On an afternoon when Mike Smith surpassed Jerry Bailey for most Grade 1 wins by a jockey, Omaha Beach was so striking in defeating Roadster in the $300,000, Grade 1 Runhappy Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita Park on Dec. 28 that he somewhat stole the show from the Hall of Fame rider.
Not that Smith — who won his 217th Grade 1 in the Malibu — minds. He knows that great horses have brought him that achievement.
Omaha Beach was great in victory Saturday in the Malibu, even if the race was void of depth with five entrants. He stalked the pace in fourth, and always appeared to have his rivals at his mercy, awaiting notice from Smith to run.
The 3-year-old son of War Front received that cue on the turn of the seven-furlong race, and the colt swopped four wide to overpower his foes. After waiting 4 ½ lengths behind pacesetter Much Better through a quarter mile, he was suddenly just a half-length behind with a half-mile split in :45.02. Then the rout was on. He surged to the lead in the stretch, opening up a 1 ½-length advantage with a furlong to go before coasting 2 ¾ lengths in front.
Although Santa Anita Derby winner Roadster rallied smartly from last, even he could not threaten Omaha Beach, who was moving so easily that Smith was able to take a few peeks of the telecast of the race on the infield jumbotron down the stretch.
"I basically stayed as still as I could. I didn't want to mess it up to be honest," Smith said. "He did it all on his own and he did it pretty handy today.
"It's just amazing, and this horse speaks for everything. He's just beautiful, so fun to be around, so fun to ride, and so fun to train. It just shows how great this horse really is. I'm so happy and so blessed to be a part of it. To surpass Jerry on Omaha Beach even makes it that much more special."
Manny Wah ran third, 2 ¾ lengths behind runner-up Roadster, and was followed by Complexity and Much Better in the short field.
Omaha Beach raced seven furlongs in 1:22.33, a bit slower than Hard Not to Love's 1:22.17 clocking in winning the LaBrea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies over the same distance. Heavily favored, Omaha Beach paid $2.80 to win.
It was Hard Not to Love that gave Hall of Famer Smith his 216th Grade 1, matching what had been the record held by retired Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey.
The $180,000 payday in taking the Malibu increased Omaha Beach's career earnings to $1,651,800 for Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farms. His record stands at 5-4-1 from 10 starts under the care of Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella, who was asked to compare Omaha Beach to the top horses he has conditioned.
"I can't think of one better, although he hasn't been around long enough of those that stayed forever, Beholder and them, but probably the few times he ever got beat were my fault," he said.
The Malibu was the second Grade 1 victory of the fall and early winter for Omaha Beach, who defeated Shancelot in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes Oct. 5. Between the two races, he finished second following a sluggish start in the Big Ass Fans Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile behind Spun to Run.
Winner of the Arkansas Derby earlier in the spring, he is scheduled to make his final start next month in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes Sponsored by Runhappy at Gulfstream Park Jan. 25. After that race, he will begin stud duty at Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky.
"I should have spoken to Mr. Porter when he was a 2-year-old and suggest castrating him, and I still haven't," joked Mandella. "He's a great horse."
In other graded stakes on Santa Anita’s opening-day card: Lady Prancelot rallied late along the inside to post a game half-length win in the Grade 1 American Oaks; Hard Not to Love upset Bellafina in the Grade 1 LaBrea Stakes; Gift Box returned after a six-month absence to score a repeat win in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes; Mo Forza won his fourth straight race in the Grade 2 Mathis Brothers Mile Stakes; and Mirth outfinished Tiny Tina to win the Grade 3 Robert J. Frankel Stakes.