MALIBU STAKES | PURSE: $300,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | Grade 1 | 7 FURLONGS
Shakin It Up, making his first start in nine months, mowed down the field for trainer Bob Baffert to earn his first Grade 1 victory in the $300,000 Malibu Stakes at odds of 17-1 on opening day at Santa Anita Park Dec. 26.
Baffert, who won for the third time on the season-opening card, had two of the top four finishers in the seven-furlong Malibu for 3-year-olds, which was completed in a solid 1:20.53 on a fast track. The Hall of Fame conditioner earned his second win in the Malibu, following The Factor in 2011.
Santa Anita announced a crowd of 30,540 for the first day of the extended 109-day racing season.
Veteran jockey David Flores gained his third Malibu triumph since 2007 aboard Shakin It Up, the least favored of Baffert's three runners. It was a great going-away gift for Flores, who said afterward that he is headed for Singapore later in the evening to race at Kranji Racecourse for six months.
Shakin It Up, who prevailed from well off the pace by half a length over 10-1 shot Central Banker, is a homebred for Mike Pegram who races the son of Midnight Lute in partnership with Dennis A. Cardoza. The dark bay colt is out of the unraced Vindication mare Silver Bullet Moon and was making his first appearance since a fourth-place effort in the Sunland Derby March 24.
Central Banker, shipped in from Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots earlier in December for trainer Al Stall Jr., was followed by Zeewat and 9-5 favorite Flashback, also trained by Baffert.
Twelve contested the Malibu. Distinctiv Passion, breaking from post 11, darted to the early lead over the Baffert-trained Zee Bros and Our Double Play, with undefeated New York invader Bakken racing fourth in the early going. Distinctiv Passion ripped through the early pace, getting the opening quarter-mile in :21.66 seconds and the half in :43.33.
Distinctiv Passion took the field into the lane but was under heavy pressure as he made his way to mid-stretch, when he was overhauled on the outside by Central Banker and Joe Talamo. Central Banker held the lead to the final stages but could not stave off the flying Shakin It Up, who inched clear at the wire.
Shakin It Up raced in eighth after a half-mile, about a dozen lengths behind the hot pacesetter, before angling out for Flores leaving the turn and racing three deep through the drive under encouragement.
"I was a expecting a good pace," said Flores, who previously won the Malibu with Johnny Eves in 2007 and Bob Black Jack a year later. "The main thing was to get a good start and to place myself where he could relax and just wait for the turn, when I could get after him. And we timed it just right. We closed the year with a good horse."
Of his decision to ride in Singapore, which he tried out for two weeks last July, the jockey said: "It makes sense and it's the best thing for us right now. We leave at 10:45 tonight. We'll go for six months and then see where we're at. I start riding on New Year's Day, opening day."
There was a three-quarter length gap from Central Banker to the Rafael Bejarano-ridden Zeewat in third, with Flashback and Joel Rosario checking in a disappointing fourth. The favorite was beaten four lengths after falling well back early in a crowd and making a mild bid in the stretch.
"I hate losing like that," Talamo said of the runner-up finish on Central Banker. "But I'll tell you what. My horse, he couldn't have run a better race. He was total class. He made my job pretty easy. I just had to point him in the right direction."
Shakin It Up was proven at the seven-furlong distance after taking the San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita Feb. 17. But after his fourth-place finish in the 1 ⅛-mile Sunland Derby, a race won by Govenor Charlie for Baffert and Pegram, he went to the sidelines. The colt had been working splendidly at Santa Anita for his return and was coming off a five-furlong drill in :59 ⅕ Dec. 21.
"He was training great," Baffert said. "He had the back class to win it. I knew he could win it from way off. I thought Flashback would be more in the middle of it, and he ended up falling way back, but that's just the way it goes sometimes.
"It's a great way to end the day, with that horse winning; Midnight Lute has showed what a terrific sire he is."
The winner improved his career mark to 3-1-1 in six starts and nearly doubled his earnings to $367,600 with the victory.
Under equal weights of 118 pounds, Shakin It Up paid $36, $15, and $7.80 and topped a $357.80 exacta with Central Banker, whose best previous showing in graded stakes was a third-place effort behind Capo Bastone in the Foxwoods King Bishop Stakes Aug. 24 at Saratoga Race Course. Central Banker paid $11.40 and $6.40, while Zeewat returned $5.20 to show.
Flashback was followed by second choice Bakken, Our Double Play, Heir of Storm, Distinctiv Passion, Syndicated, Zee Bros, and Holy Lute.