Fortunately for John Sadler, his horses were sounder than he was Sunday. The 54-year-old trainer was nursing an injured right knee while watching the races on TV at home as his horses set a Santa Anita record by winning three consecutive graded stakes.

“All of them came back well,” Sadler said Monday morning, where he made his rounds with the assistance of a golf cart and a walking stick. He was speaking of Switch, who won the Grade I La Brea Stakes by four lengths; Sidney’s Candy, who won the Grade III Sir Beaufort Stakes by 7 ¼ lengths; and Twirling Candy, who out-finished Smiling Tiger to win the Grade I Malibu Stakes by a nose. All three winners were ridden by Joel Rosario.

“Twirling Candy will probably go in the Strub (Stakes on Feb. 5); we haven’t picked a race yet for Switch, but she’ll probably go in the La Caňada (Stakes Feb. 13) or possibly the Santa Monica (Jan. 30),” Sadler said. “Sidney has a lot of ways he can go. He can go in the San Fernando (Stakes on dirt Jan. 15) or the Kilroe Mile (on turf March 5).”

On the face of it, it might be assumed that Sunday was the best day in Sadler’s career spanning more than three decades.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Sadler said. “I think we’ve won three stakes before (in one day), the year we won the All-American (Handicap) at Hollywood (2002).”

Meanwhile, Sadler will soldier on as assistant Larry Benavidez does the leg work, as he did Sunday, when horses he saddled in Sadler’s absence earned $408,480.

“I messed up my knee and I’m probably going to need surgery on it,” said Sadler, who is off and running, figuratively speaking of course, in pursuit of his third straight Santa Anita training title. “I’m not sure what it is. I’m going to see the orthopedic guy this afternoon.”


Victor Espinoza and Robertino Diodoro became trivia answers Sunday to the question: who was the first winning jockey and trainer over Santa Anita’s new traditional dirt main track?

Espinoza, Santa Anita’s riding champion in 2003-04, won the first race on opening day Sunday, closing between horses aboard 5-1 shot Skellytown to win the mile and a sixteenth race for $10,000 claiming horses by a nose in 1:43.94 on a “good” track. It marked the first Santa Anita win for the 36-year-old Diodoro.

“I was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, and I raced at Northlands Park all my life,” Diodoro said. “I had a few good years up there, but I have a stable at Turf Paradise right now and have 10 stalls at Santa Anita. I’m commuting, but my wife (Nikki) is staying here full time. I’ve been leading trainer two of the last three years at Northlands and won 106 races there this year.

“All I lived for all my life is horses and hockey. I quit playing hockey when I was 21 and took up training full time. It feels great, awesome (to win the first race on Santa Anita’s new track). I just love it. Trying to make the NHL playing hockey and being a trainer at Santa Anita have been my life goals.

“We had one horse here last year. We shipped in the night before, and it didn’t go so well. But we’ve got some old owners and new owners now and this is what they want to do. They’ve got their heart set on California and we’re going to give it a try.”

“The track feels good,” Espinoza said matter-of-factly after the race. “Considering all the rain they had (14 ¼ inches), the horses handled the track very well. Obviously, my horse did.”


Bobby Frankel died a year ago, on Nov. 16, at the age of 68. Nothing would give Ron McAnally greater satisfaction than winning a race named for his fellow Hall of Fame trainer than capturing the inaugural Robert J. Frankel Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday, New Year’s Day.

“I would love to win it, just for him,” said McAnally, who plans to run Beverly D winner Éclair de Lune for owner Richard Duchossois in the mile and an eighth turf race formerly run as the San Gorgonio Handicap, a race Frankel won a record eight times, starting with Extra Hand in 1973.

“We were dear friends for many, many years,” McAnally said. “We stabled together and swapped ideas together. Bobby believed in the power of positive thinking, no question. He felt he was going to win every race that they ever ran. The man who wrote ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ said ‘If you think you’re going to get beat, you will. If you think you’re going to win, you will.’ “Bobby was like a piece of hard candy. A lot of people didn’t like him because they only saw his tough side. He was hard on the outside, but soft on the inside.”

Probable for the Frankel: Éclair de Lune, Rafael Bejarano; Harmonious, Joel Rosario; Lilly Fa Pootz, no rider; and Spring Style, no rider.

FINISH LINES: Bob Baffert said The Factor came back in good shape after breaking his maiden by 8 ¼ lengths in track record time of 1:06.98 for six furlongs Sunday, establishing himself as an early contender for the Kentucky Derby next May 7. The Kentucky-bred gray son of War Front broke the mark of 1:07.20 set by Sunny Blossom in 1989. “I thought he’d run like that the first time,” Baffert said. “That first race, he just got behind horses.” The Factor finished fourth as the 7-10 favorite, beaten 3 ¼ lengths, at Hollywood Park Nov. 28 in his first start. Baffert said the colt is named for Bill O’Reilly’s top-rated cable TV news show, “The Factor,” on the Fox News Network . . . Joe Talamo got off to a strong start by winning two races opening day, and the Louisiana native who turns 21 on Jan. 12 was impressed with Santa Anita’s new traditional dirt main track. “I was surprised how fast they were running, because the track didn’t feel like it had any bias to it,” Talamo said. “The main thing is, the horses get over it real good. That was a terrific opening day. It was so good to see all those people (34,268) out there.” . . . La Nez, scratched from Sunday’s La Brea Stakes, is ticketed for the Grade III Monrovia Stakes at about 6 ½ furlongs on turf Jan. 2, trainer Eric Kruljac said. Sebastian Flyte, scratched from Sir Beaufort when it was taken off the turf, could surface in the Grade II San Marcos Stakes at 1 ¼ miles on turf Jan. 17, trainer Ben Cecil said . . . THOROUGHBREDS members will receive free, long sleeve T-shirts with paid admissions at Santa Anita while supplies last on New Year’s Day. First post time Jan. 1 is 12:30 p.m.