01/02/2009 12:00AM

Early reflections on Santa Anita's meeting


PHOENIX - It's been just over a week since the Santa Anita meet opened, and a number of items already have made you sit up and take notice.

* Bob Black Jack's Grade 1 Malibu win opening day was not only a beaut, but also validated the promise he showed last spring. He also did something you don't often see. Last year, he did more than enough to earn his way into the Kentucky Derby by running second to Colonel John in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, but he went too far too soon in Louisville and fell apart. He didn't return until the Hollywood meet this fall. More often than not, horses just don't seem to come back from that type of Derby fiasco. Chalk one up here as an exception.

Bob Black Jack also showed in the seven-furlong Malibu that top-class sprint ability often trumps top-class route ability in shorter races. Last year's winner, Johnny Eves, did the same thing, and you can go back over the years to find other top-class sprinters who beat top-class routers in this race (Little Reb over Affirmed and Radar Ahead in 1979, for example).

The short game is where Bob Black Jack is supposedly staying, and a summit with Fabulous Strike, Gayego, and Indian Blessing is in the cards in the March 28 Golden Shaheen in Dubai. But beyond that there isn't a reason in the world, going back to his excellent Santa Anita Derby try last year, that he can't be a major player in races up to 1 1/8 miles.

* Colonel John's fourth in the Malibu shouldn't be considered a surprise, or even necessarily bad news to his fans. Let's face it - he's not a sprinter, and Bob Black Jack and Into Mischief were just too quick for him. Yes, he won his maiden sprinting, but that was probably due to him being much the best.

Remember, too, Colonel John hasn't seen much action this past half-year. This was just his second race, along with the Breeders' Cup Classic, since he so gamely won the Grade 1 Travers last August, so surely he needed it. It's not like he ran poorly, either - he just missed third, only a lip behind the quality sprinter Georgie Boy.

Provided everything goes hunky-dory, expect a much better showing when the furlongs add up, notably in the Grade 2 San Fernando on Jan. 17 or the Grade 2 Strub on Feb. 7, according to trainer Eoin Harty. Now, if things don't improve there, well, then it's time to worry.

* The opening weekend's other Grade 1 winner, Indian Blessing, has matured into a superstar. Her La Brea win looked easy as you please. Yes, she got some help when contender Indyanne got hurt, but Indian Blessing looked in complete control every step of the way. A real sharp filly named Bsharpsonata made a run at her, but Indian Blessing flicked her away like a long-haired model flicks her hair out of her eyes. She's so good now that trainer Bob Baffert is pointing her to the Golden Shaheen against males, and she must be taken very, very seriously. This may sound downright heretical, but do you know who she's starting to remind me of? Serena's Song.

* Sorry to be the bearer of bad news to you handicappers who seem to count on a track bias, but so far one has not developed on the Santa Anita main track. Speed held up wonderfully on Hollywood Park's Cushion Track, and the operative word so far early on the Pro-Ride surface here is "fair."

* With top West Coast Derby hopefuls Midshipman (Dubai) and Street Hero (injured, retired) gone, it's never too early to start looking for those to fill the vacuum, and big opening-day debut winner Point Encounter wasted little time impressing.

The Carla Gaines trainee was no secret prior to his debut, posting a series of strong works. By multiple Grade 1 winner and champion 3-year-old Point Given, Point Encounter should relish going longer. What was a surprise was his speed - he jumped right out to the lead, took some pressure, but kept going. Runner-up Unionize deserves kudos, too, for a snappy first run.

* Proudinsky is one nice horse, a real pro, and his win in the Grade 2 San Gabriel on the turf opening week is a testament to that. That being said, it also may be a testament to the relative weakness of the West Coast middle-distance turf ranks - at least maybe until Ever a Friend, Whatsthescript, and Daytona reappear. But until then, the West Coast middle-distance turf division remains one looking for a leader.