Bob Baffert was inducted into the national Hall of Fame in 2009. Since then, he’s continued adding to his accomplishments, such as sweeping a pair of Triple Crowns, first with American Pharoah in 2015, then with Justify in 2018.
On Monday (Dec 26), Baffert made more history by achieving another sweep. No trainer had ever swept all of the dirt races on an opening-day card at Santa Anita…until Baffert did it on Monday. Three of his five wins came in graded stakes races.
Below is a race-by-race look at all five of Baffert’s victories Monday at Santa Anita:
RACE 2. A maiden special weight for 3-year-olds and up at one mile on dirt.
BLETCHLEY PARK lurked in third early, battled for the lead down the lane and prevailed by a neck at 3-1 for Baffert. The six-horse field produced a four-horse blanket finish. Purified, the 7-5 favorite also trained by Baffert, came in second. Palagio finished third, followed by Princip in fourth. The margins were a neck, a neck and a head. It was 29 lengths back to Mastermind in fifth.
Bletchley Park sold for $2.6 million at public auction. As such, he had been something of a disappointment by losing his first four starts until finally earning his maiden diploma Monday. The 3-year-old Kentucky-bred colt by 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist recorded a career-best 81 Beyer Speed Figure in Monday’s triumph.
The $1 Baffert exacta paid $8.90.
RACE 4. A maiden special weight for 2-year-olds at six furlongs on dirt.
FAUSTIN, an $800,000 auction purchase, kicked off his racing career with a sylish come-from-behind victory. Fifth early in the field of eight, he charged to the front after passing the eighth pole and went on to win by 2 3/4 lengths for Baffert as a 4-5 favorite. Another Baffert first-time starter, Sonoran, finished second.
A Kentucky-bred colt by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, Faustin was credited with an 89 Beyer Speed Figure.
RACE 6. The Grade II San Antonio Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles on dirt.
COUNTRY GRAMMER proved a punctual 3-5 favorite. Hustled to stalk early, he took over at the quarter pole and went on to win convincingly by 4 1/2 lengths for Baffert. Stilleto Boy finished second, while Heywoods Beach ran third in the field of six.
Country Grammer received a 99 Beyer Speed Figure for his San Antonio performance. He is scheduled to make his next start in the $20 million Saudi Cup on Feb. 25, a race he finished second in this year.
The San Antonio win by Country Grammer served as a reminder of just how much Flightline towered over everyone on the American racing stage this year.
In the Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Sept. 3, Flightline registered a 19 1/4-length victory. Even though Flightline annihilated Country Grammer (and everyone else) in the Pacific Classic, here was Country Grammer winning a Grade II race by daylight Monday at Santa Anita.
Next week I will be revealing my list of the Top 10 performances by a Thoroughbred in the United States during 2022, a list that not surprisingly will be dominated by Flightline.
RACE 8. The Grade I La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs on dirt.
FUN TO DREAM, sent off as the 5-2 second favorite in the field of seven, forced the early pace, responded gamely when the real test came and won by three-quarters of a length for Baffert. The California-bred Arrogate filly recorded a career-best 94 Beyer Speed Figure.
After taking the La Brea, Fun to Dream now has won five of six career starts. In her only defeat, she finished second and was disqualified to ninth in an allowance/optional claiming sprint Sept. 4 at Del Mar.
I had a substantial win wager on Fun to Dream on Sept. 4. She was the 1-2 favorite. Awake At Midnyte won that race at 6-1 while drilling Fun to Dream by 3 1/4 lengths. On Monday, Fun to Dream turned the tables on Awake At Midnyte, who finished second in the La Brea.
Somehow I managed to have a big win bet on Fun to Dream the only time she’s ever been beaten. Sometimes this really can be a cruel game.
RACE 10. The Grade I Runhappy Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs on dirt.
TAIBA won the Malibu emphatically as a 2-5 favorite. As he bounded home well clear in the field of nine, Santa Anita announcer Frank Mirahmadi described it perfectly for the enthusiastic throng of 41,446 in attendance, plus thousands more watching on television or on various devices:
“It’s Taiba, absolutely terrific in winning the Runhappy Malibu by four widening lengths. Forbidden Kingdom was second, then it was Hoist the Gold in front of Nakatomi. The running time, a crisp 1:21.75.”
Taiba’s official winning margin was 4 1/4 lengths.
I nailed the Malibu exacta with my stakes selections for Xpressbet.com. The $1 exacta returned $8.40. Hoist the Gold, who finished third, came home willingly as a 29-1 longshot and, it should be noted, galloped out well in front of everyone, including Taiba, after the finish.
Mirahmadi was spot on when calling Taiba’s final time “a crisp 1:21.75.”
