The day after Christmas serves as one of the most popular days on the racing calendar with the annual opening of Santa Anita Park. The Grade 1 Malibu Stakes highlights the opening day card, which gives owners and trainers a final shot to earn Grade 1 glory with their horses. It is also the last chance for 3-year-olds to run against their own age group, as they will have to move up with the older horses after this race. This year, the Malibu Stakes is slated for Race 9 on a 10-race card, with 4 other stakes races on the day.
The event has attracted an amazing 16 horses, with 14 to run and 2 others waiting on the also eligible list. Trainer Bob Baffert leads the way with 5 horses entered into the race. His headlining horse is the Grade 1 winning McKinzie, who will be cutting back in distance after getting blown out in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in his las start. At Santa Anita this year, he won the Grade 3 Sham Stakes in January, before being disqualified to second in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes in March.
Baffert has four other horses in the race, including: Ax Man, Solomini, Nero, and also eligible Super Sol. Ax Man will run as a gelding for the first time in this spot, while Solomini will be returning off of a lengthy layoff. Nero and Super Sol come into the race with recent races under their belt, including an allowance win for Nero last time out at Del Mar.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen has shipped his talented runner, Copper Bullet, in for the race after he returned from over a year layoff to win an allowance event at Churchill Downs last time out. Copper Bullet won the Grade 2 Saratoga Special as a 2-year-old, before several set backs caused him to miss nearly his entire 3-year-old season. From day one, Steve Asmussen has been high on this colt.
Two other horses worth noting are Kanthaka and Axelrod. Kanthaka has had major success at Santa Anita this season, including a Grade 2 win during the winter months in the San Vicente Stakes. This 7-furlong distance is in his wheelhouse. Axelrod has shipped all over the country winning races this season, while cutting back sharply in distance for this contest.
The full field from the rail out includes: Calexman, Majestic Dunhill, Copper Bullet, Still Having Fun, Identity Politics, Axelrod, Seven Trumpets, Nero, Ax Man, Bobby’s Wicked One, Greyvitos, Kanthaka, McKinzie, Solomini, Super Sol, and Cool Bobby.
#13 McKinzie – If you remember, this was my pick to win the Breeder’s Cup Classic. That ended up being embarrassing as he never ran a step; however, I believe he deserves a second chance. This 7-furlong distance should suit him well, plus it is a good sign that Mike Smith stays on to ride. You have to play him with other horses this time around, there is no doubt he is NOT a single, but the simple fact is this is a big class drop for him. You should be able to expect a much better effort in this race.
Horses to Use in Multi Race Wagers
#6 Axelrod – The son of Warrior’s Reward has improved with every start this season. He won the Grade 3 Indiana Derby as well as the Grade 3 Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx. After those two triumphs he nearly won the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby, finishing second by only 1 3/4- lengths. Now, he gets a cut back to 7-furlongs, which could be a good move for him. He doesn’t have the speed to hang with these horses early; however, with a hot pace he could be closing fast down the lane. At 10-1, this horse is one you have to consider playing on all tickets.
#12 Kanthaka – There’s a lot to like about this Jerry Hollendorfer trainee. He is an undefeated 3 for 3 at this distance, while also being 3 for 4 at Santa Anita, with his only loss coming in the two-turn Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes. Also, the pace should set up perfectly for his late closing style. He runs today off of a layoff of 228 days, which is the only real question mark on him coming into the race. If he is ready to fire off the layoff, he will be very difficult to hold off down the lane, because he will be charging hard.
#3 Copper Bullet – The most interesting horse in this race has to be Copper Bullet, who returned off of a very long layoff to win an allowance race at Churchill Downs last time out. That win was impressive for a horse who won the Grade 2 Saratoga Special as a 2-year-old. This is going to be a major step up for him; however, his last start was a positive sign that he is back and ready to roll. Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen has been very high on this horse from the beginning, which has not changed.
#9 Ax Man – It will be interesting to see how this horse runs in this spot, with this race being his first since becoming a gelding. That procedure could do him some good after being a bit wild in some of his races this year. At his best, he can be very difficult to beat, while he also can run some extremely poor races. The early pace in this race will not help his chances. However, at least he is drawn to the outside of most the speed, which will give him some options.
#7 Seven Trumpets – He has hit the board in 3 graded stakes races this year, while seemingly preferring this 7-furlong distance. Last time out he really struggled in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, with that race being over his a head. This race should suit him a bit better today, which means hitting the board at a big price is not out of the question.
#8 Nero – This Bob Baffert runner looked to have a bright future before an injury knocked him out of competition for most of the year. After a second place finish in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes in February, he was not seen again until winning an allowance race at Del Mar on November 18th. He looked pretty solid in that race, which signals that he could be ready for a big effort in this spot. He qualifies as the “other Baffert” in the race.
#4 Still Having Fun – From a pace standpoint, this horse is one you have to take seriously. There is a ton of speed signed on in this one, while we know Still Having Fun can close well down the lane. However, the big worry for him is the fact he hasn’t done much running since his upset win in the Grade 3 Woody Stephens Stakes. He’ll need to regain that sort of form today.
#11 Greyvitos – As a 2-year-old this horse looked to be ready to become a star. It all went downhill, though, after an injury cost him to miss the first three months of the year. He never has come back to his 2-year-old form since the injury, which makes him hard to like in this very difficult spot.
#14 Solomini – After a busy early campaign that led him to a start in the Kentucky Derby, it was clear the horse was exhausted, after finishing a disappointing 3rd in the Grade 3 Affirmed Stakes after the Kentucky Derby. He should come back ready to run off the freshening; however, this is a very tough spot for him.
#1 Calexman – He got back to the dirt last time out at Del Mar in an allowance event, winning by a head at odds of 8-1. This kind of jump in class is going to be tough for him, though, as most of his best races have come on the turf. This tough draw on the rail will do him no favors.
#10 Bobby’s Wicked One – You know the race is super tough when you are throwing out a horse who was second last time out in a $250,000 stakes race. That race was the Steel Valley Sprint at Mahoning Valley, where he was beaten just a nose by Trigger Warning. It’s hard to fault him after that effort. We just prefer others a bit more in here.
#2 Majestic Dunhill – After running on the turf 9 straight times, this gelding moved to the dirt last time in the $100,000 City of Laurel Stakes at Laurel Park. He was successful by a half-length, after making a furious rally late down the stretch. This move to Santa Anita will be a tough jump up in class, though, which is why he finds himself in this category.
#5 Identity Politics – Since moving to the dirt, this horse has been solid, breaking his maiden at Aqueduct two races back, before finishing second in an allowance event last time out. Still, with how tough this race has come up today, he will be hard pressed to make an impact.
Also Eligible: #15 Super Sol and #16 Cool Bobby