- BAFFERT READY FOR ‘TOUGHEST MEET IN AMERICA’
- CHRISTMAS COMES TWICE A YEAR FOR GARY STEVENS
- PERFECTLY MAJESTIC STEPS UP IN GRADE II MATHIS MILE
- DAYTONA SUITABLE FOR GARY MANDELLA TWOSOME
- JEFF METZ AND FAMILY ON BOARD AT SANTA ANITA
- POPULAR WALL CALENDAR FREE TO FANS OPENING DAY
BAFFERT’S BACK WITH GRADE I WINS ON HIS MIND
Bob Baffert has done it all, from capturing multiple training titles to winning the Triple Crown, but the Hall of Fame conditioner who turns 63 on Jan. 13 is not resting on his redoubtable resume.
He is back on the beat as usual, preparing his stable of equine bluebloods for “Santa Anita, the toughest meet in America.”
One at the ready is Lord Nelson, who worked four furlongs in company Monday morning in 46.60 under Martin Garcia for the Malibu Stakes at seven furlongs this Saturday, Dec. 26.
Stablemate Wolf Man Rocket was clocked in 46.80.
The Malibu, restricted to three-year-olds, is one of two Grade I races Opening Day, the other being the La Brea Stakes, also at seven furlongs, but exclusively for three-year-old fillies.
The Malibu, which offers a $300,000 purse, is one of the most prestigious sprints on the North American racing landscape, having been won by stars such as Round Table (1957), Native Diver (1962), Buckpasser (1966), Damascus (1968), Ancient Title (1974), Spectacular Bid (1980), Precisionist (1984), Ferdinand (1986) and the late, great Shared Belief (2014).
“It looks like he’s ready to roll,” Baffert said of Lord Nelson, a chestnut son of Pulpit owned by Peachtree Stable. “It’s going to be a really tough race, but the Grade I races are never easy. He needs a lot of things to go his way.
“He needs a quick pace up front. He’s been off for a while, but Grade I opportunities don’t come along that often; he’ll run well.”
Lord Nelson has not raced since May 2, when he was fourth in the Grade III Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs. He lists two bullet works among his most recent drills, and won the Grade II San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs here on Feb. 1.
Baffert also entered Maybellene in the La Brea.
Owned by Baffert’s wife, Jill, Maybellene has not raced since last March 22 when she crossed the wire second in the Sunland Park Oaks, beaten a neck by stablemate Callback, but was advanced to first via disqualification.
“She hasn’t run in a long time, but there’s been nowhere to run her,” Baffert said of the bay daughter of Lookin At Lucky, who has been working well for her return. “She’s training well, but I think the post position draw will determine whether she starts.
“If she runs one-two-three, it’ll be good.”
Two additional graded stakes will be decided Opening Day, the Grade II Mathis Brothers Mile and the Grade III Daytona.
First post time opening day is 12 noon. Admission gates open at 10 a.m.
GARY STEVENS EXCITED ABOUT OPENING DAY
Gary Stevens may not celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, but he sure looks forward to Dec. 25 and 26.
The 25th is Christmas Day and the 26th marks the start of the 79th season of racing at Santa Anita, where the Hall of Fame rider is as much a part of The Great Race Place as its art-deco façade.
“I’m super-excited right now,” Stevens said about opening day. “We’ve got Christmas coming and Opening Day at Santa Anita is my Christmas, and has been for a number of years. I always look forward to it.
“This year I’ve taken a good piece of time off. Except for winning the (Los Alamitos) Futurity (Sunday on Mor Spirit), I hadn’t ridden since Del Mar. I’m super-fresh and excited about the meet.
“I think everybody’s worried about El Nino coming, but it is what it is. We need the rain, but saying that, I hope we don’t just completely get swamped. It’s a long meet. I keep that in the back of my mind, too, that you’ve got to kind of pace yourself and think about the big picture, the whole year.”
‘MAJESTIC’ EYES FIRST STAKES WIN IN MATHIS MILE
Perfectly Majestic, a consistent son of Majesticperfection, seeks his first stakes victory when he runs in Saturday’s Grade II Mathis Brothers Mile for three-year-olds on turf.
Third in his last two starts, including the Let It Ride at Del Mar Oct. 31, the chestnut gelding bred in Kentucky was a game third last out, beaten only a half-length under trainer Bob Hess Jr. mainstay Kent Desormeaux, in an allowance race on Nov. 22.
