him. With an overall mark of 12-6-0-2, Hit the Road has earnings of $563,751.

Hot Rod Charlie Looks Tough in San Antonio

One of America’s most consistent and talented 3-year-olds throughout 2021, Hot Rod Charlie heads a field of seven three year olds and up in Sunday’s Grade II, $200,000 San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita. An iconic prep to the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap, the San Antonio will be run for the 84th time and is one of six graded stakes on a blockbuster 11-race Opening Day program.

Most recently fourth, beaten 4 ½ lengths by presumptive Horse of the Year Knicks Go in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic Nov. 6, Hot Rod Charlie has been a gem of consistency, while on occasion very unlucky, for O’Neill. A handy winner of the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby two starts back on Sept. 25, he was disqualified from a hard fought nose victory three starts back in the Grade I Haskell Invitational.

A massive second, beaten 1 ¼ lengths by A-Lister Essential Quality in the Grade I Belmont Stakes June 5, he was a troubled third, beaten one length by Medina Spirit in the Grade I Kentucky Derby five starts back on May 1.

Hot Rod Charlie Was Fourth in Classic

A winner of the Grade II Louisiana Derby in his second start of the year on March 20, Hot Rod Charlie is 7-2-1-2 on the year, with 2021 earnings of $2,087,500. Owned by Boat Racing, LLC, Gainesway Stable (Antony Beck), Roadrunner Racing & William Strauss, Hot Rod Charlie will reportedly use the San Antonio as a prep to the Group I Dubai World Classic in March.

Freshened since running third to Medina Spirit in the Grade I Awesome Again Stakes Oct. 2, C R K Stable’s Express Train has been in the money in six out of his seven career starts at Santa Anita and rates a big chance off the bench. Trained by John Shirreffs, Express Train’s last win came three starts back in the Grade II San Diego Handicap on July 17. With an overall mark of 14-4-4-3, this 4-year-old colt by Union Rags has earnings of $695,800.

Mathis Mile Draws Field of Nine

Trainer John Shirreffs’ Beyond Brilliant and Bob Baffert’s Du Jour head a field of nine sophomores going a mile on turf in Sunday’s Grade II, $200,000 Santa Anita Mathis Mile, one of six graded stakes on an 11-race Opening Day card at The Great Race Place.

In what was the best race of his career, Beyond Brilliant controlled the pace throughout en route to taking the Grade I Hollywood Derby at a mile and one eighth on turf Nov. 27 at Del Mar. Off at 10-1 in a field of 14, Beyond Brilliant, who was a close third two starts back in the Grade II Twilight Derby here on Oct. 31, has now won two out of his last three races–all with Kent Desormeaux, who rides back on Sunday.

A bay colt by Twirling Candy, Beyond Brilliant is owned by Lee and Susan Searing’s C R K Stable LLC and is 9-3-2-2 with earnings of $381,280.

Originally trained by Baffert, Du Jour was sent to trainer Bill Mott to run in the Grade I Belmont Derby July 10, a race in which he finished fourth. Subsequently third in the Grade I Saratoga Derby Aug. 7, he was most recently a dull eighth as the 9-5 favorite in the ungraded Dueling Downs Derby going 1 5/16 miles on turf Sept. 5 at Kentucky Downs. Following that race, Du Jour was returned to Baffert at Santa Anita and the bay colt by Temple City has a series of six drills, all on Santa Anita’s inner training track, for his return.

Twin Creeks Racing’s homebred Law Professor comes off a sharp off the pace win in a first condition allowance going one mile on turf Nov. 27 at Del Mar and appears to have found a home on the grass. Trained by Michael McCarthy, this gelding by Constitution earned an 85 Beyer in his most recent start and should get a lively pace to run at on Sunday.

