Santa Anita opened its 74th season on Boxing Day and the celebrated California track resumed racing on dirt after flirting with a synthetic track.
Local horsemen hailed the return to the main (dirt) track. “It’s fantastic,” three-time premiership winning trainer Doug O’Neill said. “Although the times are fast, the track is kind and it’s real quiet. It’s fast but not hard. And how do you knock the scenery here?”
Opening day following record rainfall of 13 inches in the previous week. There was surface flooding at nearby Arcadia in north-east Los Angeles but any concerns as to whether the new track would be capable of withstanding such a pounding were allayed on Sunday.
Former Australian sires Thunder Gulch (Coolmore) and Orientate (Arrowfield) sired the opening two winners on the program and Lindsay Park shuttler Good Journey kicked off the stakes schedule in the Listed California Breeders’ Champion Stakes.
His colt Thirtyfirststreet wore down odds-on favourite Arresting Officer (Officer) to post a half-length decision over 1400m. He had won a Hollywood Park maiden on November 20.
Switch (Quiet American) scored a well-deserved victory in the G1 La Brea Stakes. She had been runner-up at her last two starts behind Zenyatta in the G1 Lady’s Secret Stakes and to Dubai Majesty in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
Lane’s End stallion Candy Ride completed a black-type double at Santa Anita on Sunday starting with Sidney’s Candy’s seven length victory in the G3 Sir Beaufort Stakes.
Candy Ride (Arg) represents the Mr Prospector sireline and he was back in business immediately after the Sir Beaufort when Twirling Candy scored a record breaking victory in the G1 Malibu Stakes. He ran 1400m in a new track mark of 1.19.70s.
Twirling Candy defeated Smiling Tiger (Hold That Tiger) by a nose after a thrilling duel in the straight. The runner-up also broke the old record of 1.20s established by the immortal Spectacular Bid in 1980.
Trainer John Sadler prepared Switch, Sidney’s Candy and Twirling Candy and all three were ridden by Joel Rosario. “I’ve lost my voice, I’m that excited,” Sadler croaked after the Malibu Stakes. “It’s just been a fabulous day.”
Santa Anita installed a Cushion Track in September 2007 but lost 11 racing dates in 2008 due to a drainage problem. Subsequently, management decided to revert to dirt racing.
Santa Anita first opened on Christmas Day in 1934 and its record crowd of 85,527 was posted on the day Lord At War won the 1985 Santa Anita Handicap Day. There were 34,000 racegoers on course on Sunday.