Pavel Could Be Tough to Beat in the Malibu Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

December 22nd, 2017

If you’re planning to play the fantastic opening day card at Santa Anita on December 26th, then you’ll want to give special attention to the $300,000 Malibu Stakes (gr. I).

In addition to being an exciting race from a sporting perspective, the Malibu is the eighth of nine races on the card and is a key part of both the Pick 4 and the Pick 5. But finding the winner could be easier said than done, since the Malibu has drawn a wide-open and competitive field of nine horses without a clear favorite.

That said, my preference is for #6 Pavel. Trained by Doug O’Neill, the lightly-raced colt was an impressive winner of his debut sprinting 6 ½ furlongs at Santa Anita this summer, then immediately jumped up to graded stakes company while stretching out in distance and turned in some admirable performances. After running fourth in the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga—finishing right in between Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and Preakness Stakes winner Cloud Computing—Pavel romped to a six-length win in the Smarty Jones Stakes (gr. III) at Parx Racing, then shipped to Belmont Park and finished a strong third against older horses in the ten-furlong Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), beaten less than two lengths while earning a 108 BRIS speed figure.

Pavel was then soundly beaten while facing the best dirt horses in the country in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), but the Malibu Stakes should be a significantly easier race—he’ll be running against horses his own age and cutting back to seven furlongs, which shouldn’t be an issue. He’s got enough speed to be forwardly placed in a race that lacks many true speed horses, and his proven stamina at longer distances could give him an edge over the sprinters in the testing seventh furlong of the Malibu.

#4 Favorable Outcome is a graded stakes winner at this distance, having won the Swale Stakes (gr. II) back in February at Gulfstream, and the Chad Brown-trained colt has looked sharp since returning from a lengthy layoff, most recently winning a 6 ½-furlong allowance race at Aqueduct by a neck, earning a 103 BRIS speed figure. He figures to be the main threat from off the pace.

One longshot that interests me is #1 City of Light. He’s perhaps the truest speed horse in the race and seems likely to secure a clear lead from post position one. He’ll need to step up a bit off his last run—a runner-up effort in a seven-furlong allowance race at Del Mar—but that’s entirely possible considering that City of Light was part of a rapid pace that day and raced on a slow rail down the homestretch, which may have stalled his momentum late in the race.

Since I view Pavel as the most likely winner, I’ll play him on top of an exacta with Favorable Outcome and City of Light in hopes of nailing a solid payoff on a small ticket:

$10 exacta: 6 with 1,4 ($20)

Good luck!