The new year comes early in California racing as Santa Anita opens the day after Christmas, replete with promising 2-year-olds and hopes for the future.
The opening day feature, however, was the $250,000 Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds, featuring some of last year's promising 2-year-olds but ending in a major upset.
When all was said and done, Proud Tower Too found enough of a second effort to turn back Attila's Storm and win by 1 length. Attila's Storm, fourth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint two starts back, actually got a head in front during the stretch run but couldn't hold on.
Thor's Echo, who won the WinStar Derby in New Mexico in the spring, finished third. Greeley's Galaxy, the runaway Illinois Derby winner (but 11th in the Kentucky Derby and seventh in the Preakness) finished seventh in his first start since Pimlico. Shamoan, winner of the Iowa Derby, finished fourth. And Wilco, who won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in 2004, showed nothing, finishing 11th.
Proud Tower, a California-bred son of Proud Irish, and Attila's Storm ran 1-2 for most of the 7 furlongs, clocked in 1:21.62. The colt was coming off a victory in the restricted, 7 1/2-furlong On Trust Handicap at Hollywood Park. Attila's Storm won the 6-furlong Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct after the Breeders' Cup. Forest Wildcat colt has never won at a distance longer than 6 furlongs.
"I had a lot of hope for this horse," said winning trainer Sal Gonzales, who picked up his first graded stakes victory. "I always hoped he'd develop into something special and he has. I'll take it one race at a time. I don't want to plan his next race right now."
Also on Monday's opening-day card, Chinese Dragon sat well off the pace through the early furlongs of the first $75,000 division of the Sir Beaufort Stakes for 3-year-olds, came wide into the stretch and was along just in time to win by a nose over Hockey the General. Becrux was third and last spring's Santa Anita Derby winner, Buzzards Bay, faded to finish seventh of eight. Chinese Dragon, the favorite, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.09 under Kent Desormeaux. The Kentucky-bred son of Stravinsky is trained by Robert Hess Jr. "I was discouraged and encouraged that he was able to win when I think there's more there," Hess said. "I don't tell Kent much of anything. He works him. He gallops. He jogs him. This is the four-legged version of Kent Desormeaux, so they know each other very well."
In the second division of the Sir Beaufort -- reflecting the return to Southern California turf racing after an all-main Hollywood meet -- Tedo came from a stalking position to win by a head over Eastern Sand. Follow the Rainbow was third after leading most of the way. Tedo, a German-bred son of Sternkoenig, finished in 1:34.34 with Corey Nakatani up. "I felt like I had a lot of horse," Nakatani said. "I was making sure that we won the race but I didn't want him to get to the lead too soon."
And in the day's third stakes event, Da Stoops ran like an odds-on favorite should in winning the $125,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes for Cal-bred 2-year-olds by 8 3/4 lengths. The Distorted Humor colt, with Victor Espinoza riding for trainer Bob Baffert, jumped out to the lead and wasn't challenged at any point. He finished the 7 furlongs in 1:21.63. "As soon as I got out of the gate I was in front. And that was it," said Espinoza. Added Baffert: "The game plan was to win. I don't care how he got there.... I can't believe the time. I think we got a good speed index out of that race."
For those watching the California branch of the Triple Crown trail, the sixth race on the card might be of interest. Cindago, an Indian Charlie colt trained by John Sadler, ourfinished Bobby Frankel's Latent Heat to win a maiden special weight by 1/2 length. Bob Baffert saddled the third- and fourth-place finishers, Point Determined and Royal Legacy.
In other weekend racing:
Fair Grounds at Louisiana Downs
Private Gift took charge with a furlong to go in Saturday's $75,000 Truly Bound Handicap for fillies and mares, drew clear and won off by 2 1/4 lengths. Freei, who led briefly into the stretch, couldn't keep up late but held on for second. La Reason was third with a belated bid while the favorite, Culinary, stopped badly after 6 furlongs and finished last of seven. Private Gift, a 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Unbridled, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.32 under Robby Albarado.
Calder Race Course
Prospect of Love showed the prospect of future success with a pace-stalking victory in Saturday's $50,000 Georgia TOBA Debutante Stakes. The Florida-bred daughter of Suave Prospect, with Juan Leyva up, stuck close to the leaders, found room on the inside turning for home and dashed off to a 2 1/2-length victory. Survicat came from well back to take second and Decisive Blow was third. Prospect of Love ran 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:40.46. "It was really tight the whole way," said Leyva. "We were scraping the hedge all the way around." Trainer Bill Kaplan said his filly is nominated to the Tropical Oaks, "although I'm sure there are going to be some pretty good ones in there."
Somethinaboutbetty dueled Dress Grey into submission turning for home in Monday's $75,000 Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship for state-breds, then got clear in the drive and won by 2 1/2 lengths. Don't Tell Susan was second and Keep on Talking was third, another neck back. Somethinaboutbetty, a daughter of Forestry, ran 1 mile on a "good" main track in 1:41.04 under Mike Luzzi.
Seen Dancing was last seen winning at nearly 30-1 - that in Monday's $50,000 Gowell Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Souvenir Copy rallied from well back in the field of 10, came four-wide on the turn and six-wide at the top of the stretch. But when Rodney Prescott set her down, she was up to the task and collared pace-setting favorite Mighty Martha, winning by 1/2 length. Unbridled Tale was third. Seen Dancing, trained by Bernie Flint, covered 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:13.60.