Santa Anita Begins With Malibu
Photo: Benoit
Santa Anita Park opens Dec. 26.
James Barry’s Divine Park looks to make it a perfect 4-for-4 in his young career, but will have overcome post 14 and defeat a full field of challengers in the $250,000 Malibu Stakes (gr. I) Dec. 26 on opening day at Santa Anita Park.

The Malibu, a seven-furlong test for 3-year-olds, will be run on the troublesome Cushion Track, which reopened for training Dec. 22 after being closed for 3 ½ weeks due to drainage problems. A field of 14 was entered.

A son of Chester House, Divine Park was bought by James Barry for the bargain basement price of $20,000 at the Keeneland 2005 September Yearling Sale. So far, the bay colt has already earned $149,475, winning all three starts for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.

Divine Park opened his career by scoring a 1 ¼ length victory in a six-furlong maiden event Feb. 10 at Aqueduct. He followed that up nearly two months later with a convincing victory in an allowance on the Keeneland Polytrack, coming from well off the pace to win by 2 ¾ lengths while setting the seven-furlong track record in 1:21.17.

On April 28, Divine Park, out of the Ascot Knight mare High in the Park, went wire-to-wire in winning Aqueduct’s Withers Stakes (gr. III) by 3 ¼ lengths. He suffered a bruised cannon bone in the effort and was sidelined for 60 days.

Since returning, Divine Park has been training sharply at Belmont. His latest breeze was Dec. 19, going five furlongs in :59.12, the best work of 67 horses that day. McLaughlin is not too concerned about the nearly eight month layoff. Alan Garcia will ride.

“He is a serious, serious horse, and we are really excited to get him back to the races,” McLaughlin said last month. “We were thinking about getting a prep in before the Malibu. We then decided we didn’t want to do too much before the Malibu by running in an allowance race and then running back in three or four weeks.”

Another talented horse coming off an extended layoff is J. Paul Reddam’s Great Hunter, whose last start was in the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). After finishing 13th in the race, trainer Doug O’Neill discovered a chip in the colt’s right front ankle, an injury that required surgery.

Since returning to training in November, the Aptitudecolt has been working well at Hollywood Park. On Dec. 20 he breezed five furlongs in :59.40. Bred in Pennsylvania by Ivy Dell Stud, Great Hunter, the winner of the March 3 Robert B. Lewis  Stakes (gr. II) and last year’s Breeders’ Cup Futurity (gr. I), draws post 9 and will get Corey Nakatani.

O’Neill will also saddle the Golden Missile   colt Cobalt Blue, a four-time winner who is coming off a victory in the Oct. 27 Select Stakes on the Monmouth Park slop.

Bob Baffert also has a pair of contenders in Silver Stetson Man and E Z Warrior. A son of Silver Charm, Silver Stetson Man has won three of four lifetime starts, but has never raced in stakes competition. Owned by Mike Pegram, he is coming off a third place finish in a 6 ½ furlong sprint at Hollywood.

E Z Warrior is winless in his last five starts since beginning his promising career with three consecutive scores. The son of Exploit was off for more than six months in the first part of the year because of minor foot problems. His last out was in the Select, when he finished a half-length in back of Cobalt Blue.

David Abrams' homebred Unusual Suspect will be making his first start since winning the Nov. 24 Hollywood Turf Express (gr. IIIT) by a nose.

$250,000 Malibu Stakes (gr. I, Race 7, 3:20 p.m.), Three-Year-Olds, Seven Furlongs (Cushion Track)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Desert Code (KY), 117, Richard Migliore
2. Les Grands Trois (KY), 115, Rafael Bejarano
3. E Z Warrior (KY), 115, Mike E. Smith
4. Unusual Suspect (CA), 119, Tyler Baze
5. Johnny Eves (CA), 117, David Romero Flores
6. Ididn'tdoanything (FL), 115, Joseph Talamo
7. Hurry Up Austin (FL), 115, Alex O. Solis
8. Carrilero (ARG), 117, Jose Valdivia, Jr.
9. Great Hunter (PA), 119, Corey S. Nakatani
10. Horse Greeley (KY), 115, Victor Espinoza
11. Silver Stetson Man (KY), 117, Edgar S. Prado
12. Cobalt Blue (FL), 119, Garrett K. Gomez
13. Incriminate (KY), 115, Brice Blanc
14. Divine Park (KY), 117, Alan Garcia

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