Champion-in-waiting Runhappy tops seven-horse Malibu
The seven-furlong Malibu is one of four graded stakes on the nine-race program, which commences at noon (PST).
Last seen taking the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) at Keeneland on October 31 and virtually clinching a division title as champion male sprinter, Runhappy will enter the Malibu under a bit of a dark cloud. It will mark his first start since the controversial dismissal of trainer Maria Borell, who saddled the son of Super Saver to five consecutive wins. In addition to the Sprint, Runhappy scored earlier stakes wins in the King's Bishop (G1) and Phoenix (G3).
Owner Jim McIngvale removed Runhappy from Borell's care in the days following the Breeders' Cup due to disagreements about the colt's future and other matters. Laura Wohlers, under whose name Runhappy made his first starts last winter, is the trainer of record for the Malibu. Runhappy will also have a new jockey on Saturday, with Gary Stevens replacing the injured Edgar Prado.
The most accomplished of Runhappy's rivals are El Kabeir, a three-time graded stakes winner for owner Ahmed Zayat, and the Bob Baffert-trained Lord Nelson, who captured the course-and-distance San Vicente (G2) on February 1. El Kabeir has raced twice since returning from a layoff approaching seven months, most recently taking the $100,000 City of Laurel, while Lord Nelson returns to action for the first time since May 2.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has entered the Godolphin-owned pair of Watershed and Marking. Watershed has won two of three starts, his lone setback being a fourth-place finish to Runhappy in the King's Bishop. Marking made a belated debut on September 23, winning by 2 3/4 lengths at Belmont. He followed that up with a 5 1/2-length allowance score at Aqueduct going a mile.
The field is rounded out by multiple stakes winner Pain and Misery, who missed by a nose in the $210,000 Zia Park Derby last time, and Grade 2-placed Bad Read Sanchez.
A field of 10 three-year-old fillies also travel seven furlongs in the $300,000 La Brea (G1). Cavorting, who captured the Test (G1) and Prioress (G2) before running fourth as the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) after a wide journey, is the likely choice again.
Other leading contenders include Ben's Duchess, heroine of the L.A. Woman (G3) in early October; Birdatthewire, winner of the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) and Forward Gal (G2) last winter; and Hot City Girl, who captured the Charles Town Oaks (G3) and $100,000 Safely Kept this fall.
Del Mar Derby (G2) and Twilight Derby (G2) scorer Om, a half-length third as the odds-on choice in last month's Hollywood Derby (G1), looks to rebound in the $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile (G2) on the turf.
Also among the field of 12 three-year-olds are Grade 3 winner Ocho Ocho Ocho, fourth in the Penn Mile (G3) last May in his turf debut; Twilight Derby runner-up Mister Brightside; multiple stakes winner Soul Driver; and $82,000 Let it Ride one-two Crittenden and Acceptance.
The graded stakes action kicks off Saturday with the $100,000 Daytona (G3), an about 6 1/2-furlong turf dash for older horses. Notables include City of Hope Mile (G2) victor Alert Bay; Eddie D. (G3) scorer No Silent; Green Flash H. winner Holy Lute; multiple stakes winner Richard's Boy; and Grade 2-placed stakes winner The Great War.