BAFFERT HAS THREE SET FOR GRADE I MALIBU OPENING DAY
TRAINER CAN JUSTIFY BUT ONE FOR HORSE OF THE YEAR
ESPINOZA LOOKING FOR MID-JANUARY RETURN TO SADDLE
POPULAR WALL CALENDAR FREE TO FANS ON OPENING DAY
SANTA ANITA FIRST: ICE SKATING AND WORLD-CLASS RACING
McKINZIE HEADS TRIO FOR BAFFERT IN GRADE I MALIBU
Bob Baffert has three likely starters for the Grade I Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita on opening day next Wednesday, Dec. 26, headed by two-time Grade I winner McKinzie, who showed he is at the ready with a six furlong workout Sunday in a bullet 1:13.20, fastest of 23 drills at the distance, the average time of which was 1:15.43.
The bay son of Street Sense is coming off a disappointing performance in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at a mile and a quarter, but Baffert feels the seven furlongs of the prestigious Malibu, which offers $300,000 in prize money, will be ideal.
“He worked really nice,” the two-time Triple Crown winning trainer said on an overcast Monday morning at Clockers’ Corner. “He’s doing really well. I freshened him up a little after the Breeders’ Cup (Nov. 3), and in retrospect, he wasn’t ready to go a mile and a quarter . . . but I thought I had him back.
“The Breeders’ Cup took me out of my normal program. It’s a lot of money and it seemed right, but he just didn’t show up. I like the way he’s training here for seven-eighths.
McKinzie captured the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 22 and was promoted from second to first via disqualification of stablemate Solomini in the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity last Dec. 9.
Baffert has Mike Smith booked to ride McKinzie, with Drayden Van Dyke on Ax Man, also ticketed for the Malibu along with Solomini.
“He’s doing really well,” Baffert said of AxMan. “We cut (gelded) him. He had a meltdown at Churchill Downs (for the Matt Winn last June), so we gave him some time off and he’s been working exceptionally well.
“Solomini is coming off a layoff and has been freshened up. He’s an off-the-pace sort.
“I’d prefer running him in a little allowance race but the Malibu is a Grade I, and when you have horses with their breeding, you have to take a shot.”
Baffert will be seeking his third Malibu victory, having won it with Shakin It Up in 2013 and The Factor in 2011.
First post time for the 10-race opening day card will be 11:30 a.m.
JUSTIFY HORSE OF YEAR IN BAFFERT’S MIND
One sure thing in racing: Horse of the Year 2018 will be announced come Jan. 24. One uncertainty: will it be Justify or Accelerate?
Voters will honor either undefeated Triple Crown champion Justify, trained by Bob Baffert, or Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Accelerate, trained by John Sadler, all involved parties based at Santa Anita Park.
Baffert, as does Sadler, understandably has a vested interest, and made a case for only the second undefeated Triple Crown winner in racing history, joining Seattle Slew in 1977.
“You’ve got two good horses,” Baffert said, “but there’s a Breeders’ Cup winner every year but not a Triple Crown winner every year, and that’s so difficult to accomplish, and I know, because I’ve been there so many times (Cavonnier, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Point Given, War Emblem). It takes a special horse and a superior horse.
“There’s no timetable you can employ at will. The Triple Crown dates are set in stone, three races in five weeks, period. You can’t pick and choose. Justify was an extraordinary horse, and John had a tremendous year with Accelerate.
“It was exciting to watch him run, but sometimes it doesn’t work out. Arrogate wasn’t named Horse of the Year. We had six outs (starts with Justify); he (Accelerate) had seven outs. We were undefeated, and it was one of the toughest (Kentucky) Derbies.
“Now they say it doesn’t look that tough, but they’re all tough. Justify simply ran those horses into the ground when they were chasing him. That’s what happened. A lot of horses get ground up in those classics.
“We’re all here for those races. We want to win the Derby, we want to win the Triple Crown. It’s all about the classics and they’re hard on the horses. Unfortunately, we couldn’t run Justify after the Belmont (on June 9).
“People couldn’t wait to see him run again, but when you have horses like Justify and American Pharoah (2015 Triple Crown winner) . . . I almost didn’t run him back in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but he came around in his training, so we did, even though it’s hard on them.
