104 Noms for Six Santa Anita Opening Day Graded Stakes 

December 14, 2022

Benoit Photo

The Grade I, $300,000 Runhappy Malibu Is Headed By Eclipse Award Hopeful Taiba
Early Post Set At 11 A.M. On Monday, Dec. 26 As Malibu, La Brea & American Oaks Top Grade I Stakes Agenda

Mike Willman/Santa Anita Press Releae

ARCADIA, Calif. – With an Eclipse Award for top 3-year-old male potentially at stake on opening day, Monday, Dec. 26, nominations for Santa Anita’s prestigious Grade I, $300,000 Runhappy Malibu Stakes and five other graded offerings closed Monday with a total of 104 horses nominated for the Malibu, Grade I La Brea, Grade I American Oaks and three Grade II races—the Santa Anita Mathis Mile, the American Oaks and the San Antonio Stakes.

Although the Steve Asmussen-trained Epicenter could be the early Eclipse voting favorite for top 3-year-old male, Bob Baffert’s Taiba, a winner of the Grade I Santa Anita Derby and Grade I Pennsylvania Derby, will be seeking to become the only sophomore on this year’s ballot to win three Grade I stake

A solid group of 15 horses have been nominated to the Malibu, which will be run for the 75th time. In addition to likely favorite Taiba, Doug O’Neill’s three-time stakes winner, California-bred Slow Down Andy, who comes off a tremendous third place finish behind Cody’s Wish in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile Nov. 5, will be seeking his first Grade I win and is considered definite for the Malibu.

Cody’s Wish (outside) was the feel-good story of the Breeder’s Cup winning the Dirt Mile. (Courtney Snow/Past The Wire)

Other Malibu contenders include Richard Mandella’s Forbidden Kingdom, a daylight winner of both the seven furlong, Grade II San Vicente Stakes and 1 1/16 miles Grade II San Felipe earlier this year, Michael Maker’s up and coming Seal Beach, who comes off an impressive 3 ¼ length allowance win going seven panels at Churchill Downs Nov. 25 and another “now horse,” the Dallas Stewart-trained Strava, who galloped to a  6 ½ length score going a one-turn mile in the slop at Churchill on Nov. 27.

“We are very pleased with the response to our stakes nominations for opening day and it’s especially gratifying to see the interest shown by those trainers from the East Coast and Midwest,” said Chris Merz, Santa Anita Director of Racing and Racing Secretary. “Santa Anita’s opening day is viewed as the start of the racing season and the Racing Office here is excited to deliver to all of our fans, bettors and stakeholders an incredible card on Dec. 26.” 

Midnight Memories and jockey Ramon Vazquez win the Grade III, $125,000 Torrey Pines Stakes, Sunday, September 4, 2022, at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Del Mar CA. (Benoit Photo)

Also contested at seven furlongs, the Grade I, $300,000 La Brea, which will be run for the 50th time on Dec. 26, attracted 18 sophomore filly nominations, with Baffert accounting for four of them, including Midnight Memories, who has been idle since winning Santa Anita’s Grade II Zenyatta Stakes Oct. 2. Baffert has also nominated top California-bred sprinter Fun to Dream, Grade III stakes winner Under the Stars and lightly raced speedster Ganadora.

With several out-of-state fillies nominated, trainer Rudy Rodriguez could be very dangerous with his Florida-bred Hot Peppers. A Grade III winner July 9 at Belmont Park, Hot Peppers was subsequently second in the Grade I Test Stakes at Saratoga Aug. 6 and has been idle since finishing fourth in the Grade II Prioress at six furlongs Sept. 2 at Saratoga.

A winner of the Grade III Delaware Oaks July 2, John Terranova’s Midnight Stroll, most recently third going seven furlongs in the Grade II Raven Run Stakes at Keeneland Oct. 22, is nominated and appears to be a solid fit.

The Grade I, $300,000 American Oaks, for 3-year-old fillies at a mile and one quarter on turf, generated 20 nominations and like the Malibu and La Brea, looms as the final Grade I opportunity of the year for those choosing to run.

First run at Hollywood Park in 2002, the Grade I American Oaks, run at Santa Anita since 2014, attracted 20 nominations, with the Mark Glatt-trained Bellstreet Bridie ranking very high in what would be her second stateside start.

Bred and raced in England through her first 12 starts, winning three while running second four times and third on three occasions, Bellstreet Bridie has the unusual distinction of shortening up in distance to a mile and a quarter, as she comes off a tremendous 4 ¼ length score in Del Mar’s Grade III Red Carpet Stakes at a mile and three eighths on turf Nov. 24.

Rhea Moon winning the Autumn Miss at Santa Anita Oct. 29, 2022. (Benoit Photo)

Dangerous on any surface but especially turf, leading trainer Phil D’Amato has nominated six fillies to the Dec. 26 Oaks, with Irish-bred Rhea Moon looming as a major contender. Idle since taking Santa Anita’s Grade III Autumn Miss Stakes at one mile on turf Oct. 29, Rhea Moon has won three out of her last four starts and has demonstrated a solid turf of foot at middle distances.

Turf king Chad Brown has nominated lightly raced Irish-bred Salimah, who kicked clear in an ungraded stakes to win by three lengths going 1 1/16 miles over a yielding turf at Aqueduct Nov. 13 and would be seeking her third win in a row.

Maryland-based Sparkle Blue is another potential eastern shipped who rates a big look in the Oaks as she comes off a 2 ½ length win for Graham Motion in a Grade III stakes going 1 1/16 miles over a good turf at Keeneland Oct. 28.

The Grade II, $200,000 Santa Anita Mathis Mile, for 3-year-olds on turf, attracted 15 nominations, the Grade II, $200,000 San Antonio, for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles, has 16 noms, while the Grade II, $200,000 San Gabriel Stakes shows 20 nominations for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles on turf.

Entries for opening day at Santa Anita will be taken on Dec. 21. Fan are advised there will be early first post time on Monday, Dec. 26 at 11 a.m.

For additional information, please visit santaanita.com or call (626) 574-RACE.

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