Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Opening Day at the Great Race Place

Around noon in Arcadia, California on the day after Christmas, over 44,000 people focused their eyes on the starting gate at Santa Anita Park. Suddenly, six two-year-old fillies broke from the gate in the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes. The winner, Ismene, was no surprise, as she went off as the heavy favorite. The undefeated filly galloped effortlessly to a near-three-length victory under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. The opening day card at the Great Race Place had gotten off to a spectacular start, which was a hint at what was to come in later races.
Stakes action returned in the seventh race, the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes for juvenile males. Got Even, coming off a disappointing finish in the Generous Stakes (GIII) at Hollywood Park, dominated the race by 4 ¼ lengths at 12-1.
Mr. Commons
Photo by Mary Cage

In the next race, all eyes were on Mr. Commons, who was coming off a tough fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI). The John Shirreffs trainee made a dazzling move as the horses neared the finish line, splitting horses in mid-stretch. The classy sun of the Breeder's Cup Mile-winning Artie Schiller accelerated beautifully, drawing off to win by 3 ¼ lengths under Mike Smith in an imposing final time of 1:33.94 for a mile on the turf. This colt is getting better and better and he absolutely blows me away with his class and the ease with which he wins races. He is rapidly improving and will be a force to be reckoned with in 2012.

The Factor
Photo: Terri Cage

After Mr. Commons’ dazzling victory came another scintillating performance. The last race on the card was the Malibu Stakes (GI) for three-year-old colts going seven furlongs. The Factor, a grade one winner, went off as the favorite despite a disappointing finish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) last out. However, the speedy Bob Baffert trainee had drawn the rail in his past two starts, but he was able to break on the outside this time around, which allowed him to have a better trip. The talented charcoal gray colt effortlessly won the grade one race by 3 ½ lengths, running the final sixteenth of a mile in an impressive 11.97 seconds and earning Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his first win in the Malibu. The final time, 1:19.89, was just .19 seconds slower than the record set by Twirling Candy in the same race in 2010, which came on the same day The Factor broke his maiden in track record time for six furlongs. Centralinteligence appeared to jump something on the far turn, was eased by Joel Rosario, and seems to have come out of the race well despite the incident.

The Factor may travel to Meydan Racecourse to race in the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen on March 31, 2012 and Mr. Commons may return to dirt in the $200,000 Strub Stakes (GII) on February 4, 2012.

Monday’s racing at Santa Anita implied that the Great Race Place will have incredible racing for the rest of its meet, which stretches until April 22, 2012. The Strub Series should attract plenty of talented horses and the Arcadia track’s contentious three-year-old graded stakes series should provide plenty of excitement on the Kentucky Derby trail. With the San Gabriel Mountains directly across from the historic grandstand and brilliant horses competing on the track’s classy dirt and turf courses, Santa Anita should definitely live up to its nickname, the Great Race Place, yet again this meet.

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