“The horse has been training well. He’s good to go,” Hess said. “He needs to improve a length or two. As much as I love Kent, he needs a little more patient ride.”
Desormeaux, a fixture with Hess since his heyday in the 1990s, has ridden Perfectly Majestic in five of his nine races, winning two.
FINALLY, GRASS LOOKS GREENER FOR GARY MANDELLA
Gary Mandella hoped to have two horses entered in the Grade III Daytona Stakes for three-year-olds and up at about 6 ½ furlongs on turf Opening Day, No Silent and Silentio, each sired by Silent Name, a son of 1989 Kentucky Derby winner Sunday Silence, who stood in Japan. Silentio did not draw in, however.
“We had nowhere to run,” the trainer said in explaining why No Silent has not raced since finishing an eventful sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Keeneland Oct. 31. “This is my first opportunity to run and for all turf sprinters to run. That’s why the Daytona has a full field (14 were entered). Del Mar had nothing in its stakes schedule.”
METZ FAMILY GOES ALL IN AT SANTA ANITA
Santa Anita has its own version of All in the Family this meet.
Trainer Jeff Metz, who turns 49 on Dec. 29, is on hand with eight head; his wife, Jennifer, is a regular at the clockers’ stand and also informs patrons of news at her “Jennifer’s Corner” post at Clockers’ Corner on weekends; their daughter, Zoe, is a social media photographer for the track’s Marketing Department; and their 17-year-old son, Josh, is an exercise rider.
Jeff and Jennifer have been together for 28 years.
“In addition to the eight horses at Santa Anita, I have horses at Turf Paradise in Phoenix and some at Golden Gate,” said Metz, who was born in Alameda and grew up in Fremont. At the recent Emerald Downs meet, Metz tied a record for wins with 66 during the first 70 days of the 91-day session, tying the Emerald Downs single-season record previously set by Tim McCanna in 2008.
Metz has won the last three training titles at Emerald Downs, winning 42 races in 2013, 49 in 2014, and 66 in 2015, beating runner-up Frank Lucarelli by 38 wins, also a track record.
“I started in racing when I was 16 at Pleasanton, moved to Los Angeles when I was 21 and was an assistant with Bruce Headley and Dan Hendricks,” Metz said.
“I’m very excited to be back at Santa Anita. It’s been a few years, but now I’ve got a few owners who want to race here and hopefully we’ll do well. At least we have horses that are going to run, so that’s good.”
FINISH LINES: Santa Anita will give away its popular full color Wall Calendar free on opening day to all fans at the track with paid admission while supplies last. The theme of the 2016 calendar is “What’s in a name,” describing how some Thoroughbreds come by their peculiar monikers . . . The first 20,000 paid attendees will receive a $100 Mathis Brothers Furniture gift certificate, and the first 5,000 kids 17 and under accompanied by a paid adult will get a plush, mini-Thoroughbred toy, courtesy of the Mathis Brothers . . . Santa Anita will offer an opening day Trackside Package that includes special trackside seating, a free first drink, and an officially licensed American Pharoah T-shirt commemorating the first-ever Grand Slam champion of horse racing. Use promo code PHAROAH for $5 off the package price . . . There will be a $1 million guaranteed pool on the Late Pick 4 opening day, and a $150,000 guaranteed pool on the Pick 6. Each Thursday, Friday and on holiday Mondays, there will be $300,000 guaranteed in the Late Pick 4. Saturdays and Sundays, it will jump up to $500,000, while the Pick 6 guarantee will remain at $150,000 . . . BREAKING NEWS–Santa Anita earns 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor, a major search engine . . . LA Woman Stakes winner Ben’s Duchess, prepping for the La Brea, worked five furlongs Monday in a bullet 58.40 for John Sadler. It was the fastest of 70 drills at the distance, the average time of which was 1:01.27 . . . Chantal Sutherland, who hasn’t ridden on a regular basis since June 2014, is back riding and reunited with agent Tommy Ball. “She missed riding tremendously, she enjoys it, and it’s in her blood,” Ball said. “When she stopped, she got her real estate license and did that, but she missed riding too much and had to come back. She’s been working quite a few horses, so she’ll have some mounts coming up pretty soon.”