BAFFERT IS PROMINENT FACTOR IN ELUSIVE GRADE I MALIBU STAKES AS SANTA ANITA OPENS 75TH WINTER/SPRING SEASON AT NOON ON MONDAY

ARCADIA, Calif. (Dec. 21, 2011) – Santa Anita commences its 75th winter/spring season on Monday with four stakes races highlighted by the Grade I, $300,000 Malibu Stakes on a nine-race program that is enhanced by the track’s popular opening-day giveaway of colorful wall calendars.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, while beginning pursuit of a record tenth Santa Anita training title, is taking dead aim on the elusive Malibu with a vengeance. He will send out four 3-year-olds, including a freshened The Factor, in the seven-furlong event that has eluded him with 20 previous starters.

Baffert failed to win the Malibu with such stellar performers as Kentucky Derby champion Silver Charm, Santa Anita Handicap winner Misremembered and Breeders’ Cup Sprint champion Midnight Lute. He cites the Malibu as the most notable omission on his seemingly endless list of stakes victories.

The 60th running of the Malibu, which attracted an eclectic group of 11 sophomores, will be contested as the day’s ninth race with first post at 12 noon. The 79-day race meeting continues through April 22.

Monday’s Malibu will be supported by the Grade II, $150,000 Sir Beaufort Stakes for 3-year-olds at one mile on turf as well as by the 72nd California Breeders’ Champion Stakes, a $100,000 event for statebred 2-year-olds at seven furlongs, and its $100,000 counterpart for fillies.

In addition to The Factor, whose name refers to Bill O’Reilly’s widely-watched cable television news commentary, Baffert entered Hoorayforhollywood, Smash and Racing Aptitude. The latter is a minor stakes winner. The other two are non-stakes winners.

The Factor is the only graded stakes winner in the field and is to carry high weight of 123 pounds. With earnings of $472,180 from 4 wins in 8 starts, he has become something of an enigma for Baffert and the colt’s owners, Fog City Stable and George Bolton.

A $250,000 purchase as a 2-year-old, the gray son of War Front won three graded stakes including last summer’s Grade I Pat O’Brien at Del Mar before hitting the skids. He faded to fourth as the 2-5 favorite in the Grade I Ancient Title during Santa Anita’s Autumn Meet. He then fell back to a badly-beaten eighth in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5. His preparation for the Malibu, however, has been promising. “He looks good,” said Baffert. Regular rider Martin Garcia will be aboard.

Kaleem Shah’s Smash, with three wins and a pair of seconds in five starts, is coming off an allowance race victory at Hollywood Park on Nov. 27. The Smart Strike colt raced 6 ½ furlongs in 1:14 3/5 while defeating fellow Malibu entrant Centralinteligence by one-half length. Rafael Bejarano has the return riding call.

After breaking his maiden in his debut, George Krikorian’s Hoorayforhollywood has been a close runner-up three times including a neck setback in the $125,000 Delta Mile at Delta Downs on Nov. 19. Garrett Gomez takes over in the saddle.

Racing Aptitude, a gelded homebred son of Aptitude owned by Donald Dizney, earned a spot in the Malibu with a 16-1 upset by 4 ½ lengths in Hollywood Park’s Yo Eleven Stakes on Nov. 11. Mike Smith has the mount.

Steve Asmussen, who last month at 46 became the youngest and only the fifth trainer in history to achieve 6,000 career victories, entered three Kentucky shippers in the Malibu: Light Up the Score, Rothko and Wine Police.

Light Up the Score and Rothko will be trying to extend multiple-race win streaks that include decisive scores in allowance events last month at Churchill Downs. Wine Police captured Saratoga’s Distorted Humor Stakes in September. Asmussen plans to base a division of 40 horses at Santa Anita this meet.

Rothko, who will be ridden by Corey Nakatani, appears to be the most formidable of Asmussen’s Malibu entrants. The Padua Stables’ homebred son of Arch won his last three starts by a combined 15 lengths at Saratoga, Monmouth Park and at Churchill Downs. Rothko’s first of five career starts was a second at Santa Anita in February when winding up 3 ¼ lengths behind Hoorayforhollywood.

Another Eastern-based trainer taking a shot at the Malibu is Richard Dutrow Jr., whose Associate won his last two starts in New York by a combined 18 ¾ lengths after being claimed for $35,000 by Sullivan Lane Stable and Vincent S. Scuderi. Ramon Dominguez, the nation’s leading rider in purse earnings, will travel West for the mount.

The complete field for the Malibu Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: El Pocho, Kevin Krigger, 118; Centralinteligence, Joel Rosario, 118; Luckarack, Hector Berrios, 118; Rothko, Corey Nakatani, 118; Racing Aptitude, Mike Smith, 118; Hoorayforhollywood, Garrett Gomez, 118; Light Up the Score, Victor Espinoza, 118; Smash, Rafael Bejarano, 118; Associate, Ramon Dominguez, 118; Wine Police, Joseph Talamo, 118, and The Factor, Garcia, 123.

