STABLE NOTES BY MIKE WILLMAN – WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 26, 2018

  • WORLD CLASS RIDERS WILL BE ON DISPLAY AT SANTA ANITA
  • BRISK MORNING PROVIDES CLASSIC SETTING FOR OPENER
  • OPENING DAY ICE SKATING OFFERED IN SANTA ANITA INFIELD

WORLD-CLASS RIDERS AT SANTA ANITA OPENING WEEKEND

Five of the nation’s top six jockeys in purse earnings won this year will put their world-class talent on display opening day at Santa Anita and on Dec. 29, when the Grade I American Oaks will be run: the sensational Ortiz brothers, Irad Jr. and Jose; Florent Geroux, the regular rider of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner; Joel Rosario, regular rider of 2018 Horse of the Year contender Accelerate, and early 2019 Kentucky Derby favorite Game Winner; and John Velazquez, the career leader in purse earnings with almost $396 million.

The quintet has been lured to The Great Race Place for major stakes engagements starting with the highly attractive 10-race opening day program, headed by the Grade I Malibu Stakes for three-year-olds and the Grade I La Brea Stakes for three-year-old fillies, each at seven furlongs.

Irad Ortiz Jr. leads the nation in purse earnings this year with more than $27 million and is second in graded stakes wins with 30, five less than brother Jose, who is second in purse earnings with more than $26 million.

Geroux is fifth nationally with 171 victories, while Rosario, who is now riding full-time at Santa Anita, ranks fourth in purse earnings with some $22.2 million.

Throw in a local contingent that includes America’s 11th ranked leader, Flavien Prat and #12, “Big Money” Mike Smith, and Santa Anita’s opening day Jockeys’ Room could easily be compared to Ruth and Gehrig’s 1927 Yankees.

JOCKEYS, TRAINERS & AGENTS ‘RARIN TO GO’ ON PICTURESQUE MORNING

With the San Gabriel Mountains offering varying shades of green from recent rains, Santa Anita was abuzz with activity Wednesday morning as The Great Race Place readied for its 82nd Winter Meet opener.  Sunrise revealed clear blue skies and a temperature at Clockers’ Corner of 43 degrees as horsemen, mindful of an early first post time of 11:30 a.m., went about their daily training assignments.

Here are a few random observations from those “in action” this morning:

Scotty McClellan, agent for Joe Talamo:  “It’s always exciting to start the year off here at Santa Anita.  We’ve got a great card and it seems like there’s a lot of fan interest.  This is a great time, everybody’s hopes are high and the racing should be great.”

Michael McCarthy, trainer:  “We’ve got Axelrod in the Malibu, and who knows, maybe  lightning can strike twice.”  (McCarthy won last year’s Malibu with eventual Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner, City of Light).  “Opening day at Santa Anita is a great time to be in our game.  The horses are fresh and so are the people.”

Dan Blacker, trainer:  “We’re all hoping for safe racing and good crowds, and a lot of people betting.  I’ve got a lot of young horses and my owners and everybody at the barn are   excited to get them started.”

Joel Rosario, jockey:  I’m very excited to be back here full-time.  I’m looking forward to the New Year and I want to wish all the fans a Merry Christmas and a great new year.”

Steve Asmussen, trainer:  “I’ve got two horses in today (Combatant in the Grade II Mathis Brothers Mile and Copper Bullet in the Grade I Malibu) and then I’m gone tomorrow.”

Peter Eurton, trainer:  “It’s always exciting on opening day.  This is probably the best opening day card we’ve had in quite a few years.  The Malibu is loaded.”

Jerry Hollendorfer, trainer:  “Everyone is looking forward to the new meet and it looks like we’re going to have a big opening day.  Everybody’s anxious to get their horses in and get started.”

Brad Pegram, agent for Mike Smith and Drayden Van Dyke:  “Having all these jocks in from back east makes everyone compete at a higher level.” (In reference to eastern shippers Irad Ortiz, Jose Ortiz, Jr., Johnny Velazquez, Florent Geroux, Brian Hernandez, Jr., Tyler Gaffalione, Robby Albarado and Manny Franco).  “Both of my guys have a lot of good horses and we’re looking forward to another great year.”

ICE SKATING OFFERED IN SANTA ANITA INFIELD

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 encourage 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 all be available as part of the Infield Family Fun Zone on Dec. 26, 29 & 30, as well as on Jan. 1, 5 & 6.

With free Infield General Park 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.

 For additional information, please visit santaanita.com or call (626) 574-RACE.

FINISH LINESRon McAnally, best known as the trainer of legendary gelding John Henry and still a regular at Clockers’ Corner on a daily basis, first came to Santa Anita in 1948. Despite infirmities of age that sidelined him temporarily in recent years, he has no intention of retiring, supervising the training of eight head, with long-time assistant Dan Landers doing the heavy lifting. “I broke Silky Sullivan as a yearling in the early 1950s,” McAnally, 86, said of the legendary horse, whose breathtaking stretch runs made his name a household word. “As long as I can still come out here, I’ll be here. It’s been a treat to train horses, and I plan to be here until I check out . . .”