2016 Malibu Stakes Day Preview

Christmas may be December 25, but many horseplayers look even more forward to the day after.  Santa Anita’s winter meet opens December 26, and four stakes races anchor the card.  Such stakes are grouped together at card’s end in an all-stakes pick four.

For three-year-old dirt sprinters looking for a final Grade I against their age group, Santa Anita is the place to be.  The Malibu Stakes (GI) is a seven-furlong test for open sophomores, and the La Brea Stakes (GI) is its fillies’ complement over the same course and distance.  Open sophomore lawnmowers also get a chance to shine in the Mathis Brothers Mile (GII).  Older horses go down the hill in the San Simeon Handicap (GIII), which moves from its previous spring date to replace the Daytona Stakes (GIII) on opening day of the winter meet.

calracing.com carries a free live stream of these, and all races from Santa Anita.  Or, if you want to enjoy live local racing as well, head out to Hawthorne Race Course.  They are dark on December 24 and 25, but will host a full Thoroughbred card on December 26 in addition to showing simulcast inside the grandstand.

Authors of individual race previews are denoted by initials afterwards: PM for Paul Mazur, and NN for Nicolle Neulist.  Selections for the Mathis Brothers Mile and the San Simeon Handicap are for turf only.  At publish time the turf rails are set to the zero position.

Monday, December 26: Santa Anita Park

Race 6: San Simeon Stakes (GIII), ages four and up, about six and a half furlongs on the downhill turf, post time 3:00 pm PST

Halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles lies the coastal town of San Simeon.  The tourist town is best known for Hearst Castle, the residence of media mogul William Randolph Hearst.  Seventeen years after Hearst’s death, Santa Anita created the San Simeon Handicap in 1968.  After a number of years as an elongated dirt sprint (and even once at a two-turn mile in 1976), the race found a permanent home on the downhill course in 1980.  It has been washed off (yes, it can rain in Southern California and the Santa Anita winter-spring meet is during their rainy season) the downhill a few times, most recently in 2007.  Notable winners include Eclipse Champion Sprinter Chinook Pass (1983), perhaps the most famous Washington-bred in history, and California Flag (2012), who also won the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.  For years run in April, this year the race swaps calendar positions with the Daytona Stakes (GIII), a fellow downhill event.  The San Simeon Stakes carries GIII status and $100,000 in purse funds.

The Lure Stakes was a restricted stakes run at the end of October at Santa Anita over a mile, and DRUMMER turned in a non-descript last place finish.  DRUMMER hasn’t gotten a win photo in a year plus.  But for DRUMMER it’s second time North America and a cut back to a sprint (and one that’s not flat, like the Lure).  Perhaps, based on the German running lines, his try shows him more of one for sweeping turns or for sprints, as his better efforts have come under a mile.  Tyler Baze takes the call on this German-bred residing in Neil Drysdale’s barn.  The uniqueness of the Downhill course makes a horse with affinity for it stand out.  As such, affinity for the downhill whether in the past (BETTYS BAMBINO) or present (HOLY LUTE) are used to round out the under spots.   BETTYS BAMBINO has a four-race win streak over this course.  The rub is that BETTYS BAMBINO is coming off a long layoff, as he last raced in February 2015.  The long layoff is a concern, but BETTYS BAMBINO has six career wins and five were over the downhill, with a 6: 5-0-1 record over the downhill.  BETTYS BAMBINO also draws a traditionally favorable outer post.  Also in an outer post is HOLY LUTE.  Two back he won the GIII Eddie D. over this course and was a sixth against tougher in the GI Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.  HOLY LUTE isn’t a model of consistency, but he might be in the best form of his career based on current exploits.  He has the right swing-wide closing style for this race. The question is if he can trip out from the outside – as opposed to the inside like he did two back.

