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Jon White's Stakes Selections for Opening Day at Santa Anita

by Jon White

December 24, 2020

Santa Anita Park presents an outstanding 11-race card this Saturday to kick off its long winter-spring meeting.

Six stakes races will be contested Saturday. There are three Grade I events, two Grade II races, one Grade III affair, one ungraded stakes race and a partridge in a pear tree.

Dec. 26 is the traditional date for Santa Anita to open. But last year’s opening day was delayed until Dec. 28 due to anticipated inclement weather.

The three Grade I races highlighting this Saturday’s card are the Runhappy Malibu Stakes, La Brea Stakes and American Oaks. These same three Grade I races also were run on last year’s opening-day program. Omaha Beach won the Malibu. Hard Not to Love got the job done in the La Brea. Lady Prancealot was victorious in the American Oaks.

This year’s seven-furlong Malibu has drawn an especially strong group of six 3-year-olds. It is headed by a pair of talented runners in Nashville and Charlatan. These two thus far have crossed the finish line in front each time they have raced.

Nashville, trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, is three for three. He’s won by 11 1/2, 9 3/4 and 3 1/2 lengths. His Beyer Speed Figures have been 91, 103 and 102.

When Nashville was last seen under silks, he sported a five-length lead at the eighth pole and went on to win Keeneland’s Perryville Stakes by 3 1/2 lengths on the Breeders’ Cup undercard. Even though the Kentucky-bred Speightstown colt was geared down late, he completed six furlongs on a lightning-fast main track in 1:07.89 to break the track record.

The Malibu will be Nashville’s first start in a graded stakes event. This also will be the farthest he has ever raced.

Charlatan, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, has finished first by 5 3/4, 10 1/4 and six lengths in his three career starts. The six-length margin came when he made his stakes debut in a division of the Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park last May 2, but his share of that purse eventually was taken away from him due to a medication violation. His Beyer Speed Figures have been 105, 106 and 96.

The Malibu will be Charlatan’s first start since the Arkansas Derby.

The Malibu field, in post-position order from the rail out, is comprised of Collusion Illusion (8-1 on the morning line), Thousand Words (8-1), Nashville (6-5), Charlatan (9-5), Express Train (15-1) and Independence Hall (4-1).

Independence Hall attracted attention when he won Aqueduct’s Grade III Nashua Stakes by 12 1/4 lengths at Aqueduct in his final start as a 2-year-old. He won the Jerome Stakes at the Big A in his first start at 3 on New Year’s Day, then lost his next two races.

Collusion Illusion, trained by Mark Glatt, is back in a race restricted to 3-year-olds after finishing 12th in the Grade I BC Sprint at Keeneland on Nov. 7. The Florida-bred Twirling Candy colt defeated his elders when he won Del Mar’s Grade I Bing Crosby Stakes on Aug. 1.

The last time Collusion Illusion ran in a race for 3-year-olds only, he won the Grade III Lazaro Barrera Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths at Santa Anita on June 20.

Thousand Words, like Charlatan, resides in the powerful Baffert barn. He won the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity last year at 2.

This will be Thousand Words’ first start since he ran eighth in the Grade I Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on Oct. 3. The Florida-bred Pioneerof the Nile colt, a $1 million yearling, won the Shared Belief Stakes on Aug. 1 at Del Mar when the runner-up was Grade I Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A.P.

Express Train switches back to dirt after finishing eighth in the Grade II Twilight Derby on the turf Oct. 18 at Santa Anita. Trained by John Shirreffs, the Kentucky-bred Union Rags colt has recorded a number of sharp workouts on the dirt since the Twilight Derby.

After finishing fifth in this year’s Grade I Florida Derby on March 28, Independence Hall underwent a trainer change from Michael Trombetta to Michael McCarthy. In Independence Hall’s first start for McCarthy, the Kentucky-bred Constitution colt came from off the pace to win an allowance/optional claiming sprint by 1 1/2 lengths on Nov. 8 at Del Mar.

Below are my selections for all six stakes races on Santa Anita’s opening-day card:

Grade II Mathis Brothers Mile (Race 4): 1. Smooth Like Strait, 2. Field Pass, 3. Scarto, 4. Whisper Not.

Grade II San Antonio Stakes (Race 7): 1. Mucho Gusto, 2. Sharp Samurai, 3. Idol, 4. Extra Hope.

Grade I La Brea Stakes (Race 8): 1. Finite, 2. Merneith, 3. Stellar Sound, 4. Motivated Seller.

Grade I American Oaks (Race 9): 1. Sharing, 2. Capital Structure, 3. Luck Money, 4. Duopoly.

Grade I Runhappy Malibu Stakes (Race 10): 1. Nashville, 2. Charlatan, 3. Independence Hall, 4. Collusion Illusion.

Lady of Shamrock Stakes (Race 11): 1. Warren’s Showtime, 2. Counterparty Risk, 3. Miss Extra, 4. On Mars.


Spielberg resolutely kept to his task coming down the long stretch and just barely got up in the nick of time to eke out a nose victory in last Saturday’s Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity at odds of 9-5.

This was Spielberg’s first stakes win. He had finished second in the Grade I Del Mar Futurity and third in Santa Anita’s Grade I American Phaorah Stakes.

Spielberg completed his 1 1/16-mile journey last Saturday in 1:42.56.

The Great One, a maiden, finished second in the field of six. Petruchio came in third.

