Santa Anita Opening Day has six stakes races, three Grade 1's

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Chrono Genesis, shown winning the 2021 Takarazuka Kinen, looks to go out a winner in her last race, Sunday's Grade 1 Arima Kinen. Photo courtesy of Japan Racing Association
Chrono Genesis, shown winning the 2021 Takarazuka Kinen, looks to go out a winner in her last race, Sunday's Grade 1 Arima Kinen. Photo courtesy of Japan Racing Association

Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Ho, ho, ho! And a merry Christmas to all. Here's hoping you find plenty of winning tickets in your stockings (or wherever you keep them for good luck). Be safe and be kind.

Meanwhile, it's our good fortune to find lots of good racing this weekend, albeit not until Sunday.


Santa Anita celebrates its traditional Boxing Day season opener with six graded stakes races, three of them Grade I affairs, while Fair Grounds adds the Gun Runner Stakes for 2-year-olds to its Louisiana Derby progression as part of its own six-stakes day.

Gulfstream Park and Laurel Park are in the mix, while Turfway Park sends 2-year-old fillies out for a spin.

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In the olden days, we'd have said the guys head for the track the day after Christmas while the ladies head for the returns counter at the department store. We now know that would be an anachronistic and sexist thing to say -- not to mention stupid. Let's everybody go to the track!


And don't ignore the international racing scene, which finds the Grade 1 Arima Kinen on tap in Japan.

And away we all go, like the down on a thistle.

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Santa Anita

Sunday's program is just chock full o' goodies.

The $300,000 Grade I Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds at 7 furlongs looks like a real pip. The first good clue is that Dr. Scheivel, who came within a nose of winning the Breeders' Cup Sprint in his last start, is only the second-favorite on the morning line at 5-2. And Triple Tap, an undefeated half-brother to American Pharoah, is 5-1 on the line.

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Wadda gotta do to get a little respect around here?

Well, start by not running against the 4-5 favorite, Flightline. He, like Triple Tap, is a Tapit colt, both bred by Summer Wind Equine. Like Triple Tap, he's undefeated in two starts.

His scores have been more visually impressive, coming by margins of 13 1/4 lengths and 12 3/4 lengths and Flavien Prat, who rode in all four wins, opts for Flightline. Still, Triple Tap has rallied beautifully from off the pace to win both his starts by comfortable margins.

Before rushing to the betting window, remember that neither Flightline nor Triple Tap has yet contested a stakes race of any kind, while Dr. Schivel has won two Grade I's and a Grade II in addition to the "woulda, coulda, shoulda" in the Breeders Cup.


Private Mission was a disappointment for trainer Bob Baffert on Breeders' Cup weekend, fading through the stretch to finish 11th in the Distaff. The Into Mischief miss returns as the favorite while cutting back to 7 furlongs in the $300,000 Grade I La Brea for 3-year-old fillies.

Even if the distance suits her better, it's no easy assignment with the likes of Livingmybestlife likely to challenge her for the lead. Missy P. opened her career with a stunner back in March, misfired on the turf in June, finishing fifth in a minor stakes and hasn't raced since. Her workouts are promising.

Hot Rod Charlie is back for another go in the $200,000 Grade II San Antonio at 1 1/16 miles on the dirt. The Oxbow colt was third in the Kentucky Derby, second in the Belmont and won the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby before finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

He also probably would have won the Grade I Haskell if he hadn't been DQ'd for misbehaving in the stretch. He'll be an honorable mention on many Eclipse Award ballots in the 3-year-old male category based on that record and stands head and shoulders above the other six in this heat.


Note that trainer Doug O'Neill added blinkers for the Breeders' Cup and they're back off for this.

The $300,000 Grade I American Oaks on the turf features as morning-line favorite Going Global, an Irish-bred filly by Mehmas who has won six of seven starts since arriving in the United States from Ireland.

The victories include the Grade I Del Mar Oaks and the Grade II Goldikova in her most recent, with the Goldikova score coming against older rivals.

This is a tough field, with the Katsumi Yoshida-owned Nicest looking poised for a top effort in her third start in North America and Fluffy Socks, Closing Remarks and Burgoo Alley all in good form. The 1 1/4-miles journey starts on the downhill course.

The $200,000 Grade II San Gabriel at 1 1/8 miles on the turf is like one of those old Bing Crosby, Bob Hope & Dorothy Lamour "Road to ..." movies with the morning-line favorites Hit the Road and Friar's Road.

Both have suffered narrow defeats in recent starts and with similar off-the-pace running styles should put on a good show down the stretch. There's other talent and some promising value in the rest of the seven-horse field, too.


Beyond Brilliant looks like the early leader in the $200,000 Grade II Mathis Brothers Mile for 3-year-old turfers and, since the Twirling Candy colt is cutting back in distance, he well could be gone before the others get going.

