maARCADIA, Calif. (Dec. 26, 2015)—Heavily favored on the heels of his Breeders’ Cup Sprint win on Oct. 31, Runhappy, with Gary Stevens aboard for the first time, cruised to a 3 ½ length win in Saturday’s Grade I, $300,000 Malibu Stakes as he made every pole a winning one en route to getting seven furlongs in 1:21.76.
Heavily favored in a field of seven 3-year-olds at 1-2, Runhappy, a Kentucky-bred colt by Super Saver, paid $3.00, $2.60 and $2.10. Owned by James “Mattress Mac” McIngvale, he registered his sixth consecutive win in his first-ever start at The Great Race Place. In winning the Malibu, Runhappy notched his seventh win from eight overall starts and with the winner’s share of $180,000, he increased his earnings to $1,481,300.
“The horse ran really well,” said McIngvale, who in one of the most controversial moves of the year, fired trainer Maria Borell the morning after winning the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, replacing her with longtime racing manager, Laura Wohlers. “The entire team did a great job of preparing him, and the people at Santa Anita have been great, so it’s been a top-notch experience all the way around. We hoped he would run well and he certainly did…It’s a thrill to win here and we hope to be back for the Breeders’ Cup (Sprint, on Nov. 4).”
Breaking from post positon four, Runhappy, who had been ridden in his last three starts by the recently injured Edgar Prado, was pushed early by eventual runner-up Marking.
“He blows me away,” said Stevens, who won the Grade II Mathis Brothers Mile earlier in the day aboard Om, and thus bagged his second graded stakes of the afternoon. “That was only the second time I’ve ever sat on him (first in a race) and to get to feel that power coming into the stretch was awesome.
“I just want to say ‘Thank you’ to Edgar Prado. Edgar and I had a couple of conversations earlier in the week when I found out I was going to ride this horse and he told me quite a few things about him that helped me today.
“It was harder to pull him up than to ride him during the race. There was some oil on the reins and there were slipping. My hand slipped off his mane coming away from the gate and I cut my finger pretty good. He usually breaks a step slow, but he broke like a Quarter Horse today.
“I was hoping to get three graded stakes wins today but we got two of them! No better way to start the Santa Anita Meet. It’s perfect.”
Ridden by Jose Lezcano, the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Marking was clearly second-best, finishing 1 ¾ lengths clear of Lord Nelson for second money. In only his third career start, Marking was the second choice at 9-2 and paid $4.00 and $3.00.
Bob Baffert’s Lord Nelson, idle since running fourth in the Grade III Pat Day Mile on May 2, broke from the far outside with Rafael Bejarano and paid $3.20 to show.
Fractions on the race were 22.62, 44.81 and 1:09.06.
With an on-track crowd of 44,873 (the largest Opening Day gathering since Dec. 26, 1994) looking on, the Malibu was the fourth graded stakes of the afternoon and was carded as the eighth on a nine-race card.
First post time for a nine-race card on Sunday, highlighted by the Grade III Robert J. Frankel Stakes, is at 12:30 p.m. Admission gates open at 10:30 a.m.
GARY STEVENS, RUNHAPPY, WINNER: “He blows me away. That was only the second time I’ve sat on him (first in a race) and to get to feel that power coming into the stretch was awesome.
“I just want to say ‘Thank you to Edgar Prado.’ Edgar and I had a couple of conversations earlier in the week when I found out I was going to ride this horse and he told me quite a few things about him that helped me today. It was all Runhappy though and he’s an extremely special horse.
“It was harder to pull him up today, than to ride him during the race. There was some oil on the reins and they were slipping. My hand slipped off of his mane coming away from the gate and I cut my finger pretty good. He usually breaks a step slow but he broke like a Quarter Horse today. He was a complete professional.
“I was hoping to get three graded wins today but we got two of them! No better way to start the Santa Anita Meet. It’s perfect.”
RAFAEL BEJARANO, LORD NELSON, THIRD: “The horse ran good, no excuses. I was right behind those two horses and was in the perfect position. But those two horses, they never quit. I was in a perfect position, right behind with the speed, but those two horses, they never stopped.”
LAURA WOHLERS, RUNHAPPY, WINNER: “It didn’t surprise me the way he ran today. He’s been training well even though he’s been doing some crazy stuff in the mornings, it’s just because he just wants to stand around and do what he wants to do. We let him get away with that at the training center. Maybe we have to be a little stricter with him, but right now, he really enjoys taking his time looking around. This is a very new environment for him.
“There are lots and lots of horses here. He probably sees more horses before one break than he does in an entire morning at the training center. Training there is a little bit different than training on the main track here, but when he puts his bridle on in the afternoon, he knows what it’s all about.
“When we brought him to the Receiving Barn today, he looked like he had his game face on, so I knew he’d run well. We’re going to be going to the Met Mile. We want to stretch him out and see how he does, and after that, we’ll see if he wants to go longer. It’s one step at a time but we know he can sprint; now we’ll see if we can stretch him out. Gary (Stevens) came off and said, ‘I just want to let you guys know, this horse will go long,’ so we may go with his opinion on that.
“We’ll give the horse a couple of months off and bring him back in March and begin his training again and we’ll see if we have time to prep him in a race before the Met Mile. Otherwise, we’ll train him up to it. He’ll leave Santa Anita in two days for a farm in Texas for two months for some time off.”
OWNER JAMES McINGVALE OF HOUSTON, TEXAS, RUNHAPPY, WINNER: “The horse ran really well. The entire team did a great job of preparing him, and the people at Santa Anita have been great, so it’s been a top-notch experience all the way around.”
“We hoped he would run well, and he certainly did. We’re thrilled with him. It’s a thrill to win here and we hope to be back for the Breeders’ Cup (Nov. 4-5).”
NOTES: Today’s on-track attendance was 44,873, the largest Opening Day crowd since 1994.
Source: Santa Anita Park