Flightline won the 2021 Malibu in 1:21.37 and was credited with a 118 Beyer. That 118 smashed the record for the highest figure by a Malibu winner going back to 1991, which was the first year Beyers were listed in the American Racing Manual.
Taiba received a 106 Beyer Speed Figure for his Malibu victory. In seven career starts, the Kentucky-bred Gun Runner colt has posted a triple-digit Beyer each time except for his 77 when he finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby.
Below are the Beyers for winners of the Malibu going back to 1991:
2022 Taiba (106)
2021 Flightline (118)
2020 Charlatan (107)
2019 Omaha Beach (101)
2018 McKinzie (103)
2017 City of Light (102)
2016 Mind Your Biscuits (107)
2015 Runhappy (102)
2014 Shared Belief (99)
2013 Shakin It Up (106)
2012 Jimmy Creed (105)
2011 The Factor (106)
2010 Twirling Candy (108)
2009 M One Rifle (102)*
2008 Bob Black Jack (108)*
2007 Johnny Eves (94)*
2006 Latent Heat (109)
2005 Proud Tower Too (105)
2004 Rock Hard Ten (100)
2003 Southern Image (108)
2002 Debonair Joe (95)
2001 Mizzen Mast (106)
2000 Dixie Union (104)
1999 Love That Red (102)
1998 Run Man Run (107)
1997 Lord Grillo (110)
1996 King of the Heap (99)
1995 Afternoon Deelites (103)
1994 Powis Castle (113)
1993 Diazo (104)
1992 Star of the Crop (104)
1991 Olympio (112)
*Run on a synthetic surface
By winning the Malibu, Taiba certainly strengthened his case for the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male of 2022. This followed his earlier Grade I victories this year in the Santa Anita Derby and Pennsylvania Derby.
Also a strong contender for the Eclipse Award in this category is Epicenter, who won the Grade I Travers Stakes. That was Epicenter’s only Grade I victory this year, though he did finish second in both the Grade I Kentucky Derby and Grade I Preakness Stakes.
Taiba finished third, best of any 3-year-old, in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic, a race in which Flightline and Olympiad ran one-two. Epicenter started in that race, but he did not finish due to sustaining a career-ending injury.
If Taiba had not won the Malibu, my Eclipse Award vote would have gone to Epicenter. But because Taiba won the Malibu and did so decisively for his third Grade I victory of the year, he is my choice for champion 3-year-old male.
This was Baffert’s fifth Malibu win, just one shy of the record held by fellow Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, who trains Forbidden Kingdom.
Baffert’s five Malibu winners have been The Factor (2011), Shakin It Up (2013), McKinzie (2018), Charlatan (2020) and Taiba (2022).
Mandella’s six Malibu winners have been Oraibi (1988), Afternoon Deelites (1995), Dixie Union (2000), Rock Hard Ten (2004), Jimmy Creed (2012) and Omaha Beach (2019).
HERNANDEZ, DETTORI RIDING STARS MONDAY
Juan Hernandez, who captured his first Santa Anita winter-spring riding title at the 2021-22 meet, rode four winners Monday to get his title defense off to an excellent start.
Hernandez won the second race on Bletchley Park ($8.60), third race on Dicey Mo Chara ($9.60), eighth race on Fun to Dream ($7.40) and 11th race on Rhea Moon ($15.60).
Dicey Mo Chara won the Grade II San Gabriel Stakes by a half-length at 1 1/8 miles on the grass course. Flashiest finished second at 21-1, while Masteroffoxhounds ran third as the 6-5 favorite in the field of seven.
Rhea Moon rallied from ninth to win the Grade I American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies by a head at 1 1/4 miles on turf. School Dance finished second at 11-1, while Sparkle Blue came in third at 8-1. New York invader Salimah finished seventh as the 5-2 favorite after leading through the early furlongs.
It was a trainer Phil D’Amato exacta, which is becoming a fairly common occurrence in grass stakes on the Southern California circuit. The $1 exacta paid $67.90.
Rhea Moon recorded a career-best 88 Beyer Speed Figure for her American Oaks score. This was her third straight win and first at the Grade I level. The Irish-bred Starspangledbanner filly went into the American Oaks off a win in Santa Anita’s Grade III Autumn Miss Stakes at one mile on Oct. 29.
Santa Anita’s opening-day program began with a narrow upset victory by 16-1 One More Bid in the first race, the Grade II Santa Anita Mathis Mile at one mile on the turf course for 3-year-olds.
Ridden by Ramon Vazquez and trained by Ryan Hanson, One More Bid eked out a nose win over 8-5 favorite Balnikhov. Pacesetter Sumter held on for third, while I’m A Gambler finished fourth at 2-1 in the field of six while making his U.S. debut after racing in England and Ireland.
