June 18, 2024

Omaha Beach faces four in Malibu, Bellafina highlights La Brea on Santa Anita opener

Omaha Beach winning the Arkansas Derby (c) Coady Photography /Oaklawn

A pair of Grade 1 tilts for 3-year-olds, the $300,000 Malibu and $300,000 La Brea, are among the seven stakes offered on Saturday’s opening-day program at Santa Anita. Both races have been delayed a couple of days after Thursday’s traditional opener was postponed due to wet weather.

The $200,000 San Antonio (G2), which features older horses on the main track, is also among five rescheduled stakes. Four stakes on Saturday’s 11-race program are carded for turf.

Multiple Grade 1 winner Omaha Beach will tackle four foes as the odds-on favorite in the Malibu. The Richard Mandella-trained colt reeled off three straight wins earlier this season, including the Arkansas Derby (G1) and Rebel (G2), to establish himself as the horse to beat in the Kentucky Derby. However, the son of War Front was forced to scratch from the first leg of the Triple Crown due to a breathing issue.

Omaha Beach returned from a six-month layoff with a courageous win in the six-furlong Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1). He broke a step slow and experienced a wide trip finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) four weeks later, and the dark bay will cut back to seven furlongs in the Malibu. Regular rider Mike Smith will be up.

Juvenile Grade 1 winner Complexity, a sharp allowance scorer at Aqueduct when making his second start of the year on November 20, has been installed as the 5-2 second choice on the morning line. Javier Castellano will be in to ride the speedy Maclean’s Music colt for Chad Brown.

Roadster is the other main threat. Despite winning the Santa Anita Derby (G1) in the spring, the gray son of Quality Road appears better suited for middle distances. Roadster recorded a respectable nose second when returning from a freshening in the seven-furlong Damascus on the Breeders’ Cup Saturday undercard, but he faltered when stretching back out to 1 1/8 miles in the Native Diver (G3) most recently. Bab Baffert adds the services of Joel Rosario, and the duo will look to strike from just off the pace.

Baffert has three entered.  Manny Wah will make his first start for the Hall of Fame conditioner after finishing a neck second in the November 25 Steel Valley Sprint at Mahoning Valley, and Grade 3-placed sprinter Much Better rounds out the trio.

Bellafina has posted a 5-4-1-0 record at Santa Anita Park (c) Cecilia Gustavsson/Horsephotos.com

Bellafina tops a cast of nine fillies in the seven-furlong La Brea. An excellent second in the Breeders’ Cup Fillies & Mare Sprint (G1), beaten three parts of a length by Covfefe, the classy daughter of Quality Road has won four graded stakes at Santa Anita, including a pair of Grade 1 tallies. Flavien Prat, who has been up in all 12 career starts, has the call on the 9-5 morning line favorite for Simon Callaghan.

Bell’s the One invades from the Midwest for Neil Pessin off a nice win in the Raven Run (G2) at Keeneland, rallying to win going away by 1 1/4 lengths. She’s kept good company all year, finishing second to Covfefe in the Dogwood two starts back, and Castellano will take over the reins on the Majesticperfection filly.

First Star, second when trying stakes company in the Raven Run, merits respect in her fourth career start. A maiden and allowance winner in her first two outings, the chestnut daughter of First Dude shows a pair of bullet works in preparation for Ron Ellis. Drayden Van Dyke will guide. Other contenders include Hard Not to Love, who exits an October 25 allowance win at Santa Anita; multiple graded stakes-placed Mother Mother; and Motion Emotion, who was last seen taking the November 27 Zia Park Oaks.

Gift Box returns from a 196-day layoff to make a title defense in the San Antonio early on the card. Unraced since a fourth in the Stephen Foster (G2) at Churchill Downs, the six-year-old found his best form after he transferred to the barn of John Sadler last year. Last year’s San Antonio victory marked his first Southern California start, and the six-year-old horse followed with a win in the Santa Anita H. (G1) and a close second in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1). Rosario retains the assignment.

Midcourt will also take betting action after a convincing triumph in the Native Diver. Pacific Classic (G1) runner-up Draft Pick and stakes winner Gray Magician are also among the nine runners entered for the 1 1/16-mile race.