Omaha Beach is the ultimate case of what-could-have-been and Saturday he showed why. The Kentucky Derby favorite in May, before having to scratch with a throat issue, ran a flawless race to win the Grade 1 $300,000 Malibu Stakes.
His win by 2¾ lengths highlighted a Santa Anita opening day card of seven stakes races. It was jockey Mike Smith’s fourth stakes win on the day and he passed Jerry Bailey with his 217th Grade 1 stakes win.
“It’s something you think about but it’s not something you can really visualize,” Smith said when asked what if Omaha Beach had run in the Derby. “He would have been a hard horse to beat, especially with the weather situation. He loves the mud. He runs in it every bit as good as he does on a fast track.”
It was a field of five but Smith hand rode the 3-year-old the entire race. Omaha Beach paid $2.80, $2.10 and $2.10 in the seven-furlong race. Roadster was second, followed by Manny Wah, Complexity and Much Better.
Omaha Beach’s final stop in a short career will be Jan. 25 in the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park. He will be retired to stud after that race.
“He’s like a son,” trainer Richard Mandella said. “He’s better than a son. He makes me money. He doesn’t cost money.”
While Omaha Beach was the best horse Saturday, Smith’s win aboard Hard Not To Love was the most memorable. The 3-year-old filly won the Grade 1 $300,000 La Brea Stakes coming from last in the seven-furlong race to win by 2¼ lengths. Hard Not To Love has only one eye, losing her left eye from an infection as a yearling.
“She was really a handful going to the gate,” trainer John Shirreffs said. “Mike has really made a difference with her. When he made the decision to ride her, he put his reputation as a horseman on the line. I think that made this even more special.”
Hard Not To Love paid $25.20, $6.60 and $4.20 in the race restricted to 3-year-old fillies. Bellafina was second and Mother Mother finished third.
Smith’s most difficult win was in the Grade 3 $100,000 Robert J. Frankel Stakes for fillies and mares going 1 1/8 miles on the turf. He guided Mirth from sixth on the far turn to take a head lead going into the stretch, The winning margin shrunk to a nose and at one point in the stretch Mirth had given up the lead.
“It may have been Mike Smith’s plan [to stay back], but I thought we would be sitting second,” trainer Phil D’Amato said. “But Mike Smith is a Hall of Famer, so he figured it out.”
Mirth paid $4.80, $3.00 and $2.20. Tiny Tina was second and Excellent Sunset was third.
Smith’s other win was in the ungraded $75,000 Lady Of Shamrock Stakes for 3-year-old fillies going a mile on the turf. He rode Brill, a $1-million purchase who had only won one of seven lifetime starts going into the race. Smith was a replacement rider for Flavien Prat, who scratched off all his horses with flu.
Brill paid $9.00 to win.
Other stakes winners were Gift Box as a repeat winner of the Grade 2 $200,000 San Antonio Stakes going 1 1/16 miles. Trainer John Sadler and co-owner Kosta Hronis plan to run the horse as a 7-year-old next year. Joel Rosario was the winning jockey.
Lady Prancealot won the Grade 1 $300,000 American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies going 1¼ miles on the turf. She paid $5.20 to win for trainer Richard Baltas and jockey Joe Bravo. The final stakes race of the day was the Grade 2 $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile for 3-year-olds on the turf. It was won by Mo Forza by 1¼ lengths for Peter Miller and Rosario. He paid $4.40 to win.