ARCADIA, Calif. (Dec. 14, 2015)–America’s top jockeys, including recent Triple Crown champion Victor Espinoza and all-time Breeders’ Cup leader Mike Smith will again be center stage when Santa Anita Park opens for its 79th Winter Meeting on Saturday, Dec. 26. The Great Race Place will open with a bang, as it will present four graded stakes, highlighted by a pair of Grade I stakes–the Malibu and La Brea, the day after Christmas.
In addition to Espinoza and Smith, Hall of Famers Gary Stevens, Kent Desormeaux and Alex Solis will again be full-time members of Santa Anita’s exclusive jockey colony.
Additionally, Peruvian sensation Rafael Bejarano, who notched his 24th Southern California riding title at the recently concluded Bing Crosby Meet at Del Mar, will be seeking his seventh Winter Meet title and will compete on a daily basis alongside other top riders such as Joe Talamo, Martin Garcia, Corey Nakatani, Tyler Baze, Martin Pedroza, Mario Gutierrez, Flavien Prat, Santiago Gonzalez, James Graham, Drayden Van Dyke and others.
Espinoza, 43, followed up his Triple Crown run with the Bob Baffert-trained American Pharoah by guiding the son of Pioneerof the Nile to a sensational win in his career finale–the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Oct. 31. “Pharoah” provided Espinoza with his third career win in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, fueling media exposure that far transcended the confines of American racing. Proclaiming himself “The luckiest Mexican on earth,” following his Derby win on over-the-air NBC, Espinoza became a household word by virtue of multiple national television appearances on shows such as “Good Morning America,” “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” and “Dancing With the Stars.”
Blessed with tremendous natural ability, Bejarano, 33, has been riding full-time in Southern California since the fall of 2006. A feathery 105 pounds, Bejarano is light-hearted by nature and is often compared to the legendary Bill Shoemaker, who was Santa Anita’s leading Winter Meet jockey for a record 17 consecutive years from 1951 through 1967.
A Roswell, New Mexico native, Smith, 50, adheres to a strict physical fitness regimen that has helped him remain one of America’s greatest “big money” riders. A winner of a record 22 Breeders’ Cup races, Smith took his third consecutive Santa Anita Handicap this past March aboard the Jerry Hollendorfer-conditioned Shared Belief. A tremendous judge of pace, Smith is also considered one of the game’s strongest finishers.
Stevens, 52, led his counterparts with five stakes wins at Santa Anita’s 2015 Autumn Meet and also guided the Richard Mandella-trained Beholder through yet another Eclipse Award winning campaign this year. With Beholder scheduled to compete in 2016 at age six, Stevens, who has three Kentucky Derby wins to his credit and has won a record nine Santa Anita Derbies, is considered one of the game’s all-time greats and remains a force to be reckoned with both locally and across the country.
Santa Anita’s 63-day Winter Meet will conclude April 10 and will be followed by the track’s Spring Meet, which commences May 5 and will run into mid-July.
Special early first post time on opening day, Dec. 26, is at 12 noon. For more information, please visit santaanita.com, or call (626) 574-RACE.