Santa Anita Kicks Off 87th Winter/Spring Season of Racing Monday

Santa Anita Park | Benoit Photo

Santa Anita Park will launch its annual winter/spring live racing season on Monday with a 11-race card featuring six stakes races, highlighted by the $300,000 GI Runhappy Malibu S., $300,000 GI American Oaks, and $300,000 GI La Brea S., the last three Grade Is of the year in the U.S.

Dubbed this season for the first time as the Classic Meet, racing at Santa Anita will be conducted on a Thursday-through-Sunday schedule through Apr. 9, the exceptions being Monday, Jan. 2 for the New Year's Day holiday, Monday, Jan. 16 for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and Monday, Feb. 20 for Presidents' Day. After a brief respite in the spring, live racing will return for a 25-day meet Apr. 22, concluding June 18.

The first race on opening day is set for 11:00 a.m. PST. Then post time will be at noon daily through Jan. 8, at 12:30 p.m. PST through Mar. 12 and 1:00 p.m. PST for the remainder of the Classic Meet with the exception of big-race days.

A total of 93 stakes worth $17.5 million, including 10 Grade Is, are on tap during the 3 ½-month meeting. Led by the $750,000 million GI Santa Anita Derby Apr. 8, the 2022-2023 stakes schedule is rich with GI Kentucky Derby prep races and coveted Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying points. These important Triple Crown prep races are the GIII Sham S. on Jan. 8, which is worth 10 points to the winner; the GIII Robert B. Lewis S. on Feb. 5, also worth 10; and GII San Felipe S. on Mar. 4 which guarantees 50 Road to the Kentucky Derby points to the winner. Overall, 11 winners of the Santa Anita Derby–and 18 runners in California's final prep for the Run for the Roses–have gone on to stand in the winner's circle at Churchill Downs reserved for one horse a year in Louisville on the first Saturday in May, the most recent being 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify (Scat Daddy).

This year, the historic GI Santa Anita H. will be worth $500,000 and the 1 1/4-mile event has been scheduled for Mar. 4. It remains one of the handful of original stakes events contested each year since Santa Anita opened in 1935.

Zedan Racing's Grade I winner and TDN Rising Star Taiba (Gun Runner) will face eight others in the Malibu in his first start since a third-place finish in the GI Longines Breeders' Cup Classic. Should the chestnut colt win, he would become the only 3-year-old male to win three Grade Is in 2022 and give trainer Bob Baffert a fifth Malibu winner, one shy of fellow Hall of Famer Richard Mandella. The $1.7 million FTFMAR 2-year-old purchase also won the Santa Anita Derby in his second start back in April.

Flightline (Tapit) won his first stakes race in last year's Malibu en-route to a likely 2022 Horse of the Year and champion older male Eclipse Awards.

Mandella will send out multiple Grade II winner Forbidden Kingdom (American Pharoah) for the seven-furlong test, while former California-based trainer Wesley Ward will try to take advantage of the lucrative ship-and-win money with recent Keeneland allowance winner Nakatomi (Firing Line).

The Malibu has been carded as the 10th race on the card with a 3:30 p.m. PST post time.

Baffert will tighten the girth on four of eight for the La Brea in seeking a record ninth winner, including GII Zenyatta S. winner Midnight Memories (Mastery), GII Summertime Oaks heroine Under The Stars (Pioneerof the Nile) and Fun To Dream (Arrogate), who won the Betty Grable S. at Del Mar last month. Trainer Rudy Rodriguez shipped GIII Victory Ride S. winner Hot Peppers (Khozan) and her jockey, Tyler Gaffalione, to the Left Coast in what will be her first start in 2 1/2 months. Post time for the La Brea, which is the day's 8th race, is 2:30 p.m. PST.

Anchoring the day's card with a 4:11 p.m. PST post time is the American Oaks, which drew a field of 11 runners from coast to coast. Joining the local contingent set to line up will be two trained by East Coast-based Graham Motion, and one each from Brendan Walsh, Chad Brown and Shug McGaughey. Last year's GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Pizza Bianca (Fastnet Rock {Aus}) debuts for Motion after her previous eight-race career in the hands of Christophe Clement. She most recently was a $3.45 million RNA at KEENOV and returns in the colors of celebrity chef Bobby Flay.

Pizza Bianca will join her new stablemate, GIII Valley View S. winner Sparkle Blue (Hard Spun), in the gate, while Walsh will for the first time send out G1 Bet365 Fillies Mile S. winner Mise En Scene (GB) (Siyouni {Fr}) returning to action off a sixth-place finish in the GI Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. McGaughey shipped G2 Sands Point S. winner Skims (GB) (Frankel {GB}) to California with the Brown-trained Winter Memories S. winner and TDN Rising Star Salimah (Ire) (El Kabeir) for the 10-furlong turf test.

Other stakes on the Monday card include the $200,000 GIII Santa Anita Mathis Mile, which drew a field of seven turf milers including I'm A Gambler (Ire) (No Nay Never), who sold for a sales-topping $1,076,000 at TATIHA in October to Red Baron's Barn and Rancho Temescal; the $200,000 GII San Gabriel S., a 1 1/8-mile turf test and traditional early prep for the historic GIII San Juan Capistrano S. at the end of the season; and the $200,000 GII San Antonio S., in years past a traditional prep for the Big 'Cap but more recently used as a stepping stone to both the $6 million G1 Dubai World Cup and $20 million G1 Saudi Cup. Last year's Dubai World Cup winner Country Grammer (Tonalist) will have European champion jockey Frankie Dettori back aboard in the 1 1/16-mile test for the first time since the pair teamed up for the win at Meydan nine months ago. Dettori, in his first and likely last winter in California before his retirement from the saddle at the end of 2023, is scheduled to ride five on the Monday card.

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