Racing! It’s showtime at Santa Anita


Hello, my name is John Cherwa and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter as we have returned after the newsletter went on holiday.

I’m back. Those of you who were hoping that Christmas would bring a different host for this newsletter are no doubt disappointed. So, to you, I wish you only the same kind thoughts you often send me although, in my case, without the profanity.

Anyway, for Southern California race fans, this is the biggest day of the year—the opening of Santa Anita. It will likely be the biggest crowd of the year. Last December, the opener did not go well, in part because of a lack of pari-mutuel tellers. No doubt most of that has been figured out, especially after the high-profile firings done by Santa Anita (and The Stronach Group) boss Tim Ritvo.

While we were away, Santa Anita named Steve Lym as its vice president of racing and racing secretary. (You can read about it here.) He comes here from Woodbine, up near Toronto. He starts after the beginning of the year. It’ll be a good test to watch what it is a racing secretary can do to improve the product. I don’t really know, but hopefully we’ll see some ideas that make a difference.

I did a story for the web and print of all the new things at Santa Anita, mostly through the eyes of new race caller Frank Mirahmadi. (You can read the story here.)

Also, Santa Anita decided to stay with the big program instead of the pocket-sized one. Ritvo even admitted there were more people who disliked it than liked it, but he’s sticking with it. He thinks it will help people make more betting decisions because of the past performances. You’ll also notice the program has the added designation of red, back or green for each of the horses involved in the new roulette bet, which we’ve written about. As I said, it’s either “exceedingly brilliant or incredibly stupid.” (It’s fun to quote yourself.)

Best of all, and I say this with tongue firmly planted in cheek, morning-line oddsmaker Jon White (and newsletter contributor extraordinaire) has to come up with a morning-line for each color.

It was great having a week off after 51 straight weeks of racing. Now we pay for it, with eight straight newsletters. But the racing should be good, especially on Wednesday.

As for Christmas, I broke my tradition of watching the 1938 version of “A Christmas Carol.” Instead, opted for the 2003 movie “Bad Santa.” (Explains a lot about newsletter, doesn’t it?) Also saw “Mary Poppins Returns.” Emily Blunt could not have played the role any more perfect. Looking forward to seeing “Vice”.

Now, with all that out of the way, let’s get on to previewing the big races on opening day. It’s a super early 11:30 a.m. post for the 10 races. I don’t often say this, but however good you think this card is, it’s even better. Half of the races are stakes, and four of them are Grades 1 or 2. The smallest field is eight. In other words, this card is loaded.

Let’s go through the stakes.

Lady of Shamrock Stakes (1:07 p.m.)

This is the lightweight in the bunch. It’s for 3-year-old fillies going a mile on the turf for $75,000. Amandine is the favorite, at 2-1, for trainer Jeff Mullins and jockey Drayden Van Dyke. She ships in from England, having run only one race over here, a 3 ¼ allowance win at Del Mar last out. Ms Bad Behavior is the 5-2 second choice for Richard Baltas and Joel Rosario, who joins the Santa Anita jockey colony from New York. She hasn’t won since March 10, but has three seconds, a third and a fourth since then.

Grade 1 La Brea Stakes (2:15 p.m.)

This is a $300,000 race for 3-year-old fillies going seven furlongs. All eyes are going to be on Dream Tree, undefeated in five races for Bob Baffert and Van Dyke has ridden her in four of those races. She was supposed to go in the Breeders’ Cup Fillies & Mares Sprint but pulled out because of an epiglottis entrapment. At 8-5, she has won one Grade 1 and two Grade 2s.

Second favorite, at 4-1, is shipper Happy Like a Fool, for Wesley Ward and John Velazquez. Happy Like a Fool is four of nine lifetime and is coming off an allowance win at Churchill. Spiced Perfection, a Cal-bred owned in part by our own Mike Tierney, is the 5-1 third choice.

Grade 2 Mathis Brothers Mile (2:50 p.m.)

This a $200,000 turf race for 3-year-olds. We’ll let you guess the distance. River Boyne, at 8-5, is the favorite for Mullins and Flavien Prat. He was second at 1 1/8 miles in the Hollywood Derby at Del Mar and won at 1 1/8 miles in the Twilight Derby in the previous race. Cutting back to a mile should help.

Gidu, another shipper, is the 4-1 second choice for Todd Pletcher and Velazquez. He last won on May 26 at Belmont but hasn’t been strong since then with a fourth being his best finish in five races.

Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes (3:25 p.m.)

It’s a 1 1/16-mile race for horses 3 and up running for $300,000. Battle of Midway, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Mile two years ago, is the 9-5 favorite for Jerry Hollendorfer and Prat. He has won his last two races including the Grade 3 Native Diver at Del Mar. He has won seven of 14 races, was retired but proved to be an insufficient stallion so he was returned to racing.

Dabster, for Baffert and Joe Talamo, is the second favorite at 5-2. He finished second by a neck to Battle of Midway in the Native Diver. He is five of 11 lifetime but lacks a graded stakes win.

Grade 1 Malibu Stakes (4 p.m.)

This is the feature of the day with an unbelievable field size of 14 with two also eligibles. It’s a seven-furlong race for 3-year-olds running for $300,000. The story is if McKinzie has returned to form after a terrible Breeders’ Cup Classic, where he finished 12th. He’s four of six lifetime and his last two works have been bullets. He’s a very fair priced 7-2 for Baffert and Mike Smith.

Ax Man, also for Baffert with Van Dyke riding, is the 5-1 second choice. He has won three of six but hasn’t raced since July 14, where he had a disappointing third in the Los Alamitos Derby.

Here are the field sizes, in order: 9, 8, 9, 8, 11, 9, 11, 9, 14 (2 also eligible), 12.

Helen Watts, RIP

We’re a little late on this but we found out that big racing fan (and devoted newsletter reader) Helen Watts died on Dec. 3. She was 85. She and her late husband Bill never missed a day at Santa Anita until they retired to Del Mar in the early 1990s, where they never missed a day at the seaside track.

She no doubt spent a lot of time talking racing with her son-in-law, Ray Paulick, who heads the extremely popular racing website and email newsletter, the Paulick Report. And, like ours, it’s free. (Check it out here.)

“Helen never met a race she didn’t like,” Paulick said. “She could always find a reason to make a bet on any race. She and Bill went racing in England, Ireland, France and throughout the U.S. and this year at 85 she went to her first Kentucky Derby with a tour group. The seats were unprotected on the ground floor outside and she sat out in the rain most of the day. A real gamer.”

They had a celebration of her life on Dec. 17 at The Brigantine, which overlooks Del Mar. We figure if you went to Del Mar, you might have met her, so with that we celebrate a life well lived.

Bob Ike’s SA pick of the day

TENTH RACE: No. 4 Acker (5-2)

Coming off back-to-back victories, no reason this Peter Miller-trained gelding won't win again. He is four for 15 lifetime vs. mostly one-time winners, he likes the Santa Anita turf course, handles the nine furlong distance, and he just beat similar first-level allowance runners by four lengths when risked for the optional claiming tag at Del Mar. Close out the opening day card with a “single” in all multi-race bets.

Bob Ike is a Partner/VP of (here's a video) and the proprietor of (full-card picks, 3 Best Plays and betting strategy).

Final thought

Yes, we’re always trying to grow the newsletter. You can’t beat the price. If you like it, tell someone. If you don’t like it, then you’re probably not reading this. Either way, send to a friend and just have them click here and sign up. Remember, it’s free, and all we need is your email, nothing more.

Any thoughts, you can reach me at You can also feed my ego by following me on Twitter @jcherwa

Now, the star of the show, Santa Anita’s big opening day entries.

Santa Anita Entries for Wednesday, December 26.

Santa Anita, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California. 1st day of a 61-day meet.


