News and STORIES

Santa Anita Has Big Opening Day

Author: Don Mckee
Published: Monday December 30, 2019
It was a big opening day on Dec. 28 at Santa Anita Park. There were dominant victories by Gift Box and Omaha Beach, multiple photo finishes, a last-to-first score, a debut victory by Devil Made Me Do It, and a $110.80 winner.

Jockey Mike Smith, at the age of 54, won four races on the day. Two of those were grade 1 tests, and he set a record for career grade 1 successes at 217, which is one more than Hall of Fame member Jerry Bailey.

"I think yesterday epitomized what Mike is all about," said trainer John Shirreffs. "He's about the horse, and he's always been about the horse. It's the horse first; everything else is secondary. That's what I love about Mike."

Shirreffs also spoke about the atmosphere on opening day at the track. 

"After Hard Not to Love won her race, I heard the crowd cheering for her, and that was very reminiscent for me (thinking back to his great mare Zenyatta)," Shirreffs continued. "Then, when I was walking back to the grandstand, I thought, 'My goodness. Everybody's having a good time. How fun horse racing really is.'

"Santa Anita did a great job. They had these floral arrangements where people could take selfies in front of them, and I saw a lot of people doing that.

"(Saturday) was really a celebration."

Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach met expectations in his final race at Santa Anita Saturday when he took the Runhappy Malibu Stakes (G1). He came out of the race in good order, and he will now move on to Gulfstream Park to run his final race in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) Jan. 25. The son of War Front will go to stud after that. 

"He came out of the race very good, and he'll leave Tuesday, Dec. 31," trainer Richard Mandella said Sunday morning. "We thought he was leaving on the 30th, but it's the 31st.

"We could hear the fans cheering for him, so it seems like he's got a following. Waiting to have opening day on Saturday was a good thing, for the horses and for the public."

Some are sad to see Omaha Beach leave before knowing what else he could do if he continued to race. 

"It's too bad we're losing him," said trainer David Bernstein, who is in his 45th year at Santa Anita and the person responsible for conditioning the 1994 Eclipse Award winner as champion older male The Wicked North. "We haven't seen the best of him."


Victor Espinoza took the mount on the 3-5 favorite Bellafina in the La Brea. She finished second to 11-1 Hard Not to Love in a disappointing end to the race. Hard Not to Love rallied from ninth and last at the half-mile marker to take the race by 2 1/4 lengths. 

"The race didn't set up as good for her as we would have liked," Espinoza said Sunday. "She was pressured by (Bob) Baffert's filly (Mother Mother), but she still ran very well."

The race was the first time that a jockey other than Flavien Prat had ridden Bellafina in her 13 career starts. 

"He said try to break out the gate clear and see how the race sets up," Espinoza said. "It was good, but we never had a chance to relax on the lead (with rapid fractions of :21.70, :44.41 and 1:09.31. The final time for seven furlongs was 1:22.17).

"That made it hard for her, but she ran an awesome race."