Equinox wins the Grade 1 Arima Kinen at Nakayama Racecourse. Photo by and courtesy of Katsumi Saito
Dec. 27 (UPI) -- Trainer Bob Baffert celebrated Christmas a day late with five winners on Santa Anita's Opening Day program Monday, likely boosting one of those horses to an Eclipse Award and perhaps setting up another for a repeat raid on the rich races in the Middle East.
It was a star-studded day in front of a big crowd at Santa Anita, as Juan Hernandez rode four winners and Frankie Dettori, heading into his final year of competition, booted home three.
Baffert's decision to run Taiba in the 7-furlong Malibu Stakes was a canny move that earned the colt his third Grade I win and may have engineered the 3-year-old Eclipse award for him.
And Baffert got Dubai World Cup winner Country Grammer back on the winning track in the Grade II San Antonio.
"People ask how my Christmas was," Baffert said. "I was nervous all day that I'd screw up today and go 0-for-14 or something."
With Laurel Park's races on Monday postponed to Dec. 30 because of the winter storm, Boxing Day belonged to Santa Anita and Fair Grounds, with an assist to Gulfstream Park.
On the international front, it was the younger generation strutting its stuff in Japan in Grade 1 Arima Kinen and Remorse making a bid for a Word Cup spot with a victory in Dubai.
Let's close out the books on 2022 with this:
By the numbers, Taiba looked like the best horse heading into Monday's $300,000 Grade I Runhappy Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita.
But there were a few minor considerations -- a nearly two-month break since his third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic and the cutback to 7 furlongs.
None of it mattered when jockey Mike Smith gave the Gun Runner colt the go signal at the top of the stretch. He quickly spurted from the middle of a three-horse tangle, opened a daylight lead in just a few strides and won by 4 1/2 lengths. He finished in 1:21.75, with Forbidden Kingdom the best of the rest of the field.
Taiba now has won three Grade I races this year with the Santa Anita Derby and the Pennsylvania Derby logged earlier. No other 3-year-old has more top-level wins and, with the Triple Crown races split among three different winners, Taiba should attract a lot of support for 3-year-old honors.
His most likely rival, Epicenter, finished second in the Kentucky Derby, but won only once at the Grade I level and suffered a career-ending injury in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Taiba's trainer, the aforementioned Bob Baffert, apparently didn't feel the need to campaign for the Eclipse Award.
"I don't have a vote, and I respect the other people's horses," Blood-Horse's Tracy Gantz quoted Baffert as saying. "It was unfortunate that Epicenter got hurt. We want it decided on the racetrack. Right now I'm just enjoying this."
And, speaking of Baffert:
Country Grammer spent most of 2022 running against the world's best, winning the $12 million Dubai World Cup and finishing second in the $20 million Saudi Cup, the Grade I Awesome Again, the Grade I Pacific Classic and the Grade II San Diego.
He wasn't facing that kind in Monday's $200,000 Grade II San Antonio at Santa Anita, and certainly wasn't extended in winning by 4 1/2 lengths while united with the World Cup rider, Frankie Dettori.
The 5-year-old son of Tonalist, always close while biding his time, took over the lead when asked by Dettori and drew off to win by 4 1/2 lengths. Stilleto Boy and Heywoods Beach were second and third, respectively.
"This horse is the neatest, coolest horse," Baffert told Britney Eurton on FanDuel TV. "He has really brought us up when we were really down. He has come through. He's a clutch horse. That little freshening really helped him and he's been doing so great."
He did not outline plans for Country Grammer.
Moon Swag came rolling through the final furlong to win the $100,000 Joseph E. Spankey Broussard Memorial at Fair Grounds by 2 1/2 lengths over Powder River with the odds-on favorite, Charlie's Penny, a head back of that one in third.
Moon Swag, a 4-year-old filly by Malibu Moon, ran 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:43.21 with Corey Lanerie in the irons. She was making just her third start of the year after more than a year on the sidelines.
Turf / Turf Mile
Dicey Mo Chara overcame a rough start to win Monday's $200,000 Grade II San Gabriel Stakes on the Santa Anita turf, outfinishing stablemate Flashiest by 1/2 length. Masteroffoxhounds, the favorite, dueled for the lead on the backstretch and held on to finish third.
Hernandez had the winning ride for trainer Leonard Powell, who also trains Flashiest.
Dicey Mo Chara, a British-bred 4-year-old by Adaay, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm going in 1:47.78. "I would have loved a dead heat," Powell said. "Both horses ran great. At the three-eighths pole, I thought Flashiest was going to get there."
