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Opening Day at Santa Anita Features Three Grade 1 Races

Santa Margarita
A field of five go in Saturday's $200,000 Santa Margarita (G2) . (Photo credit: © Larry Gibson | Dreamstime.com)

A winner of this year’s Grade I Santa Anita Derby, the Bob Baffert-trained Taiba heads a field of nine sophomores going seven furlongs in Santa Anita’s signature opening day feature Monday, the Grade I, $300,000 Runhappy Malibu Stakes.

Most recently third in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic, finishing 8 ¾ lengths behind presumptive Horse of the Year Flightline, Taiba, who took the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby two starts back on Sept. 24, will be seeking to become the only 3-year-old colt or gelding to win three Grade I wins on the year and will thus try to make a late case for an Eclipse Award as top 3-year-old Male.

A $1.7 million purchase out of a 2-year-old in training sale in March of last year, Taiba is owned by Zedan Racing Stables, Inc. and will be ridden by Mike Smith, who has been aboard for his last five races, all of which have been around two turns.

A first-out winner here going six furlongs under John Velazquez on March 5, Taiba attended the early pace and won the Santa Anita Derby April 9 in only his second career start.

Baffert, who will also be sending out multiple graded stakes winner Messier, will be seeking his fifth win in the prestigious Malibu, which was taken last year by presumptive Horse of the Year Flightline.

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A winner of both the Grade II San Vicente Stakes and the Grade II San Felipe here earlier this year, Richard Mandella’s Forbidden Kingdom was subsequently dispatched as the even money favorite in the Grade I Runhappy Santa Anita Derby on April 9, but he went to the sidelines after finishing sixth and last.

Off at even money in his comeback race, the Grade II Santa Anita Sprint Championship Oct. 1, Forbidden Kingdom showed the way to the top of the lane but tired to finish fifth, beaten 3 ¾ lengths. Most recently third, beaten a half length in a six furlong allowance at Del Mar, Forbidden Kingdom will try to stop a three-game skid as he seeks his first Grade I win.

A chestnut colt by 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, Forbidden Kingdom is owned by MyRacehorse and Spendthrift Farm, LLC. Ridden by Juan Hernandez in all eight of his starts, he has three wins, a second and two thirds.

Trainer Wesley Ward looms dangerous in the Malibu with Kentucky shipper Nakatomi, who comes off a big allowance win going 6 ½ furlongs at Keeneland Nov. 5. A chestnut gelding by Firing Line, Nakatomi will be ridden back by Tyler Gaffalione. Owned by Bottle Rocket Stable, Qatar Racing Limited and Marc Detampel, Nakatomi, who is 8-4-1-1 overall, will be trying seven panels for the first time.

With Flavien Prat climbing aboard for the first time, the Dallas Stewart-trained Strava also rates a big chance on Monday shipping in from New Orleans. A big 6 ½ length allowance winner going a one-turn mile in the Churchill Downs slop Nov. 27, Strava, who was off the board in his only graded stakes try this year, earned a lofty 98 Beyer Speed Figure on Nov. 27 and looks to be a now commodity.

Owned by WinStar Farm, LLC, Siena Farm, LLC and former two-time NCAA Division Champion and Hall of Fame basketball coach Denny Crum, Strava was a first-out winner going six furlongs at age two and is 9-3-1-3 overall.

The Grade 1 Malibu

Forbidden Kingdom—Juan Hernandez—122
Messier—John Velazquez—122
Apprehend—Ramon Vazquez—120
Nakatomi—Tyler Gaffalione—120
Hoist the Gold—Joel Rosario–120
Taiba—Mike Smith—124
Perfect Flight—Ricardo Santana, Jr.—120
Strava—Flavien Prat—120
Straight No Chaser—Edwin Maldonado—120

Eleven Line Up in American Oaks

Positioned as North America’s final Grade I turf test for 3-year-old fillies, Monday’s $300,000 American Oaks has attracted a large field of 11 sophomore fillies at a mile and one quarter over Santa Anita’s Camino Real turf, with Mark Glatt’s English-bred Bellstreet Bridie rating a big chance in what shapes up as one of the best betting races on the opening day 11-race card.

Although ridden by Flavien Prat to an impressive 4 ¼ length win in her U.S. debut, Bellstreet Bridie will be handled by Mike Smith in the American Oaks, as Prat has opted to ride eastern invader Salimah. Close to the pace in the Grade III Red Carpet Stakes at 1 3/8 miles over the Del Mar turf Nov. 24, Bellstreet Bridie assumed command early and drew off to an emphatic 4 ¼ length win at odds of 4-1.

Owned by Red Baron’s Barn and Rancho Temescal, Bell Street Bridie is 6-1-2-2 at the Oaks distance and is 13-4-4-3 overall.

Trained by four-time Eclipse champ Chad Brown, Irish-bred Salimah, who ships in from her Belmont Park base, will be seeking her first graded stakes victory in what will be her first Southern California start.

