Here's what happened and what's in store for the final week of the year:
Shakin It Up shook things up for real on Opening Day Thursday, rallying from well back to win the $300,000, Grade I Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds at odds of 17-1. The Midnight Lute colt, trained by Bob Baffert, finished 1/2 length to the good of 10-1 shot Central Banker, getting a few exacta players off to a good start on the six-months-long meeting. Zeewat finished third and the favorite, Flashback, also closed in the lane but settled for fourth. Shakin It Up ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:20.53. Winning jockey David Flores headed from the track to the airport to catch a flight to Singapore, where he will ride for the next six months. Shakin It Up won the Grade II San Vicente over the same course and distance in February, then misfired in the Grade III Sunland Derby in New Mexico in March and had been sidelined since. "It's a great way to end the (opening) day," Baffert said. "With that horse winning, Midnight Lute has showed what a terrific sire he is." Baffert also trained Midnight Lute and Mike Pegram owns part of both the sire and the colt.
A couple races earlier on Thursday's card, 13-1 chance Heir Kitty caught pacesetting favorite Sweet Lulu in the late going to win the $300,000, Grade I La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 1 1/4 lengths. Executiveprivilege finished third. Heir Kitty, a Wildcat Heir filly trained by Peter Miller, ran 7 furlongs in 1:21.47. Gary Stevens added another Grade I win to his remarkable comeback year. Stevens said the Santa Anita dirt course is in much better condition with less kickback than during the fall meeting and the Breeders' Cup weekend. "I was able to tuck in there and I have very little dirt on my now," he noted. "She was content and stayed comfortable." Miller said he plans to keep Heir Kitty sprinting although the 1 1/16-miles La Canada Stakes on Jan. 19 "would be tempting."
Gervinho won a five-horse stampede to the wire in Thursday's $200,000, Grade II Sir Beaufort Stakes for 3-year-olds on the turf, outfinishing Procurement by a head and Outside Nashville by another nose. Only 1/2 length separated each of the following three finishers. Outside Nashville was set down to fourth, promoting Si Sage to show money. Gervinho, an Unusual Heat colt, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:33.47 for jockey Rafael Bejarano despite being bothered by the traffic issues in the stretch that led to Outside Nashville's disqualification. "When the other horse got in the way, I thought we were done," said winning trainer Carla Gaines. "So I was happy to see him re-rally. She said she is considering the California Cup Turf Classic at another furlong next month.
On Saturday, a field of eight is set to ramble down the hillside turf course in the $100,000, Grade III Daytona Stakes. Unbridled's Note hasn't won for a while but finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint on the same course last month and subsequently ran second in the Hollywood Turf Express. He catches a beatable field here. Handsome Mike jumps up and wins a big one occasionally at any random distance. Gallant Son comes off two straight wins at Golden Gate.
Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Mr. Prospector Stakes at 6 furlongs on the main track got eight entries. Among them are some recognizable names from two years ago, including 2011 Swale Stakes winner Travelin Man, 2011 Mr. Prospector winner Apriority and Fort Loudon, who swept the 2011 Florida Stallion Series at Calder. The highweights here, however, are Black Diamond Cat and Star Harbour, both recent winners over the Gulfstream strip.
Calder Race Course
Twilight Eclipse returns to a Florida circuit where he has found success for Saturday's $125,000, Grade II W.L. McKnight Handicap at 1 1/2 miles on the grass. The 4-year-old Purim gelding comes off a sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Turf but earlier in the year ran second in both the Grade I Sword Dancer at Saratoga and the Grade I Man o'War Stakes at Belmont Park and won the Grade II Pan American at Gulfstream. He also won this race last year. Mucho Mas Macho was second in the 2012 edition and looks to improve. British-bred Juddmonte Farms runner Slumber will try to wake up for trainer Bill Mott after a couple dull efforts up north. The Illinois-bred Suntracer, a 5-year-old son of Kitten's Joy, always seems to give an honest effort for Team Block. The rest of this bunch ranges from suspect to flat outmatched. Watch out for Vertiformer if trainer Wayne Catalano finally has him ready in his first start after a long layoff. The 5-year-old son of Dynaformer out of the Rahy mare Tempo West has long gaps in his racing history.
Saratoga Snacks, last year's winner, is the odds-on favorite to repeat in Saturday's $Alex M. Robb Handicap for state-breds going 1 1/16 miles on the inner track. The 4-year-old Tale of the Cat ridgling comes off a thrashing in the Grade I Cigar Mile in his last outing but should find Saturday's seven rivals significantly less challenging.
This is the last weekend for 2-year-olds to run as 2-year-olds since all Thoroughbreds officially age one year on Jan. 1, no matter what their actual date of foaling. There is a smattering of racing for this set around the country, with the emphasis on state-bred events.
Laurel Park in Maryland on Saturday has $100,000 events for state-bred juvenile males and juvenile fillies, as does Turf Paradise in Arizona. Sunland Park has New Mexico-bred 2-year-olds going 1 mile, also on Saturday.
On Santa Anita's Saturday card, 2-year-olds tackle 1 mile on the turf in the $75,000 Eddie Logan Stakes -- an open event.
Baffert got some bad news along with the good on Thursday as Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner New Year's Day was retired after sustaining a chipped left hind sesamoid. The son of Street Cry will travel to Kentucky but, rather than prepping for the Kentucky Derby, will stand at Hill 'n' Dale Farm.