Private Mission Goes in La Brea

Two-time graded stakes winner Private Mission cuts back in distance and heads a field of seven sophomore fillies going seven furlongs in Sunday’s Grade I, $300,000 La Brea Stakes at Santa Anita. One of six graded stakes, three of them Grade I’s, the La Brea will no doubt command considerable attention on Santa Anita’s Winter Spring Opening Day card, which is comprised of 11 races. With admission gates opening at 9 a.m., first post time on Sunday is at 11 a.m.

Although she showed good early speed, Private Mission tired badly to be distanced by 37 ¼ lengths at odds of 10-1 in her most recent start, the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Distaff at a mile and one eighth on Nov. 6. A two-time winner sprinting, Private Mission, who is trained by Bob Baffert, was on a three-game roll heading into the Breeders’ Cup, having won the Grade II Zenyatta Stakes here on Oct. 3 and the Grade III Torrey Pines at Del Mar Aug. 21.

Private Mission Wins Zenyatta

Buy red-hot sire Into Mischief, Private Mission is owned by Baoma Corporation and will be ridden for the fourth consecutive time by Flavien Prat. A first-out winner sprinting at two, Private Mission has four wins from six starts and has earnings of $256,800.

Competitive Field Lines Up in American Oaks

A winner of six out of her seven stateside starts, all this year, trainer Phil D’Amato’s Irish-bred Going Global looms a standout among 11 sophomore fillies going a mile and one quarter on turf in Sunday’s Grade I, $300,000 American Oaks at Santa Anita. One of three Grade I stakes and six Graded events, the American Oaks has been slotted as the final race on a big 11-race card with first post time at 11 a.m.

A winner of her last two starts, the Grade II Goldikova Stakes at one mile on turf Nov. 6 and the Grade I Del Mar Oaks at a mile and one eighth on turf Aug. 21, Going Global has bagged a total of five graded wins for D’Amato in what has been a truly sensational year.

Although she’s in top form, Going Global has never tackled a mile and quarter, so that remains a question with regular rider Flavien Prat set to ride her for the eighth consecutive time. A winner of one of four starts in her native Ireland, Going Global, who is owned by CYBT, Michael Dubb, Saul Gevertz, Michael Nentwig and Ray Pagano, has seven wins from 11 starts and earnings of $648,792.

Trained by Chad Brown, eastern-based Fluffy Socks comes off a neck win going a mile and one eighth on turf at Belmont Park in the Grade II Sands Point Stakes on Oct. 16 and will be ridden on Sunday for the first time by Mike Smith. Raced exclusively on turf through 10 starts, she has four wins, three seconds and one third place finish but will also be trying a mile and one quarter for the first time. Based at Belmont Park, she has a pair of half mile works over Santa Anita’s main track, most recently, a half in 47.60 on Dec. 19.

Forwardly placed throughout, trainer Michael McCarthy’s Irish-bred Nicest finished third, beaten a half length going a mile and three eighths on turf in Del Mar’s Grade III Red Carpet Handicap Nov. 25 and has the look of a long-fused filly that will appreciate the Oaks distance. Owned by Katsumi Yoshida, Nicest will be making her second start for McCarthy and third in America when ridden for the first time by John Velazquez on Sunday.

In addition to Going Global, D’Amato will also be well represented by Irish-bred Burgoo Alley who has been freshened since taking the Grade III Autumn Miss Stakes here at one mile on turf Oct. 30. Attentive to the pace in all six of her stateside starts both sprinting and at middle distances, she’ll be trying a mile and one quarter for the first time with regular rider Umberto Rispoli. Owned by CYBT, Michael Nentwig and Ray Pagano, Burgoo Alley is 9-3-2-1 overall and has two wins from four tries over the Santa Anita lawn.




NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll

No. Horse Points
1 Flightline 351
2 Life Is Good 306
3 Olympiad 292
4 Jackie's Warrior 282
5 Clairiere 142
5 Country Grammer 142
7 Epicenter 121
8 Regal Glory 89
9 Nest 87
10 Hot Rod Charlie 48
As of August 1, 2022

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