Selections:

#4 DRUMMER (12/1)

#11 BETTYS BAMBINO (6/1)

#12 HOLY LUTE (9/2)

Longshot: These races take place on a Monday, and maybe your Christmas was a trying experience.  It could have been a #10 TOUGH SUNDAY (20/1) with the relatives as you nervously waited for this day.  TOUGH SUNDAY will have Chantal Sutherland in the irons and tries the weeds for the first time after getting stuck on the open N1X treadmill.  TOUGH SUNDAY cleared the condition last time out at Los Alamitos, and now takes a steep step in class.  While he steps up, he tries a new surface and him on the downhill isn’t that absurd: other Grazen progeny like Enola Gray have taken to this course.  Maybe TOUGH SUNDAY’s change of scenery makes his one a boxcars winner on Monday. — PM

Race 7: La Brea Stakes (GI), three-year-old fillies, seven furlongs on the dirt, post time 3:30pm PST

The $300,000 La Brea Stakes will be contested for the 44th time on Monday, and drew a field of eight.  The race was inaugurated as a 1 1/16 mile test in 1976, but dialed back to its current seven-furlong distance in 1978.  Historically, this race served as the beginning of a three-race series, continuing with the El Encino Stakes (GII) and concluding with the the La Canada Stakes (GII).  It was fillies’ equivalent of the Strub Series, but like the Strub, it is for all practical purposes defunct.  The El Encino, once the second race in that series, has not been run since 2011.  The La Canada still exists, but since 2016 it has been a four-and-up race, not a four-year-old race.  Notable winners of the La Brea over the years have included Los Alamitos stakes namesake Great Lady M. (1979), multiple graded stakes winner (and Storm Cat’s dam) Terlingua (1980), and 1997 Beldame Stakes winner Hidden Lake (1996).  Hookedonthefeelin (1999) won this race, and also distinguished herself in the breeding shed — she produced another La Brea winner in Pussycat Doll (2005), as well as 2012 Malibu Stakes (GI) winner Jimmy Creed.  Indian Blessing (2008) has a chance to match one of Hookedonthefeeling’s feats today, as her son Ten Blessings will contest Saturday’s Malibu Stakes.

It’s good to have the best horse in the race.  It’s even better to have the best horse when you know she loves the distance, and when she should have a pace advantage.  In other words, it’s good to be Brian Lynch and Julien Leparoux, the team behind LIGHTSTREAM.  Most of this field likes to be forward, so the field stands to be contested.  LIGHTSTREAM, on the other hand, is a mid-pack to closing type who consistently fires.  She also loves seven panels: in four tries, she has three victories, as well as a close second in the Test (GI).  Her rapport with Julien Leparoux has been strong: he has gotten a leg up on her three times, and they’ve gotten a win picture three times.  LIGHTSTREAM looks solid here — don’t get creative on top.  Barring a wicked speed bias, single her and move on.

Should said speed bias exist, FINLEY’SLUCKYCHARM deserves a bit longer look on top.  She has emerged as the “now” sophomore filly sprinter.  She has five wins in six starts, with her only defeat coming in her lone two-turn try.  She trounced older fillies last out in the Dream Supreme Stakes at Churchill.  But, that was going six furlongs; she hasn’t tried seven yet.  And, there are a few others in this field who have shown some sharp early speed, with CONSTELLATION and CONIAH the sharpest of the bunch.  Do those horses beat FINLEY’SLUCKYCHARM?  Probably not.  But, do they soften her up enough for LIGHTSTREAM to run her down in the final furlong?  Probably.

PERFECT PIC is the least experienced horse in this race, with only three starts under her girth.  But, one of those starts was a close third against older in the six and a half furlong L. A. Woman Stakes (GIII) over this same Santa Anita dirt.  There, she stayed on for third beaten only a length despite being involved in a protracted pace battle.  PERFECT PIC has typically been right close to the pace, but her second-place finish two back had her rallying from midpack to nab second place.  That suggests she can remain interested from somewhere other than the front end: a necessity with FINLEY’SLUCKYCHARM, CONSTELLATION, and CONIAH in the field.  Her rider is another positive: Santiago Gonzalez gets the call here, and he rode PERFECT PIC for each of her three previous starts.

