ARCADIA, Calif. (Dec. 26, 2010) – It only seemed a question of which was hotter: the training job turned in by two-time defending champion John Sadler or the new dirt racetrack Santa Anita had installed for the opening of its 74th season on Sunday.

Sadler, who happened to be at home nursing an injured knee, won a Santa Anita record three straight graded stakes races while Joel Rosario went along for the ride before an on-track crowd of 34,268. Sadler’s booty: Twirling Candy in the Grade I Malibu Stakes by a nose over Smiling Tiger; Switch running off with the Grade I La Brea Stakes, and Sidney’s Candy overwhelming his opposition in the Grade III Sir Beaufort Stakes.

Twirling Candy, who provided Jenny Craig’s Craig Family Trust with its second segment of the three-bagger following the win by Sidney’s Candy, broke the Malibu Stakes time record set almost 30 years to the day by legendary Spectacular Bid. Switch broke the La Brea stakes record set by Mamselle Bebette in 1993.

Twirling Candy, who outfinished Smiling Tiger and jockey Russell Baze by a nose, ran the seven-furlong distance in 1:19.70. When the legendary Spectacular Bid set the Malibu record of 1:20 in 1980, it was a world record.

“The track is playing consistent,” Rosario said afterward, “but when you’re on the best horse like Twirling Candy, it’s no surprise he ran that fast.”

Although fast times were the order of the day, there were no reported problems with the main track, which was labeled “good” prior to the first and second races. Santa Anita’s new surface replaced a controversial synthetic track that was mandated three years earlier and which had been beset with drainage problems. The new track dried out quickly following overnight rain of three quarters of an inch and a total of 14 ¼ inches over the past nine days and it appeared to be well received by horsemen, jockeys and horseplayers alike.

Sent off as the second choice at odds of 7-2 in the 59th running of the Malibu, Twirling Candy rallied strongly through the stretch to overhaul Smiling Tiger, third in last November’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint, by a desperate nose. “I wanted to wait until the last minute to make my move,” said Rosario. “My horse did everything he could to win the race,” Baze said.

The Malibu developed into a two-horse race with Caracortado and jockey Joe Talamo winding up a well-beaten third, a head in front of Alcindor in the field of 11. Eastern invader Noble’s Promise, the lukewarm 3-1 choice, wound up another three-quarters of a length back in fifth.

Twirling Candy got back on course following a fourth place finish as the 7-10 choice in Oak Tree’s Grade I Goodwood Stakes at Hollywood Park on Oct. 2. “He wasn’t himself that day,” Sadler had said after a four-race unbeaten streak came a cropper. Twirling Candy’s fifth win in six starts was worth $150,000 to bring his total to $459,900. His backers were rewarded with win mutuels of $9.

Switch broke Mamselle Bebette’s stakes record (1:20.45) when dominating her opposition in the day’s other Grade I event, the $300,000 La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs. Her handy four-length triumph over Malibu Pier was achieved in 1:20.33 as Sadler began his stakes roll.

The daughter of Quiet American, who gave Zenyatta a scare when beaten by one-half length in last October’s Grade I Lady’s Secret Stakes at Hollywood Park’s Oak Tree meet, further demonstrated her continuing maturity.

Rosario had Switch tucked snugly along the rail behind five rivals during the early going. He found room along the inside entering the far turn. Switch responded by making short work of her opposition through the stretch.

“She’s a one-pace horse,” said Rosario. “She’s long with her strides, and she just keeps going. She never quits or anything like that.” “She’ll go inside, outside, it doesn’t matter,” observed Benavidez. “That was pretty impressive, huh?”

Malibu Pier, with Garrett Gomez in the saddle, never offered a serious threat while finishing 1 ¾ lengths ahead of 64-1 Shotgun Gulch, with Alonso Quinonez aboard, in the field of 10. The winner paid $4.40.

The victory was the fourth in 11 starts for the bay filly owned by C R K Stable who had run second to victorious Dubai Majesty in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint on Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs in her previous start. With the La Brea’s winner’s share of $150,000, Switch boosted her career earnings to $632,600.

Moved from the turf to the new dirt surface following the overnight precipitation, the Grade III, $150,000 Sir Beaufort Stakes for 3-year-olds lost four of its scheduled nine starters, and, temporarily, at least, its Grade II status. The morning line on favored Sidney’s Candy was reduced from 8-5 to 3-5. At a closing 1-5, the race became little more than a recital for Jenny Craig’s son of Candy Ride as Sadler gained his second stakes win, this one by 7 ¼ lengths.

Rosario sent Sidney’s Candy to the lead at the outset. They virtually cruised home while covering the distance in 1:33.70. Runner-up Indian Firewater, with Bejarano in the irons, finished one-half length ahead of Nextdoorneighbor, with Victor Espinoza on board.

Sidney’s Candy returned $2.60 with his sixth win in 11 starts. His earnings rose to $803,560 with the winning purse of $90,000. The pre-race instructions to Rosario, relayed from Sadler by Benavidez, were simple. “Don’t get cute,” he said. “”Even though he went fast fractions, he just kept going,” said the jockey. “He’s a good horse and he’s improved every time he runs.”

The first of four stakes races on Sunday’s program provided an upset when Thirtyfirststreet rallied along the rail to overtake 4-5 favorite Arresting Officer to capture the 71st running of the $100,000 California Breeders’ Champion Stakes for California-bred 2-year-olds. The margin of victory was one-half length as jockey Rafael Bejarano gained his third win of the afternoon. “I thought I was going to finish third,” remarked Bejarano, “but as soon as he switched leads and got in towards the rail, he showed me a big kick.”

Arresting Office, ridden by Talamo, held second by one-half length over Contemplated and Rosario in the field of eight. Thiryfirststreet, trained by Doug O’Neill for Sterling Stable, Mark Gorman and Neil Haymes, covered the seven furlongs in 1:22.20. He paid $13.80 as the third choice. It was the second victory in three starts for the son of Good Journey. The winning purse of $60,000 elevated Thiryfirststreet’s earnings to $90,400.

The condition of Santa Anita’s new surface was upgraded from “good” to “fast” after the second race, and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s highly regarded roan 2-year-old The Factor demonstrated his enormous potential two races later.

The War Front colt won by 8 ¼ lengths, blazing six furlongs in 1:06.98 to break Sunny Blossom’s track record of 1:07.20, set in 1989, in winning the $54,000 maiden special weight event. And while the track clearly was playing glib, The Factor’s overwhelming precocity seemed a very large factor in the colt’s record-breaking performance.

Owned by Bolton and Fog City Stable, Baffert’s Triple Crown prospect dusted a solid group of maidens while defeating trainer Steve Asmussen’s Houston Harbor by 8 ¼ lengths under a hand ride by Bejarano. The victory atoned for a troubled fourth place finish when The Factor finished fourth in his debut at Hollywood Park on Nov. 28 as the well-fancied 7-10 favorite. He paid $4.80 for his victory on Sunday.

Racing continues Monday at Santa Anita with a nine-race program with first post at 12:30 pm. Feature race is the 65th running of the Grade II, $150,000 San Gabriel Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on grass.