Trainer Peter Miller nominated Grade I stakes winner Comma to the Top to both the Malibu and the Sir Beaufort before an eleventh-hour decision to enter the grass event. With nine entrants, the Sir Beaufort attracted three graded stakes winners.

A gelded son of Bwana Charlie who was purchased for $22,000 by the partnership of Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum and Kevin Tsujihara, Comma to the Top experienced a superb winning streak as a 2-year-old that was climaxed by a victory in the Grade I Hollywood Futurity. Included was a start on grass at Hollywood Park, the Grade III Generous Stakes.

Comma to the Top, however, has struggled as a 3-year-old despite running second by a head to Midnight Interlude in the Santa Anita Derby. He subsequently ran last in the Kentucky Derby. Comma to the Top did not register his first victory in six starts this year until Dec. 11 at Hollywood Park. He impressed in the allowance event with a 3 ¼-length win while covering seven furlongs in 1:21 3/5. The victory lifted his lifetime earnings to $812,200 from a 7-2-0 mark in 16 starts. Joe Talamo has the return riding call.

Mr. Commons, fifth against older horses in the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup Mile for St. George Farm Racing, figures prominently in the Sir Beaufort. “Strong, strong, strong,” is the way trainer John Shirreffs describes his preparation.

Third in last year’s Santa Anita Derby, Mr. Commons, a homebred son of Artie Schiller, began a series of four successive turf starts in July when taking the Oceanside Stakes. He followed with solid seconds in the Del Mar Mile and Oak Tree Mile at Santa Anita, both Grade II stakes. He subsequently finished 4 ½ lengths behind victorious Court Vision in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Mile. Smith rides the bay colt who has banked $383,660 from a 3-2-1 record in 9 starts.

B. J. Wright’s overachieving grass phenom Ultimate Eagle will go after his fifth successive victory in the Sir Beaufort after taking the Grade II Oak Tree Derby at odds of 34-1 and the Grade I Hollywood Derby at 14-1 in front-running fashion. “This horse gets no respect,” noted his trainer, Mike Pender.

The Mizzen Mast offspring was well-beaten in his first three starts before being shifted to grass. His fortunes boomed. He hasn’t lost since. After taking the Oak Tree Derby at 1 1/8 miles and the Hollywood Derby at 1 ¼ miles, Ultimate Eagle, a winner of $329,800 in seven starts, will shorten up on Monday under regular rider Martin Pedroza.

“He’d be deadly at a mile,” Pender told the Daily Racing Form. “A mile is right up his alley. If he needs to set a fast pace, he can do that. Anyone who wants to run with him early will be dulled into submission.”

The complete field for the Sir Beaufort Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Cozy Kitten, Alonso Quinonez, 118; Venomous, Rosario, 118; Comma to the Top, Talamo, 118; Mr. Commons, Smith, 118; Thirtyfirststreet, Berrios, 119; Irish Art, Bejarano, 118; Moment of Weakness, Krigger, 118, Ultimate Eagle, Martin Pedroza, 123, and Riveting Reason, Espinoza, 118.

Stoney Fleece, victorious in Hollywood Park’s Grade III Generous Stakes at one mile on turf on Nov. 27, shortens up to head a field of nine in the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes. Rosario will be atop the Decarchy colt owned by Gary and Cecil Barber and trained by Sadler. Stoney Fleece has won 4 of 6 starts for $156,680.

The complete field for the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Forever Freedom, Talamo, 115; Passing Game, David Flores, 119; Got Even, Gomez, 115; Johnny Be Mine, Garcia, 115; Motown Men, Bejarano, 117; Crimson Giant, Modesto Linares, 115; Stoney Fleece, Rosario, 122; Exotic Slew, Quinonez, 117, and Heart Fever, Nakatani, 117.

Unbeaten Ismene rates top billing among six fillies set for the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes Fillies. Including Santa Anita’s Anoakia Stakes in her last start, the homebred daughter of Tribal Rule is two-for-two for Stephen Ferraro and trainer Bill Spawr. Hall of Famer Smith will be in the saddle.

The complete field for the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes Fillies, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Tangerine Tickle, Berrios, 117; Almost a Lady, Rosario, 115; Willa B Awesome, Pedroza, 119; Warren’s Amber, Espinoza, 115; Belloma, Garcia, 117, and Ismene, Smith, 119.

The California Breeders’ Champion Stakes Fillies will serve as the meet’s opening race. Its companion for statebreds is carded as the seventh race with the Sir Beaufort and Malibu to follow as the eighth and ninth, respectively.

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