After losing the first seven starts of his career, One More Bid now has put together back-to-back wins. Prior to taking Monday’s Grade II affair, the Kentucky-bred gelding by two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome won a one mile maiden race by a neck on Del Mar’s grass course Nov. 19.
One More Bid was part of a riding double on the day for Vazquez, who also won the fourth race aboard the aforementioned Faustin.
As for Dettori, he won three races on Monday’s card. He was reunited with Country Grammer in the San Antonio. In the only previous race in which Dettori had ridden the 5-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Tonalist, they collaborated for a win in the Group I, $12 million Dubai World Cup last March 26.
Dettori also won Monday’s seventh race with La Deauxieme Etoile ($15.00) and ninth race with Ballet Dancing ($7.20).
The legendary 52-year-old Dettori, one of the most accomplished jockeys of all time, has announced that he will retire after he rides at the 2023 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita on Nov. 3-4.
FAUSTIN, BANISHING DEBUT ON TOP 10
Following his sparkling career debut Monday, Faustin debuts on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week at No. 9.
Also debuting is Banishing, who edged out Jace’s Road for the No. 10 spot.
Wildatlanticstorm and Practical Move drop off the Top 10 this week.
I was really impressed by the dramatic improvement exhibited by Banishing at second asking Monday (Dec. 26) in a Fair Grounds maiden race at 1 1/16 miles. He vied for the early advantage and drew off to win by 8 1/2 lengths as a 2-1 favorite. His final time was 1:44.80.
Later on the card, Jace’s Road won the Gun Runner Stakes at the same 1 1/16-mile trip in 1:44.85.
Banishing came home his final sixteenth in 6.23 seconds, while Jace’s Road’s last sixteenth was timed in 6.55 seconds.
Both Banishing and Jace’s Road recorded a 90 Beyer Speed Figure.
Brendan Walsh trains Banishing. In his only start prior to Monday’s maiden victory, the Kentucky-bred colt finished fourth in a one-mile maiden contest on Nov. 13 at Churchill Downs when all did not go well. He raced ridiculously wide all the way down the backstretch while in the middle of the pack after breaking from post 12.
Despite being parked so wide, Banishing did manage to make a nice move on the turn. He reached even terms for the lead while three wide turning for home, but then lacked the needed additional punch in the lane. All in all, it wasn’t a bad debut.
Banishing’s 90 Beyer for his maiden win was a giant leap from the 65 he received in his first race.
A Godolphin homebred, Banishing is a son of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper out of a mare by 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy. A.P. Indy is a son of 1977 Horse of the Year Seattle Slew.
In the Gun Runner, Jace’s Road bounced back big-time from his debacle on a wet track in the Grade III Street Sense Stakes at Churchill on Oct. 30.
Sent off at 2-1 in the Gun Runner, Jace’s Road showed early speed before drawing away in the stretch to prevail by 5 1/2 lengths for owners West Point Thoroughbreds and Albaugh Family Stables and trainer Brad Cox.
Jace’s Road won a six-furlong maiden race by 6 1/4 lengths when unveiled at Ellis Park on Aug. 6. The $510,000 auction purchase then finished third in Churchill’s Grade III Iroquois Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Sept. 17.
In Churchill’s subsequent Street Sense at 1 1/16 miles, Jace’s Road unseated the rider during the loading process, jogged a furlong up the stretch before being caught, then “was remounted without further incident,” according to the Equibase chart. Racing close up for a brief time early, the Kentucky-bred Quality Road colt was done before going a half-mile on the sloppy strip and ultimately finished eighth, 36 1/2 lengths behind the victorious Two Phil’s.
Jace’s Road’s 90 Beyer Speed Figure in the Gun Runner was a big improvement in that department. His previous top Beyer was a 76 in the Iroquois.
Epicenter won last year’s Gun Runner and went on to become one of the top sophomores in the land this year.
Extra Anejo had targeted this year’s Gun Runner following an impressive 9 1/2-length debut win at Keeneland on Oct. 13. However, the highly regarded Into Mischief colt was forced to miss the race due to recently undergoing surgery for the removal of an ankle chip.
Cox also trains Corona Bolt, who is bubbling under my Kentucky Derby Top 10 after winning his first two career starts.
Corona Bolt won a 6 1/2-furlong maiden sprint by one length as a 2-1 favorite at Churchill on Nov. 19. The Florida-bred Bolt d’Oro colt then won Fair Grounds’ six-furlong Sugar Bowl Stakes by 6 3/4 lengths on Monday (Dec. 26).
After Corona Bolt recorded an 82 Beyer Speed Figure in his first race, his figure rose substantially to a 97 in the Sugar Bowl.
Below is my Kentucky Derby Top 10 for this week:
1. Arabian Knight
3. Cave Rock
5. Giant Mischief
6. National Treasure
7. Instant Coffee
8. Arabian Lion