OPENING DAY CROWD OF 35,292 WATCHES M ONE RIFLE TAKE MALIBU, LA BREA GOES TO EVITA ARGENTINA, ZENYATTA BIDS FAREWELL

ARCADIA, Calif. (Dec. 26, 2009) – Before Santa Anita’s largest opening day crowd in 10 years, M One Rifle fired the biggest shot of an action-packed afternoon when Mike Smith guided the California-bred son of One Man Army to a wire-to-wire, 2 ½ length victory over 2-1 favorite Misremembered in the 58th running of the Grade I, $300,000 Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds while negotiating seven furlongs in 1:21.05 for trainer, co-owner and co-breeder Bruce Headley.

“I’m so proud of the way he’s been improving,” Smith said. “At the quarter pole, I asked him to run and he just dropped down and gave it to me. When we headed for home, I asked him for a little more, and he was right there for me. He ran super.”

Favored at odds of 17-10 or less in his six previous outings, M One Rifle was sent off at 7-1 in the Malibu. He returned $16.20, $6.80 and $5. Misremembered, with Victor Espinoza in the irons, paid $4 and $3.20. Third-place Papa Clem, ridden by Tyler Baze, paid $6 to show.

“Winning this race is an exhilarating experience on a day like this,” the 75-year-old Headley said in the winner’s circle. “I’ve been trying to win the Malibu my whole life. I was confident at the sixteenth pole, and Mike Smith did a masterful job.”

A multiple stakes winner at seven furlongs, Evita Argentina underscored her liking for the distance when storming from dead last in a field of 11 to take the Grade I La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by a widening two lengths under jockey Joel Rosario in 1:21.78.

A daughter of Candy Ride trained by John Sadler, Evita Argentina’s three previous wins from five overall had been achieved at the elongated sprint distance, each in a stakes race.

Starlarks, ridden by Alex Solis, gained second in the La Brea, a head in front of Amazed by Grace, who had dueled with Kays and Jays for the early lead while handled by Garrett Gomez. Gaby’s Golden Gal, the 5-2 favorite, never was serious factor.

“This filly likes to make one run,” Rosario said of the winner, “so I try to just leave her alone early and keep her comfortable. She relaxed so well today when we came to the five-sixteenths pole, I had a lot of confidence.”

“She likes it when she can close, when she has pace in front of her,” said Sadler. She had no such luxury in her previous start, last month’s Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, he pointed out. “There was no pace,” Sadler noted. “Evita got some pace today.”

The second choice at odds of 4-1, Evita Argentina paid $10.40, $5.40 and $4. Longshot Starlarks provided backers with $15.40 and $7.40. Amazed by Grace paid $4.80 to show.

Owned by the Halo Farms and Three Sisters Thoroughbreds, Evita Argentina, in securing her first Grade I victory, earned $150,000 which elevated her career total to $611,400 from a record of 6-1-0 in 13 starts.

One race later, M One Rifle’s winning purse of $150,000 increased his career earnings to $378,572 for a partnership that includes Ed Bernstein and Bryan Greenspun as well as Headley. The Malibu winner’s record became 4-1-3 in eight races.

Entrusted with 2-5 favoritism, The Usual Q.T. broadened his adoration of turf racing when running off with the Grade III, $100,000 Sir Beaufort Stakes for 3-year-olds to lengthen his win streak to six victories, all of them on grass.

Under a supremely confident hand ride by Espinoza, the gelded Unusual Heat offspring rallied from fourth on the outside turning into the stretch to score by one length while being timed in 1:34.58. Gallant Son edged Massone by a neck for the place in the field of nine.

Before being turned into a turf router by trainer James Cassidy, The Usual Q. T. had been winless in five starts. His victory in the Sir Beaufort followed successes in the Grade II Oak Tree Derby and Grade I Hollywood Derby at Hollywood Park as the string of wins reached five.

Victory No. Six paid $2.80, $2.40 and $2.10. Gallant Son, handled by Mike Smith, paid $8.20 and $5.60. Massone, with Garrett Gomez up, returned $3.20 to show. Owned by Don Van Kempen and partners, The Usual Q.T. boosted his earnings to $546,670 with the winner’s share of $90,000.

He also provided Espinoza with his third win on opening day. “This gives me a lot of confidence,” said the jockey. “I’ve been working really hard to get my business together for this meet, and it’s great to get off to a good start like this on opening day.”

Cassidy said he was not surprised by his gelding’s rapid ascension over grass. “His style is consistent,” he said. “What can I tell you? He’s been fabulous.”

Unbeaten Caracortado extended his winning streak to four while stretching out beyond a sprint distance for the first time with an overpowering victory in the 70th running of the $100,000 California Breeders’ Champion Stakes for 2-year-old state-breds at 1 1/16 miles.

Accompanied by his regular rider, journeyman Paul Atkinson, Caracortado was being geared down while crossing the wire 1 ¾ lengths ahead of Alphie’s Bet and covering the distance in 1:43.61.

Atkinson hustled the gelded son of Cat Dreams to the early lead, eased back into a tracking fourth position, then burst through an opening near the rail in the stretch to prove dominant as the 2-1 second choice in a field of 10. Favored La Nez, a filly who also had been entered against her own sex in Sunday’s female version of the event, settled for third when flattening out after boldly rallying extremely wide around the far turn.

Trained by breeder and co-owner Michael Machowsky for Mr. & Mrs. Don Blahut and Machowksy’s Lo Hi Racing, Caracortado paid $6.20, $4 and $3. Alphie’s Bet, ridden by Solis, returned $12 and $5.60. The show price on 8-5 choice La Nez, with Gomez in the saddle, was $2.60.

“Before I ever ran him, I didn’t think he’d be a two-turn horse,” said Machowksy after Caracortado’s winning purse of $60,000 increased his career earnings to $109,200. “He really exploded nice,” commented Atkinson in the winner’s circle.

The crowd enthusiastically cheered undefeated Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Zenyatta who was paraded in front of the grandstand and into the winner’s circle by Mike Smith after the day’s sixth race. It marked her last scheduled public appearance before heading for the breeding shed in Kentucky. Zenyatta climaxed her brilliant career with a 14th consecutive triumph when defeating males in the $5 million Classic co-hosted by the Oak Tree Racing Association at Santa Anita on Nov. 7.

Earlier in the afternoon marking Santa Anita’s diamond anniversary, Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally helped to unveil a life-sized bronze statue of John Henry, sculpted by Nina Kaiser. The likeness of the revered gelding, who won 12 stakes at Santa Anita during the 1980s while conditioned by McAnally, will permanently stand near the track paddock.

Lava Man, a former claimer like two-time Horse of the Year John Henry and whose career has shadowed that of “John,” returns to the races in Sunday’s Grade II, $150,000 San Gabriel Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on turf. The 8-year-old Lava Man, sidelined for 17 months, has undergone a series of progressive stem cell procedures to regenerate cartilage in his surgically repaired ankles. The earner of over $5.2 million is listed as the 7-2 third choice among seven entrants in the San Gabriel. First post for the nine-race program is at 12:30 p.m.

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