Opening day at Santa Anita went as well one could have hoped when it came to the racing. There were fast times, large fields and most importantly, every horse came back safe and sound.
The track was lightning quick (as expected) and fast times were abound. After the first couple of races were the jockeys were feeling out the track (and riding the race like they would on the synthetic), the 4th race featured a blowout winner and maybe a future star in The Factor. He was massively hyped before his first race (down to a ridiculous 60/1 on the Kentucky Derby future books) before running off the board. He came back with a vengeance on Sunday, setting a track record for 6 furlongs. While his pedigree doesn't exactly scream a mile and a quarter, as of now, he has a tremendous upside.
After that sparkling performance, the stakes action kicked off with the Cal Breeders Champions Stakes. Heavy favorite Arresting Officer failed to run to his odds, as he was upset by Thirtyfirststreet. This Cal-bred son of freshman sire Good Journey rallied from well off the pace for the victory. Past winners have gone on to graded stakes glory, such as Preakness winner Snow Chief, multiple grade 1 winner General Challenge, both who won this race on their way to Santa Anita Derby glory, and multiple grade 1 wins after that. The winner's pedigree says that the distance will not be a problem for the SA Derby, but is the horse fast enough? The time was good, not great, for the 7 furlong distance (1:22:20). Not overly fast (compared to most of the card), but a good building block race nonetheless.
The graded stakes action kicked off with the Grade 1 La Brea. Switch came off of a strong 2nd place finish in the BC F&M Sprint in her last race. The trainer of Champagne D'Oro had been talking her up all week, and she definitely looked the part in the paddock. Malibu Pier was the buzz horse all week. But Switch turned the lights off on the field with a scintillating run to win the race by 4 widening lengths. Malibu Pier rallied for second and Champagne D'Oro finished well, well back. Her time (1:20:33) was just three tenths of the then track record, and was a harbinger for what was to come later on in the card. Switch's connections now face an interesting dilemma on what her next race will be. She could continue in the La Canada series and go next in the Grade 2 El Encino S. on 1/16, or she could stay at the distance and run in the Grade 1 Santa Monica H. on 1/30. A tough decision indeed.
In the next race, a scratched down field of five ran in the Grade 3 Sir Beaufort S. (could be reinstated back at Grade 2 depending on the GSC), which was run on the main track instead of the turf. Sidney's Candy was the heavy favorite, appeared to be the lone speed in the race, and just blew the doors off his opponents early, winning in wire-to-wire fashion. Now, while the win was visually impressive, Sidney was beating up on a field who would struggle to compete against grade 3 competition. All this race reinforced is that when Sidney is given a clear lead, he will kick on. Now, when he faces a field filled with other quality speed.pressers, can he hang on? Or will he fold quickly?
The last graded stakes race on the card was the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes. Alcindor was the hype horse, who only had two starts but did them in style. Smiling Tiger came off a 3rd in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and was looking to lock down Eclipse Award finalist status in both the Sprint and 3yo male divisions. Twirling Candy (pictured) was looking to rebound after a disastrous run in his previous start. Noble's Promise invaded from the east and would go off favored. Smiling Tiger harangued Alcindor through the first half-mile and put him away turning for home. ST dug deep, trying to hold on, but Twirling Candy loomed up and just went by him in the final few strides. In the process, they both broke Spectacular Bid's 30 year old track record. This blog is the first to admit that the track was blazing fast, and if Bid had run on it, he might have gone 1:19 flat. Still, don't take away from the effort that these two horses put up in the race. Twirling Candy looks to be a force to be reckoned with in the older male division, and he is dangerous on both dirt and turf.
What did we learn on opening day? Speed, especially run-away-and-hide speed, can and will be a usable tool once again in Southern California; Switch looks to be a major contender to vacated older female throne; Twirling Candy is a fast horse; and maybe, just maybe, we saw the arrival of a future superstar. Now let's hope the rest of the meet is this good...
P.S. This post was delayed due to computer issues, and I apologize for its tardiness.