Racing got a head start on the New Year Sunday -- a speedy one, at that -- as Santa Anita opened with a new dirt track and three big stakes.
The new surface replaced artificial tracks that repeatedly had failed to drain properly and cost Santa Anita many days of lost racing. The first day on the new strip, conversely, produced blazing-fast times. Among the beneficiaries were trainer John Sadler and jockey Joel Rosario, who won all three graded stakes.
Twirling Candy, for example, got the 7 furlongs of the $250,000, Grade I Malibu Stakes in 1:19.70 after tracking equally fast fractions. With Rosario up, the Kentucky-bred Candy Ride colt just put a nose in front of Smiling Tiger in the final yards. Caracortado was well back in third.
In the $250,000, Grade I La Brea for 3-year-old fillies, Switch took charge when asked by jockey Joel Rosario and drew off in the stretch to win by 4 lengths. Malibu Pier was the best of the rest, with Shotgun Gulch a long shot third. Switch, a Kentucky-bred Quiet American filly, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:20.33.
Sidney's Candy set his own blazing pace in the $150,000, Grade III Sir Beaufort Stakes, then accelerated through the stretch, winning by 7 1/4 lengths and completing the mile in 1:33.70. Indian Firewater was second and Nextdoorneighbor finished third. The race was moved from the turf to the new dirt surface, resulting in several scratches.
Twirling Candy broke the Malibu Stakes record set almost 30 years ago by the legendary Spectacular Bid. Switch broke the La Brea stakes record set by Mamselle Bebette in 1993. Clearly, the new surface influenced the record-breaking performances. However, the fact that winners came from the lead and off the pace indicated the track was playing fairly. Rosario agreed.
"The track is playing consistent," Rosario said after the Malibu. "But when you're on the best horse like Twirling Candy, it's no surprise he ran that fast."
Thirtyfirststreet came from off the pace to win the $100,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes for state-bred 2-year-olds by a half length over the favorite, Arresting Officer. Contemplated finished third. While Thirtyfirststreet's final time of 1:22.20 was a bit more sensible, the race was for state-bred juveniles. Thirtyfirststreet, a Good Journey colt out of the Sky Classic mare Avian, was ridden by Rafael Bejarano.
In other racing on a Christmas-shortened weekend agenda:
Tampa Bay Downs
Manicero stalked the pace in Sunday's $75,000 Inaugural Stakes for 2-year-olds, got through along the rail to take the lead turning for home and held on at the end to win by a length over Bert B Don. Uno Caliente loomed a danger in the stretch run at long odds but flattened out to finish third. Manicero, a Florida-bred Mass Media colt out of the Kris S. mare Ritzy Blitz, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.57 with Luis Saez aboard. "I told Luis that I wanted him to be able to rate the horse because I think that makes him a better horse," winning trainer Leo Azpurua Jr. said. "He was able to save ground and run strongly down the stretch, and I was very happy about that because I plan to stretch him out."
In the companion $75,000 Sandpiper Stakes for juvenile fillies, Devilish Lady drew off smartly in the stretch to win by a comfortable 8 lengths. It's Me Mom, the odds-on favorite, had the early lead but no answer to the winner's late surge. Juanita was third with an even run. Devilish Lady, a Florida-bred daughter of Sweetsouthernsaint out of the Diablo mare Devilish Brunette, got the 6 furlongs in 1:11.51 with Daniel Centeno in the irons. "I was pretty sure we knew where the speed was," Centeno said. "So when we got in tight coming out of the gate it really didn't change how we wanted to race. She is very professional for a young horse so she relaxed behind the leaders."
Dr. Diamonds Prize sparkled like an expensive Christmas present in the stretch run of Sunday's $50,000 Gowell Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, drawing off to post the upset at odds of 11-1. At the wire, the Kentucky-bred Pure Prize filly was 4-lengths better than Golden Phoenix with Angelica Zapata third. Dr. Diamonds Prize, with Jozbin Santana riding, got the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:12.18.
Facil Catana led comfortably all the way to a 5 3/4-lengths victory in Sunday's $50,000 Bold Ego Handicap for fillies and mares. Petition the Lady was second and Linnea finished third. Facil Catana, a 3-year-old, Florida-bred Untuttable filly, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:03.23 with Enrique Gomez in the irons.
Arcadian led from gate to wire in the $25,000 Lost In the Fog Juvenile, winning by 6 1/2 lengths over Jamaican Memories. Montellano finished third. Arcadian, a Kentucky-bred Songandaprayer gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.11 with Ry Eikleberry riding.
Los Lunas battled all the way around in the $25,000 Arizona Juvenile Fillies, finally scoring by a neck over Hard Seven. Love Makor was third. Los Lunas, an Arizona-bred Benton Creek filly, got the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.85 under Jake Barton.