A winner of her last two races and three of her four career starts, upstart Salimah was a first-out maiden winner going a flat mile on turf Jan. 22 at Tampa Bay Downs and she comes off a rousing three-length score going 1 1/16 miles over a yielding turf in an ungraded stakes Nov. 13 at Aqueduct. Ridden last time out by Jose Ortiz, she was ridden by Prat to a one length victory going the same distance over the Aqueduct turf in a first condition allowance two starts back on Nov. 13.

Owned by Stephanie Seymour Brant, Salimah’s lone defeat came in her second start, a one mile turf allowance at Saratoga on Aug. 27, a race in which she finished seventh in a field of nine at odds of 3-1.

English-bred Skims, fresh off a one length win going a mile and one eighth on turf in the Grade II Sands Point Stakes at Aquduct Oct. 15, retains the services of John Velazquez rates a huge chance for Shug McGaughey. By superstar Frankel and owned and bred by Andrew Rosen, Skims was a close second going 1 5/16 miles on turf in an ungraded stakes at Kentucky Downs two starts back on Sept. 5 and should have no problem with a mile and one quarter on Monday as she seeks her first Grade I win.

Raced exclusively on grass in nine starts, Skims has three wins, a second and two third place finishes.

The Grade 1 American Oaks

Rhea Moon—Juan Hernandez—124
Sparkle Blue—Joel Rosario—124
Lady Clementine—Lanfranco Dettori—124
Oakhurst—Hector Berrios—124
Bellstreet Bridie—Mike Smith—124
Mise En Scene—Tyler Gaffalione—124
Skims—John Velazquez—124
Pizza Bianca—Umberto Rispoli—124
Salimah—Flavien Prat—124
Duvet Day—Kazushi Kimura—124
School Dance—Ramon Vazquez—124

Midnight Memories Headlines La Brea

With four horses entered, Monday’s Grade I, $300,000 La Brea Stakes would appear to run through the Bob Baffert stable. His Midnight Memories, fresh off a pair of graded stakes wins, rates top billing in a very competitive field of eight sophomore fillies going seven furlongs on Santa Anita’s opening day 11-race card.

Owned and bred by longtime Baffert devotees Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, Midnight Memories has been idle since galloping to a 3 ¼ length score going 1 1/16 miles in the Grade II Zenyatta Stakes here on Oct. 2.

A winner of the Grade II Torrey Pines Stakes going a flat mile at Del Mar two starts back, Midnight Memories will be ridden for the third time in a row by Ramon Vazquez as she seeks her first Grade I trophy.

A Kentucky-bred daughter of Mastery, Midnight Memories has tasted defeat just once in five starts, a troubled third place finish is a six furlong allowance three starts back on July 28. Favored in four out of her five races, she looms the pari-mutuel choice in the La Brea as well.

Owned by Baoma Corp, Baffert’s Ganadora, a $1 million Keeneland September Yearling purchase, comes off an eight-length score going a flat mile in and ungraded stakes at Los Alamitos and will be ridden for the first time by Johnny Velazquez.

A winner of her first two starts at 6 ½ furlongs, Ganadora has won three of her four starts and will be trying Grade I competition for the first time.

Baffert is also solidly repped by his California-bred Fun to Dream, who he bred in partnership with Connie Pageler, who is also the co-owner along with Baffert’s wife Jill.

By Arrogate, Fun to Dream comes off a much better than looked head victory going seven furlongs in the statebred Betty Grable Stakes at Del Mar Nov. 13. In search of her third consecutive win, Fun to Dream has won four out of her five starts, all in partnership with Juan Hernandez, who’s back aboard in the La Brea.

Idle since finishing second to Eclipse Champ Ce Ce going 6 ½ furlongs in the Grade II Chillingworth Stakes here on Oct. 2, Baffert’s Under the Stars, who took the Grade II Santa Ynez Stakes in her only try at seven furlongs six starts back on Jan. 8, will be reunited with Flavien Prat, who was aboard for the Santa Ynez score. Owned by Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith the Kentucky-bred filly by Pioneerof the Nile is 9-3-2-2 overall.

In what will be her first Southern California start, the speedy Hot Peppers, who ships in from Belmont Park for trainer Rudy Rodriguez, was a close second two starts back in the Grade I Test Stakes going seven panels on Aug. 6 at Saratoga and she was most recently fourth as the 2-1 favorite in the Grade II Prioress as six furlongs on Sept. 2 at Saratoga.

By the Distorted Humor stallion Khozan, Hot Peppers, who was a Grade III winner sprinting three starts back, is 9-5-2-0 overall and is owned by Michael Dubb and Michael Caruso.

The Grade 1 La Brea

Under the Stars – Flavien Prat – 122
Hot Peppers – Tyler Gaffalione – 122
Ganadora – John Velazquez – 120
Midnight Memories – Ramon Vazquez – 122
Ain’t Easy – Joel Rosario – 120
Fun to Dream – Juan Hernandez – 120
Kirsten Bosch – Kazushi Kimura – 120
Awake At Midnyte – Mario Gutierrez – 120