One More Bid, coming off his maiden-breaker Nov. 19 at Del Mar, got Santa Anita's Monday Opening Day program off with an upset win.
The California Chrome gelding tracked the early leader in the $200,000 Mathis Mile for 3-year-olds, hooked up in a three-way battle to the line and won by a nose over the favorite, Balnikhov. The early leader, Sumter, was third.
One More Bid finished in 1:33.67 on firm turf with Ramon Vazquez in the irons. He took seven tries to get his first win and now has two in a row.
At Fair Grounds, Spooky Channel showed no ill effects from a 14-months layoff, circling the leaders from a stalking spot to win Monday's $100,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial by 2 1/4 lengths over English Tavern.
Spooky Channel, a 5-year-old English Channel gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm footing in 1:48.41 with James Graham riding. Trained by Jason Barkley, Spooky Channel was last seen winning the Grade III Sycamore at Keeneland Oct. 22, 2021.
Monday's $100,000 Tropical Park Derby was shifted from the Gulfstream Park turf to the all-weather track with Golden Glider rallying from next-last of 12 to win by a nose over pacesetting Steady On. Dakota Gold dead heated with Fort Washington for third and fourth, a neck farther back.
Golden Glider, a Ghostzapper gelding trained by Mark Casse, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:40.44 with Jose Morelos aboard. It was his first start on the turf after a Triple Crown bid that culminated in an eighth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes.
Filly & Mare Turf
Rhea Moon put a head in front of School Dance in the final strides to win Monday's $300,000 Grade I American Oaks at Santa Anita in a mild upset. Sparkle Blue was third and the favorite, Salimah, faded to finish seventh after leading much of the way.
Rhea Moon, an Irish-bred filly by Starspangledbanner, ran 1 1/4 miles on firm turf, starting on the hillside course, in 2:00.75 with Hernandez getting his fourth winner and second Grade I winner on the day.
Rhea Moon started her career in Ireland and has posted four wins, three seconds and two thirds this year for trainer Phil D'Amato.
Oliviaofthedesert made her first foray into the Big Easy a winning one, edging by Wave of Goodness in the final strides to win Monday's $100,000 Blushing K.D. Stakes at Fair Grounds by a head. The favorite, Lake Lucerne, checked in third.
Oliviaofthedesert, also making her first start for trainer Wayne Catalano, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:50.10. The 4-year-old Bernardini filly scored her first win since June at Prairie Meadows.
Candy Light swung well out toward the center of the track turning for home in Monday's off-the-turf $100,000 Tropical Park Oaks at Gulfstream Park, rallied between rivals to get the lead inside the furlong marker and won by 1 length. Surprisingly and the favorite, Personal Best, filled out the trifecta.
Candy Light, a Candy Ride filly trained by Graham Motion, finished 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:40.59 with Jose Ortiz riding. It was just her third win from 11 starts, but she has finished in the money in eight of the 11.
Surveillance backed up his victory in the Thanksgiving Classic with a 2-length victory in Monday's $100,000 Richard R. Scherer Memorial at Fairgrounds. The 5-year-old Constitution gelding took back early and came four-wide to challenge. Bango was second, 2 3/4 lengths in front of Heart Rhythm.
Surveillance ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.61 with James Graham up.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Fun to Dream seized the lead at the top of the stretch in Monday's $300,000 Grade I La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and held off late-running Awake at Midnyte by 3/4 length for the win. Kirstenbosch was a long shot third.
Fun to Dream, an Arrogate filly, ran 7 furlongs in 1:21.99 with Hernandez aboard for the ubiquitousd Bob Baffert and owners Jill Baffert and Connie Pageler. It was the filly's fifth win from six starts, a string interrupted only when she finished second to Awake at Midnyte in September, and then was set down to ninth for interference.
Every one of the seven starters in Monday's $100,000 Gun Runner Stakes at Fair Grounds had questions to answer but, perhaps, none more than the winner, Jace's Road.
The Quality Road colt seemed to be going the wrong way for trainer Brad Cox, winning his first start in August at Ellis Park, but then finishing third in the Grade III Iroquois at Churchill Downs and most recently reporting eighth, beaten more than 36 lengths, in the Grade III Street Sense, also under the Twin Spires.
Jace's Road and jockey Florent Geroux had all the answers Monday, battling to the lead, then drawing off to score by 5 1/2 lengths. He finished 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.85.
