STABLE NOTES BY ED GOLDEN

• BAFFERT SEEKS FIRST GRADE I MALIBU WIN ON OPENING DAY

• HBO’S ‘LUCK’ NOT ‘SUGAR-COATED,’ STEVENS SAYS

• DENMAN, ‘VOICE OF SANTA ANITA’ RETURNS

• CONWAY JR. LAMENTS MISSED LONGSHOT ON POP’S BIRTHDAY

BAFFERT TAKES AIM AT FIRST MALIBU WIN AS SANTA ANITA OPENS

Bob Baffert has won major races all over the globe but he has never won the Malibu. The Hall of Fame trainer hopes to add the prestigious Grade I stakes to his accomplished resume when Santa Anita opens for its 75th winter/spring meet on Dec. 26.

Baffert mentioned Hoorayforhollywood, Smash and The Factor as possible starters in the seven furlong race for 3-year-olds, one of the most coveted sprint stakes on America’s racing calendar. Among its winners are stalwarts such as Determine (1955), Round Table (1957), Hillsdale (1958), Tompion (1960), Olden Times (1961), Native Diver (1962), Buckpasser (1966), Damascus (1968), Ancient Title (1974), Spectacular Bid (1980), Precisionist (1984), Ferdinand (1986) and Rock Hard Ten (2004).

“I’m really looking forward to watching my horses run in the Malibu,” Baffert said Thursday morning. “It’s always fun to be back at Santa Anita. It’s my favorite track. You can’t beat it. It’s the most beautiful track in the country so we’re glad to be back.”

That said, Baffert who transitioned to Thoroughbreds in 1991, has yet to win the Malibu. He has been second four times: with 2-1 favorite Misremembered in 2009; with Straight Man in 1999; with Kentucky Derby winner Silver Charm, the 3-10 favorite as part of an entry in 1997; and with Charmonnier in 1991. “I think Silver Charm got in big trouble that day (Dec. 26, 1997),” Baffert accurately reflected. Daily Racing Form’s chart reads . . . “(Silver Charm) stalked the dueling leaders off the rail on the backstretch and turn, lacked room along the rail in upper stretch until past the eighth pole, found room . . . then finished well but could not catch the winner.”

Lord Grillo, a 9-1 shot ridden by Eddie Delahoussaye, beat Silver Charm and Gary Stevens by a half-length.

The Factor, a winner of the Grade II San Vicente Stakes, the Grade II Rebel Stakes and the Grade I Pat O’Brien Stakes earlier this year, worked six furlongs on Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track Monday in 1:12.60.

Baffert termed The Factor’s drill as “fantastic.” Regular rider Martin Garcia was aboard for the move on the gray son of War Front owned by the Fog City Stable and George Bolton.

Little wonder Baffert, who turns 59 on Jan. 13, fancies Santa Anita. A winner of the 2010-11 Santa Anita title, he took seven straight training titles here from 1996 through 2003, and has a record nine Santa Anita crowns overall. This meet could provide No. 10, if the fates allow.

“We’ll have some maidens that we’re going to be breaking at this meet,” Baffert said. “My barn is basically made up of young horses; we’ve got some nice 2-year-olds. We’ll know more in the next couple months.”

OPENING DAY FLASHBACK: ‘SUNSHINE BOYS’ WIN 1986 MALIBU

Ferdinand, who had won the Kentucky Derby earlier in the year, captured the 1986 Malibu Stakes on opening day for the “Sunshine Boys,” nicknames for the venerable duo of trainer Charlie Whittingham, 73, and jockey Bill Shoemaker, 55.

A Santa Anita on-track crowd of 65,954 watched Ferdinand, at odds of 4-1, rally from 10th in the field of 12 to win by a length and a quarter over 7-5 favorite Snow Chief, the ’86 Preakness Stakes winner, who was trained by Mel Stute.

Ferdinand would go on to win the 1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic for legendary Hall of Famers Whittingham and Shoemaker.

HBO’S ‘LUCK’ IS THE REAL DEAL: GARY STEVENS

Take it from a man who knows, Gary Stevens, HBO’s highly anticipated “Luck” is more down-to-earth than “Seabiscuit,” the hit 2003 film in which he made his acting debut, drawing acclaim for his portrayal of jockey George (The Iceman) Woolf.

“Seabiscuit was a lot of fantasy, a lot of Hollywood,” said Stevens, who performs in “Luck” with stars Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte, Dennis Farina, John Ortiz and many others. The sneak preview of “Luck’s” pilot aired last Sunday. It was filmed in large part at Santa Anita and will make its “official” pilot premier on Jan. 29, followed by eight episodes that will comprise Season One.

“’Luck’ is not sugar-coated,” continued Stevens, a retired Hall of Fame jockey who now provides his expert racing analysis for HRTV and NBC.

“This series is our sport, and I’m talking as a guy on that side of the fence,” pointing to across the outer rail to Santa Anita’s main track. “‘Luck’ is real life.”

‘THE DORF’ IS FUNNY, BUT TEAM CONWAY MISSED OUT ON BIG PAYOFF BACK IN THE DAY

Today is renowned comic, actor and avid racing fan Tim Conway’s 78th birthday. It also is the anniversary of a memorable yet regrettable experience Conway and his son, Tim Jr., had on this day some 20 years ago.

Tim Jr., host of the highly rated “Tim Conway Jr. Show” on KFI, AM 640, and like his dad, a life-long racing enthusiast, recounted the event. It should be noted up front that one of the elder Conway’s most popular and humorous characters is called “Dorf,” a Lilliputian-sized clown who tumbles forward and backward at the slightest provocation, but always bounces up to his starting spot, only to fall again.