He just did hang on going a furlong farther to win the Grade I Hollywood Derby in his last start. If he falters, Du Jour is back from a productive trip east and back in the Baffert barn, looking capable of doing some damage in the final furlong.

Fair Grounds

Sunday's brand-new $100,000 Gun Runner Stakes for 2-year-olds leads nicely into the New Orleans track's 2022 Louisiana Derby series. Since Fair Grounds is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., it's no surprise the race already has been plugged into the "Road to the Kentucky Derby," offering points on the 10-4-2-1 scale.

What is a little surprising is the only Steve Asmussen trainee in the seven-horse field is Epicenter, a son of Not This Time. Asmussen trained Gun Runner and has reveled this year in the success of his progeny.

On the flip side, Epicenter is owned by Winchell Thoroughbred, who also campaigned Gun Runner. Epicenter is the 5-2 favorite on the morning line after scoring his first win in his second start Nov. 13 under the Twin Spires.


At 3-1 on the line are Rocket Dawg, a Classic Empire colt trained by Brad Cox who won his only previous start, also at Churchill Downs, and Tejano Twist, a Practical Joke from the Bret Calhoun barn. The latter already has eight starts under his belt and won the last two at Keeneland and Churchill Downs.

It's a well-bred field and none of the others would be much of a surprise.

The Gun Runner is followed at Fair Grounds by the Lecomte on Jan. 22, the Risen Star on Feb. 19 and the Louisiana Derby March 26.

Also on Sunday's card:

The $100,000 Untapable Stakes for 2-year-old fillies starts the local run of preps for the Kentucky Oaks. A well-matched field of eight is rounded up with Cocktail Moments the lukewarm morning-line favorite at 3-1.

The Uncle Mo filly, trained by Kenny McPeek, won at first asking at Churchill Downs Nov. 21, drawing off to a 9 1/4-lengths score at odds of 26-1.

Ten older horses are set for the $100,000 Tenacious Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the main track with Shared Sense the 5-2 favorite. The 4-year-old Godolphin homebred by Street Sense finished third in the Grade III Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs in his last outing.


Three $75,000 races are carded for the turf course -- the Buddy Diliberto Memorial and the Blushing K.D. for fillies and mares, both at 1 1/16 miles, and Richard R. Scherer Memorial at 5 1/2 furlongs.

Gulfstream Park

Sunday's program has two $100,000, 1 1/16-miles heats on the turf for 3-year-olds. The Tropical Park Derby drew three more than the maximum 12 starters, and we note the also-eligibles include Shady McGee, whose name we presume does not reference Daily Racing Form's ace reporter Marty McGee.

The Tropical Park Oaks has a field of nine. There's plenty of excellent wagering opportunity here.

Laurel Park

Sunday's program at the Maryland oval features six $100,000 stakes races, including the Heft Stakes for 2-year-olds and the Gin Talking Stakes for 2-year-old fillies.

The morning-line favorite in the Heft is Life Is Great, a recent maiden winner, and wouldn't it be fun to see him do well enough to like up sometime next year against budding superstar Life Is Good?

Around the world, around the clock:


Chrono Genesis will join recent retirees Contrail, Gran Alegria and Loves Only You after Sunday's Grade 1 Arima Kinen at Nakayama Racecourse and, like those departed superstars, looks to go out a winner.


Contrail bowed out after winning the Grade 1 Japan Cup. Loves Only You headed for her second career after taking the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Cup. And Gran Alegria hung up her tack after winning the Grade 1 Mile Championship.

The mass departure of older horses to Japan's busy breeding sheds opens the way for new blood at the top of the racing order, and some promising 3-year-olds are ready to mix it up on Sunday.

Perhaps the best of them, Efforia, already has beaten both Contrail and Gran Alegria in the Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Autumn) on Halloween.

Efforia, a Epiphaneia colt, has five wins from six starts with the only defeat a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Tokyo Yushun or Japanese Derby.

Also solidly in the mix Sunday are Titleholder, a Duramente colt who has had his ups and downs this season, but comes off a 5-length victory in the 3,000-meter Kikuka Sho, or Japanese St. Leger, a key prep for the Arima Kinen, and Stella Voce, fourth in that race.


All-weather specialists are back in action at Wolverhampton on Boxing Day with the 6-furlongs Betway Conditions Stakes prominent among a triple feature. That race has been used in recent years as a springboard to the All-Weather Championships Finals Day by the likes of Kachy and Pretend.


Group 3 winner Judicial is on a list of familiar names for the set-to. Last season's Betway All-Weather Sprint Championships runner-up Exalted Angel heads two contenders for Karl Burke along with Lord Of The Lodge, a seven-furlong handicap winner at Newcastle earlier this month.

Ejtilaab will try to shake off whatever caused him to be pulled up in his first start for Charlie Fellowes in the Stewards' Cup at Goodwood.

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