Selections:

#2 LIGHTSTREAM (2/1)

#3 FINLEY’SLUCKYCHARM (5/2)

#8 PERFECT PIC (6/1)

Longshot: #1 LUNAR EMPRESS (20/1) gets a class test here, as this will be her stakes debut.  It will also be her first try at the seven-furlong distance.  But, she has good six and a half furlong form in her back lines: a win and a second in two trues.  She has also been in the exacta in both of her tries over the Santa Anita course.  LUNAR EMPRESS will be forward, but has shown the ability to stay on in a pace battle, or even sit a few lengths off the pace early.  Last out was the farthest off the early pace she has ever been — and she just got up for a nose victory.  The waters are deeper here, but she is lightly raced enough to suggest she learned from that, as that was only her seventh career start.  It was also her first try with rider Norberto Arroyo, Jr. in the irons; Arroyo returns today.  A win will require a huge step forward, but LUNAR EMPRESS could gut out a spot in the exotics with a reasonable progression here. — NN

Race 8: Malibu Stakes (GI), three-year-olds, seven furlongs on the dirt, post time 4:00pm PST

This year marks the 65th running of the $300,000 Malibu Stakes, a race inaugurated at Santa Anita in 1952 as the Malibu Sequet Stakes, and changed to its current name in 1958.  For many years, it was the first in a series of three races which culminated in the Strub Stakes, a race restricted to four-year-olds and run in early February.  However, the Strub Series is history; both the Strub (GII) nor the San Fernando (GII) disappeared from the calendar in 2015.  The Malibu alone remains.  Only two Kentucky Derby winners have proceeded to win the Malibu: Spectacular Bid (1980) and Ferdinand (1986).  Still, winners of the Malibu Stakes over the years have included multiple Hall of Fame inductees: pivotal sire Round Table (1957), California hero Native Diver (1962), four-time Arlington Park stakes winner (and five-time Eclipse award winner) Buckpasser (1966), 1967 Preakness winner Damascus (1968), and former Santa Anita Sprint Championship namesake Ancient Title (1974).  The race’s winners have sparkled in recent years.  In 2014 Shared Belief, already proven at the Classic distance of a mile and a quarter, shortened up to win the Malibu.  Last year Runhappy followed his victory in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) up with a romp in the Malibu.  Runhappy would be named the year’s champion sprinter.


Shared Belief calls on his class to beat Conquest Two Step in the 2014 Malibu Stakes.

This race drew a field of ten, though NAVY HYMN has already withdrawn from the field.  Even with the scratch of that speedball, this race has no shortage of front-end gas.  This should benefit MIND YOUR BISCUITS, a class-dropper who has already proven he can rally from off the pace at the Great Race Place.  Last out, MIND YOUR BISCUITS crossed the wire third in the Breeder’s Cup Sprint (GI) against older sprinters, missing the place by just a nose to soon-to-be-disqualified Masochistic.  Though the Breeders’ Cup came at six furlongs, MIND YOUR BISCUITS has two money finishes in three tries going seven furlongs, and also a pair of daylight victories going six and a half.  MIND YOUR BISCUITS will be tough.

Trainer Bob Baffert entered a trio.  JAZZY TIMES will be part of the pace, but is unlikely to take them all the way around.  MOR SPIRIT has been invisible since the Kentucky Derby, and this race may turn out a bit short for him.  It is instead Baffert’s first-time stakes runner, TEN BLESSINGS, who appeals the most of the Baffert brigade.  He has run just four times, with two wins.  But, those wins came in his two starts to date at Santa Anita.  One of those wins, a last-out allowance victory, came at the Malibu distance of seven furlongs.  It is no surprise to see that TEN BLESSINGS can handle seven panels, as his dam Indian Blessing won the La Brea (GI) in 2008 at the same distance.  On pace, TEN BLESSINGS should be able to stay out of the front-end fight, but will likely track close enough to get first run.  If he can get enough of a jump on MIND YOUR BISCUITS, he could pull the minor upset.

SHARP AZTECA will be part of the front-end brigade, but has shown some ability to get the best of a contested pace scenario.  He has also shown extended sprint aptitude: in addition to a last-out victory in the seven-furlong City of Laurel Stakes, he has aired three times in one-turn miles, including a Grade III victory in Churchill’s Pat Day Mile.  Trainer Jorge Navarro, a 28% winner with shippers, means business with this one: regular rider Edgard Zayas ships across the country to ride, and SHARP AZTECA went to Santa Anita in time to post a workout over the track on December 19.  Watch out for SHARP AZTECA, particularly if speed plays well earlier in the day.