This was what you all a tough beat for The Great One. Dismissed by bettors at 33-1, he led for every step of the 1 1/16-mile contest until getting nailed right on the finish line.

Spielberg and The Great One each were credited with an 81 Beyer Speed Figure.

This was by far The Great One’s best performance yet. His top Beyer Speed Figure prior to the Los Alamitos Futurity had been a 68. The Great One had run only a 62 Beyer when he finished fourth, 13 lengths behind Spielberg, in a one-mile maiden race at Del Mar on Nov. 1.

Spielberg’s pilot last Saturday was Flavien Prat. A $1 million yearling, the Kentucky-bred Union Rags colt had been ridden in his previous five races by Drayden Van Dyke, Amir Cedillo (three times) and Luis Saez.

The Great One “was tough to get by,” Baffert said of Spielberg after his first stakes win last Saturday. “We needed every bit of that stretch and we were fortunate to get there.”

Red Flag, sent away as the 4-5 favorite, was a big disappointment while racing around two turns for the first time. He ended up fourth, 8 1/2 lengths behind Spielberg and The Great One. Red Flag went into the Los Al Futurity off a 7 1/4-length victory in Del Mar’s Grade II Bob Hope Stakes in a 10-1 upset on Nov. 15. Spielberg finished fourth as the 3-5 favorite in the seven-furlong Bob Hope, 9 1/2 lengths behind Red Flag.

Baffert has attributed Spielberg’s lackluster Bob Hope effort to coming back too quickly, just two weeks after a hard-fought nose win in a one-mile maiden race at Del Mar. According to Baffert, Spielberg also “didn’t ship well” to Del Mar for the Bob Hope.

Looking ahead, Santa Anita’s Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 30 will likely be next for Spielberg, whose sire won the Grade I Belmont Stakes in 2012.

Meanwhile, Baffert told me Sunday that Santa Anita’s Grade III Sham Stakes at one mile Jan. 2 is “probable” for Life Is Good, a scintillating 9 1/2-length winner at first asking Nov. 22 in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race at Del Mar.

Thoroughbred Daily News’ Bill Finley wrote that Baffert said Life Is Good has raw talent like American Pharoah, Justify and Authentic.

American Pharoah and Justify were Triple Crown winners for Baffert. Authentic is expected to be voted 2020 Horse of the Year after winning this year’s Grade I Kentucky Derby and Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic.

After Hollywood Park ceased racing late in 2013, the Hollywood Futurity switched tracks to Los Alamitos and was renamed the Los Alamitos Futurity. Baffert has swept all seven editions of the Los Alamitos Futurity.

Baffert’s Los Alamitos Futurity winners are listed below:

2020 Spielberg (81 Beyer Speed Figure)
2019 Thousand Words (91)
2018 Improbable (96)
2017 McKinzie (92)
2016 Mastery (91)
2015 Mor Spirit (88)
2014 Dortmund (91)

Baffert’s Hollywood Futurity winners are listed below:

2011 Liaison (91)*
2009 Lookin At Lucky (83)*
2008 Pioneerof the Nile (86)*
2000 Point Given (101)
1999 Captain Steve (101)
1997 Real Quiet (102)

*Run on a synthetic surface

While it is remarkable that Baffert has won the Los Alamitos Futurity/Hollywood Futurity 13 times, there is another Grade I race he’s won even more times.

Baffert has won the Grade I Del Mar Futurity a total of 14 times, including a run of seven straight years like the Los Alamitos Futurity. Baffert’s Del Mar Futurity winners are listed below:

2018 Game Winner (93)
2016 Klimt (94)
2014 American Pharoah (101)*
2012 Rolling Fog (78)*
2011 Drill (90)*
2009 Lookin At Lucky (82)*
2008 Midshipman (85)*
2002 Icecoldbeeratreds (96)
2001 Officer (99)
2000 Flame Thrower (103)
1999 Forest Camp (106)
1998 Worldly Manner (95)
1997 Souvenir Copy (91)
1996 Silver Charm (97)

*Run on a synthetic surface

Baffert this year also registered his ninth win in Monmouth Park’s Grade I Haskell Inviational. His nine Haskell winners are listed below:

2020 Authentic
2015 American Pharoah
2014 Bayern
2012 Paynter
2011 Coil
2010 Lookin At Lucky
2005 Roman Ruler
2002 War Emblem
2001 Point Given

Baffert and Hall of Famers Charlie Whittingham and D. Wayne Lukas are the only trainers to have won any of the current Grade I races nine times or more.

Whittingham’s nine Grade I Santa Anita Handicap wins are listed below:

1993 Sir Beaufort
1990 Ruhlmann
1986 Greinton
1985 Lord at War
1975 Stardust Mel
1973 Cougar II
1971 Ack Ack
1967 Pretense
1957 Corn Husker

Lukas’ nine Grade I Del Mar Debutante wins are listed below:

1996 Sharp Cat
1989 Rue de Palm
1988 Lea Lucinda+
1987 Lost Kitty
1995 Arewehavingfunyet
1994 Fiesta Lady
1993 Althea
1982 Landaluce
1978 Terlingua

+Placed first through the disqualification of Approved to Fly

Lukas’ nine wins in Santa Anita’s Grade I Chandelier Stakes (formerly the Grade I Oak Leaf Stakes) are listed below:

1996 City Band
1995 Tipically Irish
1994 Serena’s Song
1988 One of a Klein
1987 Dream Team
1986 Sacahuista
1985 Arewehavingfunyet
1983 Althea
1982 Landaluce