• HOLIDAY SPIRIT IN FULL SWING AS SANTA ANITA BEGINS
• SADLER HOPES TO DOUBLE HIS PLEASURE OPENING DAY
• EXECUTIVEPRIVILEGE BACK ON THE BEAM FOR LA BREA
• SANTA ANITA HAS GUARANTEED $500,000 LATE PICK 4 OPENING DAY
GOOD CHEER FOR ALL EVERY DAY AT DOUG O’NEILL’S BARN
Perhaps no operation in California racing exemplifies the distinct cultural and physical spirit of the holiday season more than trainer Doug O’Neill’s.
Flourishing under his shed row is a miniature United Nations, without the political infighting. Ponder this: Team O’Neill’s crew includes African-Americans, Catholics, an Englishman, Irishmen, a Jamaican, a Mexican, a member of the Jewish faith, and true-blue Americans.
The diversity of ethnic and religious backgrounds blend harmoniously to form one of the nation’s most successful racing ventures, one which came within shouting distance of a Triple Crown bid in 2012 and one which has a Kentucky Derby victory, several Breeders’ Cup triumphs and consecutive wins in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby on its enviable and expansive resume.
With 127 victories in 2013, Team O’Neill wins more races in one year than some trainers do in a lifetime, so the authenticity of its achievements and seriousness of purpose is self-evident. But there’s still time to stop and smell the roses, no pun intended, interspersed with an infusion of diplomatic banter.
“We have a smooth, well-run operation,” said O’Neill, a mellow 45-year-old Michigander, whose family’s traditional Midwestern values were implanted early on, mainly by his mother, Dixie.
“We are loose; we want everyone to enjoy being here, but everyone takes care of business and ideally has a good time doing it,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill’s barn crew consists of the aforementioned denominations, in addition to prominent owner J. Paul Reddam, a Canadian who is O’Neill’s chief client and whose colt I’ll Have Another won the Santa Anita Derby and the Run for the Roses in 2012.
O’Neill and brother Dennis are Irish/Catholic; assistant trainer Leandro Mora is Mexican; assistant Jack Sisterson is English; and assistant Steve Rothblum is Jewish.
“It’s all out of love, but there’s a lot of fun that goes on between us,” O’Neill said. “We all come from different backgrounds, whether it be race or religion, but what it comes down to is we’re one big family.”
Asked how he harnessed a Jewish guy for his team, O’Neill responded with a good-natured quip: “Well,” he said, “We were looking for somebody to take care of the books.”
SADLER SEES GOOD FUTURE FOR MALIBU CONTENDER DEMONIC
Demonic was no secret when he made his debut. Sent off as the even-money favorite in his first start nearly a year ago, Demonic rallied wide under Garrett Gomez to win by a head in a seven-furlong maiden allowance race.
Absent for almost a year since then, the bay colt made his second start on Dec. 1, running an eventful fifth at Betfair Hollywood Park going 6 ½ furlongs on Cushion Track.
“He’s a very good horse,” trainer John Sadler said of the $400,000 son of Bernardini owned by the CRK Stable of Lee and Susan Searing. “He didn’t get around the turn very well at Hollywood. He was going so fast, he kind of skidded out about 10 wide, and got beat three lengths (actually, 2 ½).
“I think eventually he’s going to be way better around two turns. Our next major goal is the Strub (Grade II, $200,000 at 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 18), but he’s a good horse.”
Sadler also has Horizontalyspeakin entered in the Grade II, $200,000 Sir Beaufort Stakes at one mile on turf opening day, but the trainer will peruse the pace scenario.
“He’s a good horse on the lead, so we’re looking to see if there’s much speed in the race,” Sadler said. A 3-year-old Maryland-bred gelding sired by Medalist, Horizontalyspeakin’s two wins have come from gate to wire. He would be making his first stakes start in the Sir Beaufort.
The field for the Malibu, the eighth of nine races: Syndicated, Victor Espinoza, 30-1; Shakin It Up, David Flores, 15-1; Heir of Storm, Gary Stevens, 6-1; Flashback, Joel Rosario, 7-2; Zeewat, Rafael Bejarano, 9-2; Demonic, Corey Nakatani, 12-1; Central Banker, Joe Talamo, 6-1; Holy Lute, Mike Smith, 12-1; Zee Bros, Martin Garcia, 10-1; Bakken, Javier Castellano, 6-1; Distinctiv Passion, Edwin Maldonado, 6-1; and Our Double Play, Fernando Torres, 15-1.
