On one hand, you had a horse with a modest pedigree originally purchased for $4,500 and then sold again to its current co-owners for $25,000.
Then there was a horse purchased last year for $180,000 and owned by the billionaire founder of Public Storage, the largest self-storage company in the United States.
A horse without a Grade I victory to call its own against one running in its last race before retiring to stud next year.
The underdog vs. the sentimental, and 2-1, favorite.
These were the dueling post-Christmas story lines on Friday in the marquee $250,000 Malibu Stakes on the opening day of Santa Anita’s winter meeting.
But there was one hint giving away the identity of the eventual winner: Dec. 26.
That day, you see, has been very, very good to jockey David Flores and 3-year-old Bob Black Jack. Last year, they combined to win the California Breeders’ Champions Stakes here.
“I think it’s my day,” said a beaming Flores, of Dec. 26.
Or maybe Boxing Day should be called Bob Black Jack Day.
“I knew nobody else had the speed this horse does and I was hoping we could control the race and we did,” Flores said. “He cleared right away and threw his ears up. Nobody else seemed like they were in a hurry and he was doing it so easily.”
Flores was talking not long after the speedy Bob Black Jack ($12.00) won the seven-furlong race in 1:20.20, joining such famed predecessors to take this prestigious race, among others, Ferdinand (1986), Spectacular Bid (1980) and Native Diver (1962).
Flores won the Malibu last year aboard Johnny Eves.
Into Mischief, owned by B. Wayne Hughes of Public Storage, was second Friday, 2 1/4 lengths back, Georgie Boy was third, and Colonel John finished fourth.
The win was worth $150,000 for Bob Black Jack, a son of Stormy Jack.
“Honestly, you feel like an underdog,” said Bob Black Jack’s trainer, James Kasparoff, whose brother Tim Kasparoff co-owns the horse with Jeff Harmon.
“You feel like you’re kind of up against it because you know, for the most part, they’ve got a horse they’ve spent more money on.
“I guess at the end of the day it doesn’t matter.”
Especially if it’s Dec. 26.
The current economic gloom lifted at the racetrack on a windy and crisp but clear day, and all the traffic snarling Baldwin Avenue in Arcadia wasn’t merely irritated drivers mall-bound for potential bargains.
Opening-day attendance was 33,112, up from last year’s first day of 30,156.
The overall handle ($15.046 million) came close to last year’s $15.116 million.
In other key races, Feisty Suances lost for the first time in four starts, taking second in the $125,000 California Breeders’ Champion Stakes behind All Saint ($17.20).
All Saint, who ran second at Hollywood Park on Nov. 23, showed superb closing speed under jockey Rafael Bejarano and won the seven-furlong race in 1:22.07.
The recent inclement weather required adjustments: Three scheduled turf races were moved to the main track.
The shift off the grass to the Pro-Ride surface changed the makeup of the seventh race, the $100,000 Sir Beaufort Stakes, cutting the 13-horse field down to nine. It also featured the first race off the turf in nine starts for winner Gio Ponti ($4.60).
“He ran a really good race,” jockey Garrett Gomez said. “The synthetic today was a question, and I wanted to give him an opportunity to see how he’d run over it like we know he can run over the grass.
“When we turned for home, I was trying to maneuver him around and he had other ideas about where he wanted to go. But we got it done. He’s a very talented horse and sometimes talented horses can run on anything.”
Except frost, perhaps.
There were all sorts of questions about the track and how it would hold up, especially in the aftermath of last year’s problems, which caused 11 racing dates to be canceled and required the track to close down in the summer for the installation of the Pro-Ride surface.
On Friday, two horses pulled up in the first race, for 2-year-olds, and one, Warren’s Kenzo, suffered a broken right ankle and had to be put down. But that did not appear to be a surface-related trend as there were no such other occurrences in the other eight races.
“It [the track] doesn’t have any frost on it like it did this morning,” Kasparoff said.
They decided to shut down Bob Black Jack for 93 days after his 16th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
He came back a bigger and stronger horse after the layoff and Kasparoff noticed the difference even before Bob Black Jack raced again at Hollywood Park in November.
“We obviously know he’s a pretty quick horse,” he said. “This track seems like it’s not real, real slow today. It’s seems like it is playing kind of quick. Those things seemed to help us. It really feels good winning this.
“The biggest win of my life. The biggest win of that horse’s life.”