Saturday’s opening day card at Santa Anita Park traditionally serves as the bridge between one year and the next on the North American racing calendar, and this year’s kickoff has an added bonus of featuring two extra graded stakes since the originally scheduled Thursday, Dec. 26 opener was pushed back due to weather concerns and merged with the Saturday card.
Overall, there are seven stakes races set for Saturday at “the Great Race Place.” Six of them are graded, and three of them are Grade 1s. With all that said, the highlight for most horse racing fans will be the return of Omaha Beach in the $300,000, Grade 1 Malibu Stakes. Scheduled as race 9 with a post time of 6:26 p.m. ET, the Malibu drew a small field of five 3-year-olds, and Omaha Beach towers above his competitors in terms of class and especially consistency. The Malibu also falls between two graded stakes turf races in a Pick 3 sequence: the $100,000, Grade 3 Robert J. Frankel Stakes (post time 5:51 p.m. ET) and the Grade 2, $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile Stakes (post time 7 p.m. ET).
Here are two betting options for horseplayers to consider that should return a decent profit using heavy favorite Omaha Beach as the key horse in wagering and limited to a $20 budget.
Strategy 1: $20 straight exacta
Omaha Beach (#5) enters the Malibu off of a runner-up effort in the Nov. 2 Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita where he made up some ground late after running wide through the far turn but could not catch wire-to-wire winner Spun to Run. Look for jockey Mike Smith to be more aggressive aboard Omaha Beach Saturday and get him in a good spot just behind probable early leader Much Better (#1, who adds blinkers) and make his move for the lead at the top of the stretch. Omaha Beach has been training lights out at Santa Anita for Hall of Famer Richard Mandella and appears ready to cap off his “what might have been” season with a third Grade 1 victory.
Bob Baffert trains three out of the remaining four starters; Chad Brown-conditioned Complexity (#2), a Grade 1 winner in 2018 coming off of a good comeback win at Aqueduct in November, is the other. Of the Baffert trio, last spring’s Santa Anita Derby winner Roadster (#4) looks second best to Omaha Beach and is the choice to fill out a $20 straight exacta. He disappointed as the 4-5 favorite last out in the Grade 3, 1 1/8-mile Native Diver Stakes on Nov. 23 at Del Mar, finishing last in a four-horse field, but prior to that ran second by a nose in a seven-furlong listed stakes race earlier on the Nov. 2 Breeders’ Cup card at Santa Anita. I think he’ll run well enough Saturday to secure second behind a dominant Omaha Beach with Joel Rosario aboard for the first time.
Hopefully Roadster will get around his morning-line odds of 3-1 come post time on Saturday, and with Omaha Beach somewhere around 3-5 or lower, a $1 exacta should bring back $4 or $5… and multiplying that by 20 could yield $80 to $100.
What to say at the betting window:
“Santa Anita, Race 9, $20 exacta straight, 5 with 4.”
Strategy 2: $2 Pick 3 part wheel
Singling Omaha Beach in a Pick 3 is another option, and the races before and after the Malibu offer some options for horseplayers to use a price in the sequence.
The first leg, the aforementioned Grade 3 Robert J. Frankel Stakes for fillies and mares ages 3 and up, is held at 1 1/8 miles on turf and drew a field of eight. The 5-2 morning-line favorite in the Frankel, Mirth (#7), shot out to a nine-length lead in the Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf after three quarters of a mile and still had a four-length lead at the mile marker, but fell prey to her fast early pace and faded to sixth of 10. However, she came within three lengths of third-place finisher and champion Sistercharlie, and prior to the Filly and Mare Turf she won the Grade 1 Rodeo Drive Stakes at Santa Anita by 1 ¼ lengths after setting a much slower pace. I expect jockey Mike Smith to rate her speed more efficiently in Saturday’s Grade 3 race and she’s one of the two horses I’ll use in the Frankel. The other is Excellent Sunset (#2), making her first start for Richard Baltas and removing blinkers. This Irish-bred mare ran a good second in last year’s Frankel, losing by three quarters of a length, and finished a nose and a head out of first in her two most recent starts at Del Mar. She also gets Joel Rosario to ride for the first time.
The race following the Malibu and the third leg of the Pick 3 is the Grade 2 Mathis Brothers Mile for 3-year-olds, also held on turf. Eleven horses are entered, including two making their first start in the U.S. for trainer Mark Glatt after shipping from England. I’ll use five horses in this leg, including a couple of longshots. The 1-2 finishers from last month’s Grade 1 Hollywood Derby at Del Mar and the first and second choices on the Mathis Brothers morning line – Mo Forza (#5) and Neptune’s Storm (#6) – are on the ticket, but I’ll also take a flier on Ocean Fury (#3), Barristan the Bold (#9), and Bob and Jackie (#11). Each of these three could spice up the Pick 3 payoff if they win, and each has some appeal. Ocean Fury is a closer who could capitalize on a solid early pace since there’s several horses with speed entered, Barristan the Bold (one of the two new arrivals from England) has Javier Castellano assigned to ride, and Bob and Jackie has won three of four career starts and has showed a high level of competitiveness each time, although the far outside post is a concern.
A $2 Pick 3 in races 8-10 singling Omaha Beach in race 9 and using the horses discussed above – two from the Frankel and five from the Mathis Brothers Mile – could potentially bring in $40-$140 on a total investment of $20, depending on whether a longshot wins the last leg.
What to say at the betting window:
“Santa Anita, Race 8, $2 Pick 3 part wheel, 2 and 7 with 5 with 3, 5, 6, 9, and 11.”