The field for the Sir Beaufort, which goes as race seven: Outside Nashville, Martin Pedroza, 20-1; Tiz a Minister, Martin Garcia, 6-1; Educated Guess, Agapito Delgadillo, 15-1; Dice Flavor, Jose Valdivia Jr., 12-1; Horizontalyspeakin, Edwin Maldonado, 8-1; Gervinho, Rafael Bejarano, 7-2; Procurement, Joe Talamo, 6-1; No Jet Lag, Joel Rosario, 5-2; Tom’s Tribute, Mike Smith, 3-1; and Si Sage, Kayla Stra, 20-1.
EXECTIVEPRIVILEGE TRAINING WELL FOR GRADE I LA BREA
Bob Baffert is optimistic that Executiveprivilege will strut the sensational stuff she showed as a 2-year-old when the daughter of First Samurai runs in the Grade I La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs on opening day.
Executiveprivilege is winless in two starts at three, but has not raced since running fourth in the LA Woman at Santa Anita on Oct. 5. She was beaten nearly six lengths in a field of six.
“She’s been training well,” Baffert said of the Kentucky-bred bay owned by Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman. “She’ll run well here, but we had trouble getting her back into form. She had such great 2-year-old form, but then she had little things like quarter cracks and minor things bugging her.”
Among Executiveprivilege’s recent workouts is a bullet 59 flat at Betfair Hollywood Park on Dec. 1.
She won the Grade I Del Mar Debutante and the Grade I Chandelier Stakes and was undefeated going into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita on Nov. 2, but as the 3-2 favorite, was beaten by Beholder, costing the Baffert trainee an Eclipse Award.
The field for the La Brea: Sweet Lulu, Rafael Bejarano, 8-5; Heir Kitty, Gary Stevens, 9-2; Miss Lucky Sevens, Javier Castellano, 10-1; Executiveprivilege, Mike Smith, 4-1; Journey On, Martin Pedroza, 12-1; My Happy Face, Joel Rosario, 7-2; and Madame Cactus, Joe Talamo, 9-2.
GUARANTEED $500,000 POOL IN LATE PICK 4 ON OPENING DAY
Santa Anita will offer fans a guaranteed $500,000 pool in the Late Pick 4 on opening day, and will also offer a series of three separate 18 percent-takeout Daily Double wagers each racing day throughout its upcoming Winter and Spring meetings which will conclude June 29.
The Great Race Place will run a nine-race card on opening day and the Late Pick 4 will be comprised of the final four races. The Pick 4, which is also offered each day on races two, three, four and five, is a 50 cent minimum wager that requires players to select the winner of each race in the sequence.
The Daily Double, first offered by Santa Anita in 1961, is a $2 minimum bet that requires players to select the winners of two consecutive races. Santa Anita’s new Daily Double will be offered each day on three separate occasions–on races one and two; four and five and on the final two races.
“After consulting with many of our best customers and the TOC, we felt it was time to make some ‘player-friendly’ adjustments to this iconic wager,” said Tom Ludt, Santa Anita Senior Vice President, Racing and Gaming. “Lowering the takeout to 18 percent is obviously something that everyone is in favor of. Additionally, by offering three Doubles per day, we’re confident we’re going to see a significant increase in pool sizes that will result in bigger payoffs–which is why the vast majority of our customers come out to the races.”
Santa Anita’s overall wagering menu will again include the “Players’ Pick 5,” a popular 14 percent takeout wager with a 50 cent minimum. The “Players’ Pick 5” requires players to select the winners of the first five races on each day’s card.
The $2 Pick Six, first offered at Santa Anita in 1980, remains one of the most popular exotic wagers in the country and will again be offered on the final six races each day.
Santa Anita will again offer $1 exactas, trifectas and superfectas on each race and will offer rolling Pick Three wagers throughout each day’s card.
All win, place and show wagers feature a 15.73 percent takeout (one of the nation’s lowest) with a $2 minimum investment.
Santa Anita offers free with paid admission its popular wall calendar on opening day. First post time opening day is 12 noon.