Instead of a gold star for answering correctly, the colt got 10 points on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard. Added to the 3 points earned in the Iroquois, he now stands No. 4 in that ranking.
The Street Sense beatdown, over a sloppy track, was a disappointment to Cox, who has no shortage of early contenders for the Run for the Roses.
"I could tell in the paddock that day he just wasn't quite himself," Cox said.
"He's always trained well and only had that setback in late October. We needed something in this race. We have several colts who are trying to march toward the Derby."
In Monday's $100,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes at 6 furlongs, Corona Bolt wasted no time putting away five rivals for his second win without a loss. The Bolt d'Oro colt, also trained by Cox, led early and drew off easily to win by 6 3/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. He won at first asking at Churchill Downs on Nov. 19.
The next race in the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series is the $250,000 Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park on New Year's Day, also worth 10 points to the winner.
Pretty Mischievous, a Godolphin homebred daughter of Into Mischief, returned to the winner's circle after a 3 1/4-length victory in Monday's $100,000 Untapable Stakes at Fair Grounds.
With Brian Hernandez Jr. up, Pretty Mischievous raced back of the lead trio through the early furlongs of the 1 1/16-miles affair, got to the front leaving the stretch turn and kicked clear, finishing in 1:44.03.
She won her first two starts impressively, then finished third, 5 1/2 lengths back of the winner, in the Grade 2 Golden Rod at Churchill Downs in her last start.
In Monday's $100,000, 6-furlong Letellier Memorial at Fair Grounds, Dazzling Blue was sent hard to the lead after starting flat-footed, got the lead before the turn and kicked clear to win by 3 lengths over Condensation. Miss Shipman was a nose farther back in the photo.
Dazzling Blue, an Into Mischief filly trained by Brad Cox, finished in 1:11.59 with Florent Geroux up. She won her only previous start at Churchill Downs Nov. 16.
Around the world, around the clock
Sunday's Grade 1 Arima Kinen, Japan's final race of the year for 3-year-olds and up, turned into a tour de force for the younger crowd as Equinox spurted clear in the stretch to win by 2 1/2 lengths and Boldog Hos rallied from next-last of 16 to finish second.
Both are 3-year-olds, and Equinox put the finishing touch on a campaign that promises great things for 2023. Among the vanquished older rivals in the Arima Kinen were Titleholder, Efforia and recent Japan Cup winner Vela Azul.
Equinox, a Kitisan Black colt, finished second in both the Grade I Satsuki Sho or Japanese 2000 Guineas and the Tokyo Yushun or Japanese Derby.
After a five-month break, he came back a better horse, winning his first start against older rivals in the Group 1 Tenno Sho (Autumn) Oct. 30 in preparation for the Arima Kinen.
"Though he was not mature, yet during his spring campaign, he became really strong from this fall and I look forward to his performance next year," winning rider Christophe Lemaire said of Equinox.
Boldog Hos, by Screen Hero, also has shown maturity in his late-season efforts, finishing second in the Grade I Kikuka Sho or Japanese St. Leger in his last race before the Arima Kinen.
Remorse, sixth in the 2022 Dubai World Cup, put up a hoof as a likely contender for the 2023 version with a professional victory in Friday night's Entisar Stakes at Meydan.
The 5-year-old Dubawi gelding raced just off the leading duo of Bendoog and First Constitution, took on those rivals early in the stretch run and prevailed by 1 length.
Bendoog finished second with First Constitution staying well for third in the 2,000-meters contest -- the same trip as the World Cup.
"I just gave him a no-nonsense ride and rode him like he was the best horse in the race," winning jockey Tadhg O'Shea said.
"We have to work back from the big days so there's plenty of improvement to come. Today's only the start and not the end. He'll tighten up a good bit from today. Saudi [Cup] is in the plans, but ideally he'll have one more run before that."
Bhupat Seemar trains both Remorse and Bendoog.
The program also included the UAE 1000 Guineas Trial, given an earlier date this year for better spacing between the fillies' races.
Mimi Kakushi, a City of Light filly with Mickael Barzalona in the irons, took the lead with less than 2 furlongs to run and won by 2 lengths. Asawer and Awasef, both from Doug Watson's yard, were second and third, respectively.
"She just needed experience," Barzalona said of Mimi Kakushi, referencing fourth-place finishes in her two previous starts. "She's definitely a filly who will be better over longer. She will have her chance in the Guineas, but she will be better in the Oaks."