Other Grade I stakes on the calendar are the $250,000 Santa Monica Handicap for fillies and mares, 4-years-old and up at seven furlongs Jan. 30; the $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at one mile Feb. 12; the $250,000 Santa Maria Handicap for fillies and mares, 4-years-old and up at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 13; the $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles March 13; and the $300,000 Santa Margarita Handicap for fillies and mares, 4-years-old and up at 1 1/8 miles March 12. The order of the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) prep races has changed for a more natural progression of distances. The mile San Rafael Stakes (gr. II) was moved up to Jan. 15, to be followed by a pair of 1 1/16-mile Derby preps: The $200,000 Santa Catalina Stakes (gr. II) March 5 and the $250,000 San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) March 19. Then it's on to the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby.The $100,000 Sham Stakes at 1 1/8 miles, to be run this year Feb. 5, has been a popular spot for potential Triple Crown horses and the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 13 is also a possibility for Derby-bound 3-year-olds.
"What we're trying to do is have different starting spots for horses who are already ready to go," said Santa Anita Racing Secretary Rick Hammerle. "The ones who don't quite know what they have can progress through the distances. And they're spaced a little bit better now." The March 5 $300,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile was upgraded to grade I status in 2005. To complement the Kilroe, the April 9 Arcadia Handicap was shortened to a mile.
"We've filled a niche. There aren't a lot of places running on the turf then," Hammerle said. "So we're saying if you've got a miler you can bring them to California and stay for a while."
A springtime tradition since its first running as the nation's first "hundred-grander" in 1935, the Santa Anita Handicap will be run March 5, a day that will feature four graded stakes.
Completing a colossal day of racing on Big 'Cap day, the Santa Catalina Stakes and the $100,000 Baldwin Stakes (gr. III) at 6 1/2 furlongs will also be run March 5. The Sunshine Millions, pitting the best California-bred horses against the top Florida-breds in head-to-head competition for $3.6 million, will have its third edition Jan 29. Composed of four stakes at Santa Anita and four at Gulfstream Park, it is the richest day of state-bred competition in all of horse racing. The Sunshine Millions Turf and the Sunshine Millions Distaff, worth $500,000 apiece, will be run at Santa Anita. The $1 million Classic will be run at Gulfstream Park.