Santa Anita Park unveils its new natural dirt track Dec. 26 with a quality nine-race card that includes the $250,000 Malibu Stakes (gr. I), which drew a well-balanced field of 11 3-year-olds.
There were 97 horses entered for the day's action, which begins with a noon first post. This will be the 74th opening of Santa Anita's winter/spring meet. The track, which did not host the Oak Tree Racing Association's annual meet this fall for the first time since 1969, has been dark since April 18.
The new main track, the first dirt course at a major Southern California racing venue since 2007, plus the Sunday opening have made the start of the season more anticipated than it's been in some time. The weather has not cooperated, however, dumping more than seven inches of rain on the Los Angeles region since Dec. 16 and forcing horsemen to miss some training time on the new track.
After more rain Dec. 22, the area is expected to get some sunshine through Christmas Day. There is a 30% chance of some precipitation on opening day.
“We’ve been idle for a long time and people are very anxious to come back to Santa Anita, and we’re anxious to have them back," said George Haines, Santa Anita president. "Additionally, many of our best customers are looking forward to racing on a dirt surface again, as are our horsemen.
“The weather forecast, starting on Thursday, is very favorable and we’re looking forward to good weather on Sunday. It should be an historic and very exciting day and we’re looking forward to welcoming everyone back.”
The card includes four stakes, led by the Malibu Stakes (gr. I) for 3-year-olds and the La Brea Stakes (gr. I) for 3-year-old fillies. Both are contested at seven furlongs on the main track. Also on the program are the $150,000 Sir Beaufort Stakes (gr. IIT) for 3-year-olds at one mile on the turf, and the $100,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes for 2-year-old state breds over seven furlongs on the main track.