Selections:

#2 MIND YOUR BISCUITS (5/2)

#4 TEN BLESSINGS (3/1)

#7 SHARP AZTECA (3/1)

Longshot: #3 SEMPER FORTIS (12/1) has been doing most of his work going eight or nine furlongs, but did break his maiden going around one turn.  He has been a consistent runner, having hit the board in seven of his last eight starts.  SEMPER FORTIS is also one of those versatile off-pace types who never sends to the front — but can run a good race from just off the pace, far off it, or anything in between. He also managed to grab a share at Santa Anita two starts back in his first try against older.  Though it would be a surprise to see SEMPER FORTIS win, do not leave this plucky son of Distorted Humor off the undersides of intra-race exotics.  — NN

Race 9: Mathis Brothers Mile (GII), three-year-olds, one mile on the turf, post time 4:30pm PST

Always at a mile and always run on December 26th since inception, the $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile (GII) has become a reliable supporting feature on Santa Anita’s Day After Christmas card. Oklahoma-based chain Mathis Brothers Furniture took over the naming of this race in 2014, as it was known before that as the Sir Beaufort Stakes, honoring the 1993 Santa Anita Handicap winner. The race is always set for the lawn, but has been washed off thrice in its history. First run in 2000, the race become graded in 2006 and elevated to a GII in 2011. Before Orientate became a champion sprinter, he took down the second renewal of this race in 2001. Other notables include Kip Deville (2006), who won the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Mile; Gio Ponti (2008), who won the 2009 Arlington Million and two Eclipses in the male turf category.

California-bred (and future GII winner) Alert Bay scrapes the paint to score in the 2014 Mathis Brothers Mile.

The typical plan when seeing a horse owned by Loooch Racing Stables in your past performances is to conclude the horse is racing over its head, and to either place it in the Longshot to Watch section or just draw a line through it.  There are times when it’s not a typical plan, like if you’re handicapping Thistledown or War Story in a stakes last week.  However, CONQUEST ENFORCER is not your typical overmatched punching bag in lime silks.  CONQUEST ENFORCER was one of the many horses sold off in the Conquest Stables dispersal, and was formerly trained by Mark Casse.  The new trainer is Phil D’Amato, but everything before the sale was Team Casse.  CONQUEST ENFORCER goes first time two turns here, but the breeding is fine for it on both sides (Into Mischief-Harlan’s Holiday sire line, Victory Gallop as a broodmare sire).  CONQUEST ENFORCER was good enough to be competitive in Woodbine Mile preps against elders.  He should be forward based on the running lines, but he does have a rating gear as seen two back at Belmont.  Flavien Prat has the call here.

There is, however, a lot of forward speed in this event from BLACKJACK CAT, FABROZZI, and CONQUEST ENFORCER.  Should all the speed get crazy, maybe TUSK can mow them all down.  Unseen since a second place finish in the GIII El Camino Real Derby on the upstate synthetic, he’s been putting in regular Fair Hill works for this event.  His prior resume shows only one out-of-the-money finish in seven tries.  Perhaps the long break helps, but the trainer does hit 21% wins and 52% top three bringing them out of the mothballs. The horse TUSK chased in the GIII El Camino Real Derby is FRANK CONVERSATION.  He’s carved out a decent year after a disposable trip to Dubai on dirt.  The GII American Turf was too much too soon, and elders three back was a bridge too far.  So his GII Twilight Derby-GI Hollywood Derby fall races hold well against this group.  A win during BC week in the former and a third in the traditionally tougher latter make FRANK CONVERSATION a fit on class.  He’s cycling in third off the summer vacation as well.

Selections:

#4 CONQUEST ENFORCER (7/2)

#11 TUSK (15/1)

#8 FRANK CONVERSATION (4/1)

Longshot:  The Longshot to Watch space goes to Casse Present as opposed to Casse Past.  Mark Casse’s present trainee is #9 BLACKOUT (12/1).  Still eligible for a twice-other-than allowance based on purse rules, BLACKOUT cleared the first-level allowance two back at Belmont going a mile.  Last time he was stuck wide in the Commonwealth Derby (GIII) and raced evenly in midpack.  Going six-wide is never a recipe for success, and that’s the trip BLACKOUT had last out.  The pace should be quicker this time around with confirmed inside types.  A switch to Julien Leparoux is also a plus, given his rally-wide style.  — PM

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