“But Pharoah handled it, although he never got a break. He didn’t miss a beat and he defeated some pretty nice horses.”
ESPINOZA HOPES TO RESUME RIDING NEXT MONTH
Victor Espinoza could resume his riding career next month after recovering from serious injuries in a training mishap at Del Mar last July 22.
“He’s in Mexico right now visiting his family,” said Espinoza’s agent, Brian Beach, Monday morning. “He posted a video of himself online chopping down a tree, so his neck must be feeling pretty good, to swing an ax.
“He says everything is going well, he’s just working on his fitness, he wants to test ride a couple horses around the first of the year, and if things go well, he’s looking at maybe the middle of January (to be back in the saddle competitively).”
SPECTACULAR SANTA ANITA WALL CALENDAR FREE ON OPENING DAY
Racegoers will again be treated to one of the best gifts of the year, the day after Christmas, as Santa Anita’s 82nd Winter Meet opener on Wednesday, Dec. 26 will provide each attendee with a spectacular Santa Anita Wall Calendar, free with paid admission.
Themed “Santa Anita Triples,” the 2019 calendar will honor three Santa Anita-based Triple Crown Champions; Affirmed (1978), American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018). Along with these three greats, each month will include a photo and brief description of past champions, dating back as far as the track’s founding in 1934, which have graced both the main track and turf course here at The Great Race Place.
Among those from the past who are shown in action at Santa Anita are four-time Eclipse Award winner and 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta; seven-time Eclipse winner and two-time Horse of the Year John Henry (1981 and 84), four-time Eclipse Award winner and three-time Zenyatta Stakes winner Beholder, nine-time Santa Anita stakes winner and three-time Santa Barbara Handicap winner Megahertz, four-time Eclipse winner and two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome (2014 and 16), seven-time Santa Anita stakes winner and three-time Santa Anita Handicap winner Game On Dude and others.
With many of 2018’s top horses winning three or more major stakes, and in some cases going on to taste victory in the Breeders’ Cup, they will be recognized with large photos atop their respective months, in keeping with the calendar’s theme.
Santa Anita will present five stakes on opening day, headed by a pair of Grade I events at seven furlongs, the Malibu and La Brea. The Grade II Mathis Brothers Mile and the Grade II San Antonio Stakes will round out the graded stakes action, with the Lady of Shamrock Stakes supplementing the stakes roster.
For additional information on Santa Anita’s opening day wall calendar and a variety of opening day promotions and events, please visit santaanita.com or call (626) 574-RACE.
SANTA ANITA FIRST: ICE SKATING AND WORLD CLASS RACING
For the first time ever, Santa Anita Park will offer fans of all ages Ice Skating in addition to world class racing on opening day of the track’s Winter Meet, Wednesday, Dec. 26. Santa Anita’s authentic ice rink, presented by Ice America, which is currently part of its popular Winterfest celebration, will be available as a part of its Infield Family Fun Zone through Sunday, Jan. 6.
Fans are encouraged to come early on opening day, as special first post time for a 10-race program is at 11:30 a.m. Santa Anita’s Infield Family Fun Zone will open on Dec. 26 at 10 a.m. and stay open until 4:30 p.m.
In addition to the ice rink, pony rides, inflatable bouncers, face painting and more will be available as part of the Infield Family Fun Zone Dec. 26, 29 & 30, as well as on Jan. 1, 5 & 6.
With free Infield GeneralPark and Admission available via Gate 6 off of Colorado Place, an Infield Family Fun Zone KID PACK, which includes an ice skating session, unlimited inflatable wristband, a pony ride and face painting, is available for $30. An ADULT PACK, which includes ice skating, a racing program and free 2019 Santa Anita Wall Calendar, is available for $16.
FINISH LINES: Bob Baffert said undefeated Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Game Winner “is in light training” with no race announced for his three-year-old debut . . . The California Horse Racing Board has assigned Grant Baker, Kim Sawyer and Luis Jauregui as Santa Anita’s stewards this meet, with Ron Church as safety steward.
XBTV VIDEO OF WORKERS: