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.
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 Horsebills.com (here's a video) and the proprietor of BobIkePicks.com (full-card picks, 3 Best Plays and betting strategy).
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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.
|1||Fritz Johansen||Geovanni Franco||122||Mark Glatt||15-1||25,000|
|2||Play Hard to Get||Tyler Baze||122||Ian Kruljac||5-1||25,000|
|3||Buster Douglas ||Ruben Fuentes||122||Librado Barocio||12-1|| |
|4||Taelyns Prince||Tiago Pereira||122||Victor M. Trujillo||8-1||25,000|
|5||Twentytwentyvision||Joel Rosario||122||John W. Sadler||4-1||25,000|
|6||Little Scotty||Edwin Maldonado||122||Vladimir Cerin||7-2||25,000|
|7||Comes the Dream||Alonso Quinonez||122||Mike Puype||6-1||25,000|
|8||Crown the Kitten||Assael Espinoza||115||Gus Headley||12-1||22,500|
|9||Orchestral||Evin Roman||122||Ari Herbertson||3-1||22,500|
6 Furlongs. Purse: $33,000. Claiming. Fillies. 3 year olds. Claiming Prices $25,000-$22,500.
|1||Amers||Jose Ortiz||122||Jonathan Wong||4-1||25,000|
|2||Empress of Lov||Ruben Fuentes||120||Andrew Lerner||12-1||22,500|
|3||Naughty Sophie||Tyler Baze||122||Peter Miller||2-1||25,000|
|4||D D's Lute||Joseph Talamo||122||Gary Sherlock||12-1||25,000|
|5||Chatty||John Velazquez||122||Michael W. McCarthy||4-1||25,000|
|6||Come On Kat||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||124||Jerry Hollendorfer||3-1||25,000|
|7||Uno Trouble Maker||Tiago Pereira||122||William Spawr||12-1||25,000|
|8||Easter Dream||Rafael Bejarano||120||Robert B. Hess, Jr.||10-1||22,500|
7 Furlongs. Purse: $33,000. Starter Allowance. 3 year olds and up.
|1||Wilshire Dude||Tiago Pereira||120||William Spawr||5-1|| |
|2||According to Buddy||Assael Espinoza||117||Hector O. Palma||15-1|| |
|3||Littlebitamedal||Joel Rosario||122||Art Sherman||12-1|| |
|4||Rinse and Repeat||Mario Gutierrez||122||Doug F. O'Neill||3-1|| |
|5||Lil Milo||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||122||Alfredo Marquez||6-1|| |
|6||Shane Zain||Flavien Prat||120||Richard Baltas||6-1|| |
|7||I Am the Danger||Heriberto Figueroa||119||Doug F. O'Neill||5-2|| |
|8||For the Hustle||Edwin Maldonado||124||George Papaprodromou||20-1|| |
|9||Street to Indy||Tyler Baze||124||Thomas Ray Bell, II||6-1|| |
1 Mile Turf. Purse: $75,000. 'Lady Of Shamrock'. Stakes. Fillies. 3 year olds.
|1||Amandine ||Drayden Van Dyke||120||Jeff Mullins||2-1|| |
|2||Animosity||Rafael Bejarano||120||Patrick Gallagher||12-1|| |
|3||Ms Bad Behavior||Joel Rosario||124||Richard Baltas||5-2|| |
|4||Stradella Road||Tyler Baze||120||Gary Stute||15-1|| |
|5||West Palm Beach ||Brice Blanc||122||Simon Callaghan||12-1|| |
|6||X S Gold||Kent Desormeaux||122||James M. Cassidy||8-1|| |
|7||Streak of Luck||Mike Smith||122||Matthew Chew||4-1|| |
|8||Love and Peace ||Flavien Prat||120||Neil D. Drysdale||5-1|| |
6½ Furlongs. Purse: $55,000. Maiden Special Weight. 2 year olds.
|1||One Bad Boy||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||122||Richard Baltas||6-1|| |
