The Malibu Stakes, run at Santa Anita, in December of every year, features some of the finest horses in California year after year. Last year was a thriller as Twirling Candy and Smiling Tiger traded punches all the way down the lane, with Twirling Candy throwing the final swipe that carried him past his opponent, in track record time. Over the years the Malibu’s list of winners has grown long with prestige, carrying the names of the ever so fleet Bob Black Jack, Damascus, Buckpasser, and the great Spectacular Bid, among others.
This year features quite a stand up field topped by Bob Baffert’s ,The Factor. At about this same time last year, the steely gray colt ran the competition off their feet, in a maiden race, while running six furlongs in a record 1.06.98. He followed that performance up with two more wins, this time in stakes company. With his win in the Rebel Stakes, many regarded him as a legitimate threat heading to the Kentucky Derby. Those plans were derailed when he displaced his pallet in the Arkansas Derby. He returned to the track with an impressive win in the Pat O’Brien Stakes, but since then has run in his last two starts. We all know The Factor at his best would handle this field, but as of late, it seems that there is no telling which side of him will show up.
Baffert has another bullet ready to load up and fire if his first stringer doesn’t, and that would be Smash. The son of Smart Strike is not nearly as accomplished as his stablemate, but he will not be overlooked in this race, not after that impressive allowance of his, last out. His sire, Smart Strike, has proven to be one over versatility. He can sire turf runners, classic runners, or sprinters, and another thing he is known for is the consistent quality he produces. Smash has the breeding, he has the talent, and he has one of the best conditioners training him for this. It would not be a surprise to see him take control in this race.
Comma to the Top, oh what memories he brings back. As a two year old he ran an unbelievable 10 times. This year he was on the Kentucky Derby trail, but the distance of 10 furlongs proved beyond him as he finish 19th. After that it took him nearly seven months to return to the scene. Unfortunately his the rust showed in his return, but in his second go around he returned to the top. He will step back into stakes again, but by judging his last effort he looks like he could be ready to put his best hoof forward.
Lastly, shipping in from the east, are a couple of talented Steve Asmussen trainees, Rothko and Wine Police. Wine Police impressed a lot of people with a sharp maiden debut and a close third in the Hopeful Stakes. He returned at Churchill Downs with an impressive victory, but hasn’t won since. The son of Speightstown has only been worse than third once, but will that be enough against this field?
Rothko, a son of Arch, is coming into this race riding a 3 race winning streak. He has yet to make the jump into stakes company, but judging from his past two wins, he looks like he just might be able to make the hike. In his last two runs he won for fun, romping away. While the hike from allowance company to stakes company will not be an easy test to answer, Rothko may just have the talent to accomplish such a task.
These are your big wigs heading into next weekend’s Malibu Stakes. Who do you think stands out and above the rest? Which do you think can pull of the big performance? Will the The Factor rebound, will Smash stomp his foes, is Comma to the Top ready to return to the top, will Wine Police step up, or will Rothko prove to be as good as he has looked against the best? You decide.