1 1/8 Mile Turf. Purse: $33,000. Claiming. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $25,000-$22,500.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Fritz JohansenGeovanni Franco122Mark Glatt15-125,000
2Play Hard to GetTyler Baze122Ian Kruljac5-125,000
3Buster Douglas Ruben Fuentes122Librado Barocio12-1
4Taelyns PrinceTiago Pereira122Victor M. Trujillo8-125,000
5TwentytwentyvisionJoel Rosario122John W. Sadler4-125,000
6Little ScottyEdwin Maldonado122Vladimir Cerin7-225,000
7Comes the DreamAlonso Quinonez122Mike Puype6-125,000
8Crown the KittenAssael Espinoza115Gus Headley12-122,500
9OrchestralEvin Roman122Ari Herbertson3-122,500


6 Furlongs. Purse: $33,000. Claiming. Fillies. 3 year olds. Claiming Prices $25,000-$22,500.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1AmersJose Ortiz122Jonathan Wong4-125,000
2Empress of LovRuben Fuentes120Andrew Lerner12-122,500
3Naughty SophieTyler Baze122Peter Miller2-125,000
4D D's LuteJoseph Talamo122Gary Sherlock12-125,000
5ChattyJohn Velazquez122Michael W. McCarthy4-125,000
6Come On KatIrad Ortiz, Jr.124Jerry Hollendorfer3-125,000
7Uno Trouble MakerTiago Pereira122William Spawr12-125,000
8Easter DreamRafael Bejarano120Robert B. Hess, Jr.10-122,500


7 Furlongs. Purse: $33,000. Starter Allowance. 3 year olds and up.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Wilshire DudeTiago Pereira120William Spawr5-1
2According to BuddyAssael Espinoza117Hector O. Palma15-1
3LittlebitamedalJoel Rosario122Art Sherman12-1
4Rinse and RepeatMario Gutierrez122Doug F. O'Neill3-1
5Lil MiloIrad Ortiz, Jr.122Alfredo Marquez6-1
6Shane ZainFlavien Prat120Richard Baltas6-1
7I Am the DangerHeriberto Figueroa119Doug F. O'Neill5-2
8For the HustleEdwin Maldonado124George Papaprodromou20-1
9Street to IndyTyler Baze124Thomas Ray Bell, II6-1


1 Mile Turf. Purse: $75,000. 'Lady Of Shamrock'. Stakes. Fillies. 3 year olds.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Amandine Drayden Van Dyke120Jeff Mullins2-1
2AnimosityRafael Bejarano120Patrick Gallagher12-1
3Ms Bad BehaviorJoel Rosario124Richard Baltas5-2
4Stradella RoadTyler Baze120Gary Stute15-1
5West Palm Beach Brice Blanc122Simon Callaghan12-1
6X S GoldKent Desormeaux122James M. Cassidy8-1
7Streak of LuckMike Smith122Matthew Chew4-1
8Love and Peace Flavien Prat120Neil D. Drysdale5-1


6½ Furlongs. Purse: $55,000. Maiden Special Weight. 2 year olds.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1One Bad BoyIrad Ortiz, Jr.122Richard Baltas6-1
2Ka'nahTyler Baze122Ryan Hanson6-1
3NorskiEswan Flores122Hector O. Palma8-1
4NoldeJohn Velazquez122John A. Shirreffs30-1
5All GoodJoseph Talamo122Bob Baffert6-1
6Mo MississippiFlavien Prat122Peter Eurton6-1
7CoganManuel Franco122Jerry Hollendorfer20-1
8AllevaRafael Bejarano122Doug F. O'Neill12-1
9ScalperDrayden Van Dyke122Bob Baffert7-2
10Jumpin Thru HoopsJoel Rosario122Peter Miller5-1
11Big Scott DaddyMike Smith122Mike Puype10-1


7 Furlongs. Purse: $300,000. 'La Brea Stakes'. Fillies. 3 year olds.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Happy Like a FoolJohn Velazquez122Wesley A. Ward4-1
2Mo See CalMike Smith120Peter Miller12-1
3Kelly's HumorJoel Rosario120Peter Miller8-1
4EmboldenedJoseph Talamo120Bob Baffert5-1
5Dream TreeDrayden Van Dyke122Bob Baffert8-5
6HeavenhasmynikkiIrad Ortiz, Jr.120Anthony T. Quartarolo15-1
7Hot AutumnTyler Baze120Ian Kruljac12-1
8Cathedral ReaderBrian Hernandez, Jr.120Dallas Stewart12-1
9Spiced PerfectionFlavien Prat120Brian J. Koriner5-1


