The Malibu Stakes


Santa Anita Park-Race 8: Post Time: 3:30 P.M. PST

The Malibu Stakes-$300,000 Grade I

7 Furlongs on Dirt for 3 Year-Olds

Analysis by Michael Patricks

The day after Christmas brings California horseplayers a belated Christmas gift with the opening of both Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields.  Santa Anita Park will feature live racing through the Fourth of July and Golden Gate Fields will run through June 18th.  The inaugural Pegasus World Cup Invitational on January 28th promises to get the year in racing off to a sensational start with Arrogate and California Chrome each set to take part in the world’s richest horse race.  In addition, the Breeders’ Cup will come to Del Mar for the first time in 2017, in an event that promises to deliver in quality racing amidst the beautiful northern San Diego sightlines.   Just what other storylines will develop in 2017?  The prologue will be written in large part on Monday and that’s why we’ll turn our focus to the Grade I Malibu as the curtain comes down on an unforgettable 2016.

1-Navy Hymn—Scratched

2-Mind Your Biscuits 5/2 ML- Favorite draws the fence for his third straight race and was unable to break through from the inside draw in the Grade III Gallant Bob and last time in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint.  ‘Biscuits has fired fresh before and he figures to get plenty of pace to chase once again to set up his late kick.  He also sports a nice bullet over the Santa Anita main track last Sunday and his rider Joel Rosario has had success with the favorite in the past.  On the flip side of the coin however, ‘Biscuits is stuck with yet another inside draw (as the ML favorite), he has never won at the distance, and he has only been able to triple digit Beyer one time and that was in the BC Sprint last time.  In the BC Sprint, the pace was kamikaze-like and both Drefong and Massochistic were able to keep this guy at bay, despite such a blistering tempo.  Granted he has an extra furlong to unwind over such a fast strip, but given the fact he lacks value and is stuck again down on the inside, I’m excusing him from top honors in this one and will be keeping my butter and honey in the fridge.

3-Semper Fortis 12/1 ML- Has developed a nice penchant as a check earner by primarily being a two-turn grinder and that has yielded him the better part of his lifetime earnings, noting he has not won a race in 2016.  On Monday he seeks his first win of the year in a Grade I affair and at a distance he’s never tried before.  Trainer Doug O’Neill knows how to strike at a price and this guy cannot be dismissed out of a hat just because of his win-shy nature.  He closed well last time at Zia Park in their banner race of the meet when suffering a brutally wide journey, to narrowly miss at 5/2.  Semper Fortis typically gets respect at the window against cheaper stock and there are signs that he’s an improving sort and should have a useful 2017.  He also should have plenty of speed out there in front of him to help set up his late rally and he figures to be running on somewhat.  Unfortunately for him, there are simply other more quality animals who should get the jump here and he will likely have too much to do turning for home; may be able to hit some Trifecta and Superfecta tickets, but he’s a lesser light for top honors.

4-Ten Blessings 3/1 ML- Co-second choice whom may even go favored when the gates fly back, Ten Blessings sports the highest Beyer number in the field and is undefeated from two tries at Santa Anita, including his lifetime effort which occurred back in November over this same track and distance.  Ten Blessings beat up on older horses that day and was better than four clear of next out winner, Distinctive B.  This horse loves Santa Anita and has been working a hole in the wind for trainer Bob Baffert with bullets flying over the hills of Sierra Madre and shell casings left all over the track.  Expect him to be extremely handy once the starter’s pistol goes coming off the brief sharpening.  It’s also a positive that he fired fresh in his debut so the layoff should not be a concern.  Wouldn’t be surprised at all if Baffert has this guy fully cranked with a dip in to face straight three year-olds and the Grade I would be a nice addition to this guy’s resume heading into his four year-old season.  Rafael Bejarano knows this horse very well and should have him in the right spot when the real running begins; fully expect this freight train to overwhelm them late; the pick.

5-Jazzy Times 8/1 ML- The second Baffert, ‘Jazzy is notoriously quick off the blocks and should be the torch bearer early with Sharp Azteca right off his flank.  Like Ten Blessings, ‘Jazzy figures to appreciate a stint with straight three year-olds, but this guy seems to have one way to go and that figures to be no easy chore given the cast he will face in the Malibu.  ‘Jazzy was favored in a Grade I over this course back in October and it ended poorly for him when he couldn’t get his head in front early.  To his credit, he did rebound with a nice effort at seven furlongs in the Damascus when yielding late to Silent Bird.  However, last time at odds-on ‘Jazzy was unable to get his head in front yet again and ultimately faded back to a well-beaten third.  Even if this one gets to the lead early, Sharp Azteca figures to be on him like white on rice up the backstretch which will likely cause him to fold up like a cheap suit late.  If Jazzy takes back, it’s highly doubtful that he can out finish some of the other more proven commodities in the “off the pace game”.  Expect a send mission from this guy which should compromise his chances along with Sharp Azteca and thus provide the perfect set up for Ten Blessings who’ll be licking his lips at the quarter pole; foresee him being used up on pace.