|2||Ka'nah||Tyler Baze||122||Ryan Hanson||6-1|| |
|3||Norski||Eswan Flores||122||Hector O. Palma||8-1|| |
|4||Nolde||John Velazquez||122||John A. Shirreffs||30-1|| |
|5||All Good||Joseph Talamo||122||Bob Baffert||6-1|| |
|6||Mo Mississippi||Flavien Prat||122||Peter Eurton||6-1|| |
|7||Cogan||Manuel Franco||122||Jerry Hollendorfer||20-1|| |
|8||Alleva||Rafael Bejarano||122||Doug F. O'Neill||12-1|| |
|9||Scalper||Drayden Van Dyke||122||Bob Baffert||7-2|| |
|10||Jumpin Thru Hoops||Joel Rosario||122||Peter Miller||5-1|| |
|11||Big Scott Daddy||Mike Smith||122||Mike Puype||10-1|| |
7 Furlongs. Purse: $300,000. 'La Brea Stakes'. Fillies. 3 year olds.
|1||Happy Like a Fool||John Velazquez||122||Wesley A. Ward||4-1|| |
|2||Mo See Cal||Mike Smith||120||Peter Miller||12-1|| |
|3||Kelly's Humor||Joel Rosario||120||Peter Miller||8-1|| |
|4||Emboldened||Joseph Talamo||120||Bob Baffert||5-1|| |
|5||Dream Tree||Drayden Van Dyke||122||Bob Baffert||8-5|| |
|6||Heavenhasmynikki||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||120||Anthony T. Quartarolo||15-1|| |
|7||Hot Autumn||Tyler Baze||120||Ian Kruljac||12-1|| |
|8||Cathedral Reader||Brian Hernandez, Jr.||120||Dallas Stewart||12-1|| |
|9||Spiced Perfection||Flavien Prat||120||Brian J. Koriner||5-1|| |
1 Mile Turf. Purse: $200,000. 'Mathis Brothers Mile'. Stakes. 3 year olds.
|1||Sejo ||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||120||John W. Sadler||6-1|| |
|2||Choo Choo||Joel Rosario||122||Jerry Hollendorfer||12-1|| |
|3||Gidu ||John Velazquez||122||Todd A. Pletcher||4-1|| |
|4||Hardboot||Angel Cruz||122||Michele Dollase||30-1|| |
|5||River Boyne ||Flavien Prat||124||Jeff Mullins||8-5|| |
|6||Combatant||Jose Ortiz||120||Steven M. Asmussen||6-1|| |
|7||Desert Stone ||Geovanni Franco||120||Richard Baltas||12-1|| |
|8||Fight On||Rafael Bejarano||120||Doug F. O'Neill||20-1|| |
|9||Gemonteer||Tyler Gaffalione||122||Jena M. Antonucci||12-1|| |
|10||Shivermetimbers||Mike Smith||120||Jerry Hollendorfer||8-1|| |
|11||Snazzy Dresser||Edwin Maldonado||120||George Papaprodromou||30-1|| |
1 1/16 Mile. Purse: $300,000. 'San Antonio Stakes'. 3 year olds and up.
|1||Pitino||Edwin Maldonado||119||Doug F. O'Neill||30-1|| |
|2||Battle of Midway||Flavien Prat||124||Jerry Hollendorfer||9-5|| |
|3||Dabster||Joseph Talamo||122||Bob Baffert||5-2|| |
|4||Sonneteer||Kent Desormeaux||122||J. Keith Desormeaux||20-1|| |
|5||Yulong Warrior||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||119||Doug F. O'Neill||20-1|| |
|6||Tatters to Riches||Tyler Baze||119||Jeff Mullins||5-1|| |
|7||Gift Box||Joel Rosario||122||John W. Sadler||4-1|| |
|8||Air Strike||Florent Geroux||119||Philip D'Amato||12-1|| |
|9||Beach View||Rafael Bejarano||124||Leonard Powell||8-1|| |
7 Furlongs. Purse: $300,000. 'Malibu Stakes'. 3 year olds.
|1||Calexman||Geovanni Franco||120||Vladimir Cerin||30-1|| |
|2||Majestic Dunhill||Manuel Franco||120||George Weaver||30-1|| |
|3||Copper Bullet||Jose Ortiz||120||Steven M. Asmussen||6-1|| |
|4||Still Having Fun||Kent Desormeaux||122||Timothy L. Keefe||20-1|| |
|5||Identity Politics||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||120||Chad C. Brown||12-1|| |
|6||Axelrod||John Velazquez||122||Michael W. McCarthy||10-1|| |
|7||Seven Trumpets||Robby Albarado||120||Dale L. Romans||12-1|| |
|8||Nero||Joseph Talamo||120||Bob Baffert||12-1|| |
|9||Ax Man||Drayden Van Dyke||120||Bob Baffert||5-1|| |
|10||Bobby's Wicked One||Tyler Gaffalione||120||Albert M. Stall, Jr.||10-1|| |
|11||Greyvitos||Evin Roman||120||Adam Kitchingman||20-1|| |
|12||Kanthaka||Flavien Prat||122||Jerry Hollendorfer||6-1|| |
|13||McKinzie||Mike Smith||124||Bob Baffert||7-2|| |
|14||Solomini||Joel Rosario||120||Bob Baffert||10-1|| |
|15||Super Sol||Brian Hernandez, Jr.||120||Bob Baffert||20-1|| |
|16||Cool Bobby||Rafael Bejarano||120||Peter Eurton||20-1|| |
1 1/8 Mile Turf. Purse: $57,000. Allowance. 3 year olds and up.
|1||Cupid's Claws||Joseph Talamo||122||Brian J. Koriner||10-1|| |
|2||The Hunted||Angel Cruz||122||Richard Baltas||8-1|| |
|3||Shaky Alibi||Mike Smith||124||Carla Gaines||5-1|| |
|4||Acker||Rafael Bejarano||122||Peter Miller||5-2|| |
|5||Trojan Spirit||Drayden Van Dyke||124||Patrick Gallagher||8-1|| |
|6||Souter ||Joel Rosario||124||Mark Glatt||8-1|| |
|7||Erotic||Flavien Prat||120||Richard E. Mandella||12-1|| |
|8||Lucky Soul||John Velazquez||122||Michael W. McCarthy||15-1|| |
|9||Red King||Geovanni Franco||122||Vladimir Cerin||12-1|| |
|10||Icy Street||Manuel Franco||124||John W. Sadler||20-1|| |
|11||Taki's Choice||Tyler Baze||122||Philip D'Amato||20-1|| |
|12||Avalanche||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||124||John W. Sadler||6-1|| |