Seven horses are entered in the $300,000, Grade 1 Runhappy Malibu Stakes, one of six stakes races, all graded, which make up Sunday’s opening day card for Santa Anita Park’s winter/spring meeting.
In terms of earnings, Dr. Schivel tops the group with $876,000 banked to date, much of it earned last month when he finished second, beaten a nose, in the Grade 1 Qatar Racing Breeders' Cup Sprint against older horses. Prior to that, Dr. Schivel won the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship and the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes to prove he belongs in this race. Stilleto Boy also ran in a race on that star-studded Breeders’ Cup Saturday card but didn't fare nearly as well when fifth of eight in the Grade 1 Longines Breeders' Cup Classic. His best effort of the year came when he checked in second in the Grade 2 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita one month earlier. Next in terms of accomplishments is invader Timeless Bounty, who has earned $210,714 in his career and who just pulled off a 59.60-1upset in the quarter-million Steel Valley Sprint Stakes at Mahoning Valley Race Course one month ago. Baby Yoda won three of his first four starts, including a pair of impressive efforts at Saratoga last summer, but at this level he did not fare so well as he finished third in the Grade 2 Vosburgh Stakes and then finished seventh (moved up to sixth) as the heavy favorite in the Steel Valley Sprint. Team Merchants won the non-graded Let It Ride Stakes on turf last month and has won two of five on dirt, but his two previous tries in graded stakes resulted in fourth- and 13th-place finishes. Last but absolutely not least are a pair of horses who are undefeated in two starts to date and who are running in a stakes for the first time. One of those is Flightline, who has posted an average winning margin of 13 lengths in his two wins. The other is Triple Tap, a half-brother to champion and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Triple Tap has won his two starts by a combined 6 ½ lengths and appears to be a horse with an exceptionally bright future.
There is no discussion about this race that does not involve Flightline winning, and possibly dominating, this year's Runhappy Malibu Stakes. I cannot ever recall a 3-year-old doing what this colt has done in his two starts to date. In his debut in April, Flightline was bumped at the start and found himself sixth of eight and about 1 ½ lengths from the leader. After a sixteenth of a mile had been run, Flightline had taken the lead and by the time the field hit the stretch he was in front by eight lengths, eventually drawing off to win by 12 ¼ lengths. For that effort in his very first race, Flightline earned a virtually unheard of 116 Equibase Speed Figure which at that time of year would have been good enough to win a graded stakes. Away from the races for a little over four months, Flightline made his second start in early September, also at six furlongs. He relaxed in second for the first quarter-mile and then romped by 12 ¾ lengths, this time earning a Grade 1-level Equibase Speed Figure of 130. To put that kind of effort into perspective, Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Aloha West earned a 110 figure and Breeders' Cup Classic winner Knicks Go earned a 118 figure in November. Even impressive Big Ass Fans Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Life is Good (120 figure) did not run as fast as Flightline did on Sept. 5.
Rested almost four months this time, Flightline has been working out strongly every six to eight days since Oct. 31, including three straight workouts which were the best from among 28, 57 and 41 horses that day. Jockey Flavien Prat, who rode Flightline to victory in both starts, also rode Dr. Schivel to win four straight races and to a nose defeat in the Breeders' Cup Sprint – but he chooses Flightline in the Malibu. Prat also rode Triple Tap to both of his impressive wins, and once again chooses Flightline. Going back to how fast Flightline has run in his two starts to date, when comparing those efforts to the rest of the Malibu field, even the 116 figure Flightline earned in his maiden win in April is faster than the best figure any other horse in the field has earned this year. If he repeats the 130 figure effort from September, even if horses like Triple Tap (107 last race figure and Dr. Schivel (112 and 110 figures in his last two races) improve off their recent efforts, it is going to be very difficult to beat Flightline in this race. If you are looking for horses to fill out the exacta and/or trifecta, Dr. Schivel, Team Merchants, and Timeless Bounty are my top selections.
The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is Baby Yoda (111), Dr. Schivel (112), Stilleto Boy (106), Team Merchants (109), Timeless Bounty (100) and Triple Tap (107).