6-Who’s Out 20/1 ML- Headliner on his resume was back on June 25th of this year when he upstaged Jazzy Times at 7/1 and raised some eyebrows in the process.  Mike Smith seemed to hold the keys to this one’s ignition and knew which buttons to push to get his best performance out of him. Lately however, Who’s Out has been mired in some very dull form and the revolving door of riders continue atop this one’s back again on Saturday with his fourth different rider named in as many starts.  In addition, he’s been having a real problem leaving the gate in good order and that is something he’ll absolutely need to do on Monday if he’s going to have any real say in the outcome.  Obviously, it’s quite foolish to sleep on any Jerry Hollendorfer trainee and Who’s Out has delivered some solid performances digging deep into his running lines.  But truth be told, others appear far sharper than this one does right now; he’s simply out of my equation.

7-Sharp Azteca 3/1 ML- Arrives in southern California as sharp as the proverbial knife and should be a whole lot to handle in this spot while racing on the front end.  ‘Azteca seems to be getting better with each and every start and his trainer Jorge Navarro has batted over .300 in 2016, so the man clearly knows how to train a horse.  Last time out at Laurel, Sharp Azteca broke like a quarter horse from the gate and ran up the score against a quality group of three year-olds that featured Hot Seat, another sophomore who had entered that race previously undefeated.  The fact Sharp Azteca ran Hot Seat and company into the ground lends credibility to his credentials and it’s nice to see that he draws outside the other main speed threat in Jazzy Times.  Sharp Azteca should be all over Jazzy Times into the far turn and in all likelihood should get the best of that one approaching the quarter pole but will have to have enough in reserve to fend off the cast of closers who are sure to be calling.  Furthermore, it’s encouraging to see trainer Navarro brought him out here in advance of the race and he has worked well twice over the surface.  Have little to no doubt in my mind this guy can win the battle but ultimately I don’t see him surviving the war.  He’ll run his eyeballs out like usual as he and Zayas rarely run a bad one, but have to think he’ll be softened up by Jazzy Times just enough to be susceptible late; must use in vertical sequences.

8-Mor Spirit 6/1 ML- Only time this one has ever sprinted was in his debut where he made a nice sustained run to the front, only to be collared late by the oncoming Street Vision.  Ever since, it’s been nothing but two turn efforts for Mor Spirit, noting that he has not been seen since this year’s Run for the Roses when finishing 10th.  Baffert’s third and final charge has been freshened for his return to the races and this looks like a quite logical placement for a comeback–getting to run at home and as a nice stepping stone to other two-turn races that are down the road.  Mike Smith takes the call on Mor Spirit which is noteworthy, but this mount may be “mor(e)” of an investment for other two-turn races in 2017, compared to an action call on Monday in the Malibu.  Though Mor Spirit has been working well at Santa Anita, it’s quite likely that he’ll take back and settle in for the first half-mile and then uncork a finishing rally which should land him a small slice of the pie, thus setting him up nicely for next time.  In terms of a win bet in the Malibu, it’s difficult to see him getting the jump on stable mate Ten Blessings, or having the finishing gusto in a sprint race that a more proven commodity like Mine Your Biscuits is likely to have.  He’s ran his biggest numbers in races second off the shelf and have to figure this will be no exception on Monday which will leave him on the outside looking in; player for the minors.

9-Awesome Banner 8/1 ML- Florida-bred arrives in the Malibu in search of four in a row after capturing a $200,000 stakes race at Mahoning Valley. With nine exacta finishes from 11 lifetime races it’s obvious this horse has a very high competitive spirit and he’s trained by the burgeoning Mark Casse stable, who seems to be doing damage everywhere their horses go.  His three restricted races from Gulfstream Park may not get the blood pumping since he wasn’t beating the likes of these in those races.  However, a look back into the beginning of 2016 reveals a horse who was an odds-on winner of the Swale (GII) at Gulfstream Park and a horse that was only 6/1 in the Fountain of Youth when facing then-dominant, Mohaymen.  No doubt this horse is gutsy, but his Beyers seem to stack up a little bit light and in truth it appears he’s third fastest of a three horse speed brigade that is sure to be quite taxing up front.  If he can step forward off his last race and pounce from a stalking spot then he’s got a chance to factor in the outcome, but have to think that will be much easier said than done while venturing into Grade I waters on Monday; expect him to say “Uncle!” at the top of the lane.

10-Horse Greedy 30/1 ML- After three straight efforts against winners, this one finally gets off the rail in the Malibu but has to face Grade I types in the process.  He’s been a beat slow from the rail draw the last couple races and to his credit, he’s run bang up efforts in those spots while facing older horses. Going inside to outside should help settle him in early, but the central issue with this guy is simply class and ability against the likes of these.  The maiden breaking effort came over this surface and featured two next-out winners that chased him home in that affair, so there is some ability in this guy’s corner.  However, his 91 Beyer came on the turf last time and the only time he tried seven furlongs he got quarter-horsed to the front before giving up the ghost as the 2/1 favorite in the market.  You’ll get 30/1 on Monday and based on his talent and racing spirit he’s not the impossible dream.  However, he will have to run faster than he ever has before if he’s going to find his way onto the ticket.  Nice horse to be sure, but I’ll wait until he returns to face his friends before backing; this spot is just a bit too greedy for my blood.

Consensus: 4-7-2-8