1 Mile Turf. Purse: $200,000. 'Mathis Brothers Mile'. Stakes. 3 year olds.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Sejo Irad Ortiz, Jr.120John W. Sadler6-1
2Choo ChooJoel Rosario122Jerry Hollendorfer12-1
3Gidu John Velazquez122Todd A. Pletcher4-1
4HardbootAngel Cruz122Michele Dollase30-1
5River Boyne Flavien Prat124Jeff Mullins8-5
6CombatantJose Ortiz120Steven M. Asmussen6-1
7Desert Stone Geovanni Franco120Richard Baltas12-1
8Fight OnRafael Bejarano120Doug F. O'Neill20-1
9GemonteerTyler Gaffalione122Jena M. Antonucci12-1
10ShivermetimbersMike Smith120Jerry Hollendorfer8-1
11Snazzy DresserEdwin Maldonado120George Papaprodromou30-1


1 1/16 Mile. Purse: $300,000. 'San Antonio Stakes'. 3 year olds and up.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1PitinoEdwin Maldonado119Doug F. O'Neill30-1
2Battle of MidwayFlavien Prat124Jerry Hollendorfer9-5
3DabsterJoseph Talamo122Bob Baffert5-2
4SonneteerKent Desormeaux122J. Keith Desormeaux20-1
5Yulong WarriorIrad Ortiz, Jr.119Doug F. O'Neill20-1
6Tatters to RichesTyler Baze119Jeff Mullins5-1
7Gift BoxJoel Rosario122John W. Sadler4-1
8Air StrikeFlorent Geroux119Philip D'Amato12-1
9Beach ViewRafael Bejarano124Leonard Powell8-1


7 Furlongs. Purse: $300,000. 'Malibu Stakes'. 3 year olds.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1CalexmanGeovanni Franco120Vladimir Cerin30-1
2Majestic DunhillManuel Franco120George Weaver30-1
3Copper BulletJose Ortiz120Steven M. Asmussen6-1
4Still Having FunKent Desormeaux122Timothy L. Keefe20-1
5Identity PoliticsIrad Ortiz, Jr.120Chad C. Brown12-1
6AxelrodJohn Velazquez122Michael W. McCarthy10-1
7Seven TrumpetsRobby Albarado120Dale L. Romans12-1
8NeroJoseph Talamo120Bob Baffert12-1
9Ax ManDrayden Van Dyke120Bob Baffert5-1
10Bobby's Wicked OneTyler Gaffalione120Albert M. Stall, Jr.10-1
11GreyvitosEvin Roman120Adam Kitchingman20-1
12KanthakaFlavien Prat122Jerry Hollendorfer6-1
13McKinzieMike Smith124Bob Baffert7-2
14SolominiJoel Rosario120Bob Baffert10-1
Also Eligible
15Super SolBrian Hernandez, Jr.120Bob Baffert20-1
16Cool BobbyRafael Bejarano120Peter Eurton20-1


1 1/8 Mile Turf. Purse: $57,000. Allowance. 3 year olds and up.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Cupid's ClawsJoseph Talamo122Brian J. Koriner10-1
2The HuntedAngel Cruz122Richard Baltas8-1
3Shaky AlibiMike Smith124Carla Gaines5-1
4AckerRafael Bejarano122Peter Miller5-2
5Trojan SpiritDrayden Van Dyke124Patrick Gallagher8-1
6Souter Joel Rosario124Mark Glatt8-1
7EroticFlavien Prat120Richard E. Mandella12-1
8Lucky SoulJohn Velazquez122Michael W. McCarthy15-1
9Red KingGeovanni Franco122Vladimir Cerin12-1
10Icy StreetManuel Franco124John W. Sadler20-1
11Taki's ChoiceTyler Baze122Philip D'Amato20-1
12AvalancheIrad Ortiz, Jr.124John W. Sadler6-1