“In the early 1990’s, we went to the races on Dec. 15 looking for a little ‘birthday’ luck at the window,” Conway Jr. said. “We noticed a horse at 75-1, that we avoided because of the crazy odds. It won, paid $162, and to this day we regret that we had no confidence in a horse named ‘Dorf Wins.’

“True story.”

TREVOR DENMAN: AND AWAY HE GOES AGAIN AT SANTA ANITA

Trevor Denman, who aspired to be a jockey in his native Durban, South Africa, embarks upon his 29th anniversary year as the “Voice of Santa Anita,” when The Great Race Place opens Dec. 26.

Denman, who has called the Breeders’ Cup World Championships since 2006 and who will once again preside over the two-day extravaganza at Santa Anita next November, was first hired at Santa Anita in the fall of 1983.

An instinctive judge of equine talent, Denman’s ability to anticipate developments in a race are legendary.

“I try to treat each race individually and although I want to be sure and let our fans know what’s going on with the betting favorite, I also try to let the race develop and I just try to describe what I’m seeing,” said Denman. “I guess you could say that I’ve been blessed to have grown up with racing and I’m able to spot horses who are full of run, and conversely, I can spot a horse who’s for all intents and purposes, spent.”

After calling the first five weeks of Santa Anita’s Autumn Meet, Denman flew to Churchill Downs, where he called the two-day Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 5 and 6. Since then, he and his wife, Robin, have been at their farm in Minnesota.

“We have about 110 acres here,” he said by telephone. “I’ve found that this is a great place for me to stay fresh and to re-charge my batteries, so to speak. I think everyone needs a break and for Robin and me, this works beautifully.”

Denman added that even though he’s approaching three decades high atop Santa Anita’s grandstand, he’s very much looking forward to the challenge of opening day.

“Opening day at Santa Anita is magical,” Denman said. “The weather is clear and the mountains are strikingly beautiful. There’s so much pent-up anticipation and there’s always some new faces. The (Grade I) Malibu is always a terrific race and then there are so many other Grade I races on both the dirt and the turf throughout the meet. I’m told that our horse population is improving, so I’m optimistic that we’re headed in the right direction.”

For many years, Denman cited the 1989 Preakness Stakes, which featured a stretch-long battle between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, as the greatest race he had ever called. That all changed in November, 2009.

“Without question, Zenyatta’s last-to-first win in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita was the most dramatic and breathtaking race I’ve ever called,” he said. “It had everything. She was undefeated and had never run against the boys, nor had she been a mile and a quarter. Her style suggested that she’d need racing luck to be able to weave through a lot of traffic with a 12-horse field and to be honest, she was so far back early, that I really didn’t think she could do it.

“Her race that day was truly one for the ages and the fact that she did it on a picturesque day with a huge crowd and a worldwide television audience, it just can’t get any better than that.”

Denman noted that in addition to Zenyatta, his all-time favorite horses include Nijinsky II and Precisionist. He has a grown daughter, Katrina, and when Santa Anita is conducting live racing, he and his wife live in nearby San Dimas.

FINISH LINES: The NTRA Thoroughbred Notebook, in Thursday’s “Two Minute Lick” with Lakers’ player Luke Walton, notes that the son of basketball great Bill Walton names Joe Talamo as his favorite jockey; Bob Baffert as his favorite trainer; “John Wooden and my dad” as his heroes, and Trevor Denman as the person in Thoroughbred racing “I’d most like to have dinner with.” Available now is SantaAnitaLive.com, a hub for Santa Anita’s casual fan. It integrates all of Santa Anita’s social media efforts as well as offering a new blog featuring fashion, how to bet, special events, horse racing, and more. Other features include an events calendar, a Twitter feed, Facebook feed, and a YouTube feed . . . Santa Anita has entered into a new partnership for 2012 with the Treasure Island Casino in Las Vegas, which has extended a Santa Anita rate for fans, horsemen, employees, friends and family. This is the first Vegas Casino partnership Santa Anita has had since 2009. Within the partnership, Treasure Island will provide rooms for on-track and social media contests for Santa Anita’s fans as well as sponsoring the popular ShowVivor contest, which will begin Jan. 1, 2012 . . . Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint winner Secret Circle worked four furlongs on Santa Anita’s main track Thursday in :49.40 for Baffert. Other stakes winners on the tab included California Flag (five furlongs in a bullet :58.60 for Brian Koriner); Tapizar (five furlongs in 1:01.20 for Steve Asmussen); The Usual Q.T. (five furlongs in 1:03.60 for Jim Cassidy); and Norvsky (six furlongs in 1:14 for Don Warren) . . . Nominations close today for Santa Anita’s four opening day stakes: the Grade I Malibu, the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes, the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes for fillies and the Grade II Sir Beaufort Stakes . . . Majority owner Bud Johnston says Santa Anita’s Autumn Horse of the Meet Acclamation is still at trainer Don Warren’s barn recovering from a soft tissue injury. “He’s ready to go the farm soon for further recuperation,” Johnston said, “but I’ve had a hard time letting him go because I like seeing him at the barn every day.” . . . Lakerville, impressive last-to-first winner in turf sprints at Santa Anita and Hollywood, is on a 60-day break at manager Leigh Gray’s Winner’s Circle Ranch in Bradbury Estates. “Our long-range goal is the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita next year,” trainer Barry Abrams said.

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