Olympio Makes Short Work of Malibu Stakes : Horse racing: He gets seventh victory in 11 starts in 1991 on opening day at Santa Anita. Dinard is fourth.
Maybe Santa Anita ought to consider renaming the stake the Malibu Derby.
Olympio, who seldom runs in a race that isn’t a derby, returned Thursday to a distance that he hadn’t seen in 10 months and won the $111,850 Malibu Stakes by a neck as Santa Anita opened its 55th season with a crowd of 38,144 at the track and 20,878 tracking the horses at satellite locales.
When he was a 2-year-old, Olympio had the look of a sprinter to trainer Ron McAnally. But as this year unfolded, stretching him out didn’t seem to matter, and by summer, Olympio was winning at 1 1/4 miles.
On Thursday, Olympio was sprinting again, the assignment being seven furlongs for the first time since he nosed out Dinard in the San Vicente at Santa Anita last February. This time Olympio again beat Dinard and several other good horses.
In a three-horse windup, Charmonnier paid $8 for finishing second, a head better than Apollo, who paid $4 to show. Dinard, injured shortly before last May’s Kentucky Derby and running for the first time since winning the Santa Anita Derby in April, finished fourth in the 10-horse field, beaten by slightly more than two lengths.
Olympio won’t win the Eclipse Award for best 3-year-old colt. That honor is expected to go to Preakness-Belmont winner Hansel, but the Malibu validated the versatility of owner-breeder Verne Winchell’s colt.
The son of Naskra and Carols Christmas ran 11 races at seven tracks this year, earning a paycheck in every one. He registered seven victories, three seconds and one fourth, earning $1.3 million.
Five of Olympio’s races were in derbies, with victories coming at Oaklawn Park, Canterbury Downs, Arlington International and Hollywood Park.
In the Malibu, favored Olympio and Eddie Delahoussaye sat off the pace set by Charmonnier and Apollo, who produced fractions of 22 4/5 seconds for two furlongs and 45 seconds for a half-mile
Olympio was on the outside, two lengths back, at the top of the stretch.
“I really got into him some in the stretch because I knew they were walking the first part and they’d probably sprint to the wire,” Delahoussaye said.
Earning $66,850, Olympio paid $4.80 to win, with a time of 1:21 1/5.
“He’s been a remarkable little horse all year,” Delahoussaye said. “If he’d won any of the classics (Olympio was fourth in the Preakness in his only Triple Crown start), you’d have to give him the Eclipse Award. I still think he deserves it, but I understand how the voters look at it.”
Olympio’s stablemate, Sea Cadet, had been a more likely candidate for the Malibu, but because of a nominating slip-up, he wasn’t eligible.
Winchell’s Tight Spot is expected to win the Eclipse Award for best grass male after earning $1 million this year. Sea Cadet earned $679,800.
“This is the first time I’ve had this many good horses at the same time,” said Winchell, whose first horse, bought in 1958, was bred by Ronald Reagan. “One good thing about Ron McAnally is that he’s good at keeping horses going for a long time.”
McAnally wasn’t present Thursday. He is at Hialeah, preparing Fantastic Boy for Saturday’s $200,000 Widener Handicap. Olympio was saddled by Eduardo Inda, McAnally’s longtime assistant.
Charmonnier, running for the first time since beating Best Pal in the California Cup on Nov. 9, hadn’t run less than a mile in more than a year.
“This horse is getting better and better,” said Bob Baffert, who trains Charmonnier. “This was the toughest $100,000 race I’ve ever run in. This is an all-around horse. The longer the races go, the better shot he’ll have to win some. We’re looking forward to the San Fernando.”
The San Fernando Stakes, at 1 1/8 miles on Jan. 18, is the second leg of the Strub series, whichconcludes with the Charles H. Strub Stakes at 1 1/4 miles on Feb. 9.
In mid-stretch in the Malibu, Dinard was in fourth place, but was blocked behind horses, and Pat Valenzuela was forced to swing him to the outside.
“He was down on the inside and then couldn’t get out,” trainer Dick Lundy said. “But he finished strong, and I think this race did him a ton of good. It was a good effort for his first time back.”
The Hollywood Park and Los Alamitos satellite sites were in place for the first time for a Santa Anita winter opening, and the overall crowd of 59,022 was more than 4,000 greater than last year’s first day, though on-track attendance was more than 7,000 less.
The handle of $10.5 million was the second largest for a Santa Anita opener, missing the record of $10.7 million that was set in 1988.
“The game has changed with cross-town wagering,” said Cliff Goodrich, president of Santa Anita. “Everyone must begin focusing on the total picture, which clearly has been beneficial to the tracks and horsemen. We’re looking forward to an exciting race meeting, despite the current recession.”