Since he was 15 years old, trainer Ron Ellis said he has always known where he'd be spending the day after Christmas — opening day at Santa Anita.
"It's been an X on the calendar," the 54-year-old said.
In 1980, before a crowd of 66,599, Ellis won the Palos Verdes Handicap at Santa Anita on the day after Christmas with the first horse he ever trained, To B. Or Not. It was a one-horse stable.
"I thought, that was it. I had reached the pinnacle. I was 20 years old. It was really exciting," he said.
Opening day for Santa Anita's winter meeting is Friday, and there's lots to be excited about.
Shared Belief, a candidate for horse of the year, is scheduled to have his final race of 2014 in the Grade I $300,000 Malibu Stakes at seven furlongs. There's also the Grade I $200,000 La Brea Stakes and the Grade II $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile on a nine-race card Friday that has large fields and championship jockeys.
There will be much intrigue in Shared Belief's appearance, because the last time he raced was the $5-million
In the Malibu Stakes, there will be four Baffert-trained horses trying to defeat Shared Belief.
Shared Belief was the champion 2-year-old of 2013, has won two Grade I races this year and has seven wins in eight lifetime starts with earnings of $1,852,200.
Opening day will feature such acclaimed jockeys as
As for the excitement of opening day, Ellis said, "It signals the start of a new year for us in racing. We're always hopeful of finding that top horse."
One of the highlights of the winter meeting is the unveiling of promising 3-year-olds that hope to run in the
Ellis thinks he will have a potential top 3-year-old in the Gomper, a son of Sky Mesa, who won his 2-year-old debut on Dec. 5 at Los Alamitos at 5 1/2 furlongs.
"I'm hoping he can turn into a serious 3-year-old," Ellis said. "Everybody is hoping to catch Derby fever."
And don't expect to find Ellis at a shopping mall on Friday.
"I can wait a couple of days to return what I got," he said.
Racing at Santa Anita
What: 78th winter Santa Anita meeting.
When: Friday through April 19; racing Thursdays through Sundays. First post is noon on Friday; 12:30 p.m. rest of the meeting.
Big races: $1-million Santa Anita Handicap, March 7; $1-million Santa Anita Derby, April 4.