Santa Anita, first race on dirt 2010.

Santa Anita, first race on dirt 2010.

Benoit Photography

New Dirt Racing Era Dawns at Santa Anita

Canadian-based trainer Robertino Diodoro wins first race of 2010-11 with Skellytown.

Canadian-based trainer Robertino Diodoro has always wanted to win a race at Santa Anita. On opening day, Dec. 26, he not only won his first race there, he won the very first race on Santa Anita’s new dirt surface.

The track, which started the day listed as "good," was upgraded to "fast" by the third race. In the fourth race, highly-regarded 2-year-old maiden The Factor  broke the old main dirt record for six furlongs, clocking a timeof 1:06.98 while winning by 8 1/4 lengths. The old mark of 1:07.20 was set by Sunny Blossom on Dec. 30, 1989.

In the opener, PSC Holdings’s Skellytown emerged victorious in a four-horse blanket finish to win the $10,000 claiming race at 1 1/16 miles by a nose under Victor Espinoza. Though Skellytown is a familiar face to Southern California race fans, he had most recently been running at Turf Paradise, where Diodoro is based during the winter.

“I just love it here, and it’s been a goal of mine to have horses here,” said a jubilant Diodoro.

Santa Anita opened its 2010-11 75-day winter meeting Dec. 26 when it also unveiled its new dirt surface. During the fall, the track replaced its synthetic surface.

Despite rainstorms pelting Southern California hard for most of the week before the opener, the Santa Anita main track was listed as "good" to start the season. Management took all races off the turf for opening day after three-quarters of an inch of rain hit the area Christmas night.

Diodoro said he has 10 stalls at Santa Anita under the day-to-day supervision of his wife, Nikki.

“We thought about coming here last year, but we wanted to do it right,” the 36-year-old native of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, said. “We’ve claimed horses off the Polytrack, and nine out of 10 times we haven’t been happy. Going back to dirt was the final push for us to come here.”

The Factor, a son of War Front --Greyciousness, by Miswaki, is trained by Bob Baffert for owners Bolton and Fog City Stable. The gray/roan colt, a $250,000 Barretts buy in May, scored as the 7-5 favorite in his second lifetime start.