Updated on 09/16/2011 8:54AM

Gentlemen, start your dreams

Mayakovsky worked so fast on Sunday that his trainer threw him into Thursday's Malibu.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Lofty aspirations of man and beast fill the Santa Anita card Thursday, opening day of the 85-day winter meet that is the annual California launch toward the Kentucky Derby. Is it too soon to dream? No way.

"This game is built on hopes and dreams and expectations, and what greater dream is there than the Kentucky Derby?" said trainer Bob Hess, whose colt Ocean Terrace makes his career debut in race 6. "You've got the obvious - Vindication, Toccet, and Kafwain - but myself and others are hoping this maiden race opening day will be a springboard onto the Derby scene."

There will be plenty of opportunities during the meet, and four on opening day - two maiden races, a first-level allowance, and a stakes for California-breds - all for next spring's 3-year-old hopefuls. Apparently, the division will be deep as it pushes toward the Santa Anita Derby on April 5.

On Thursday, a pair of runaway maiden graduates step up. Ghostzapper, the Bobby Frankel-trained runner who won his debut by nine lengths on Nov. 16, goes in a first-level allowance (race 3). D's Bertrando, a Golden Gate shipper who earned a 105 Beyer winning by 13 on a wet track, goes in the $125,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes (race 5).

Add two deep maiden races (6 and 9), and next year's Derby crop is already trying to squeeze out the Thursday feature. It won't, of course, because the Grade 1, $200,000 Malibu Stakes is a rite of passage itself. The seven-furlong race is the first leg of the Strub Series, for 3-year-olds about to turn, and the first step back for former Derby candidates trying to establish themselves in the older handicap division. Chief among the Malibu starters are graded stakes winners Sunday Break and Mayakovsky.

Neither colt has started in months, and both might be considered vulnerable. That is one reason why 11 runners entered the Malibu, race 8 on an opening-day card, with first post 12 noon.

"I don't see Spectacular Bid or Affirmed in there," said trainer Richard Mandella, who starts allowance sprinters Timely Action and Golden Hare. "I'm not saying they won't be that good, but they're not yet."

He is right, because the race includes several other comebackers who were not quite Derby-caliber last spring - U S S Tinosa, returning for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer; Castle Gandolfo, sold privately and now trained by Craig Dollase; and Shah Jehan, a $4.4 million yearling who has won 2 of 16.

Many of the Malibu survivors soon will meet the colt considered the best remaining member of last year's Derby crop - Medaglia d'Oro. The Malibu precedes the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes on Jan. 11, and is followed by the Grade 2 Strub Stakes on Feb. 1. Those races funnel toward the richest race of the meet - the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 1.

It seems a long way off, but it's not. And it wasn't long ago either that Sunday Break was a contender for the Triple Crown races.

Sunday Break won three straight starts then was a close third in the Wood Memorial. He skipped the Derby, then won the Grade 2 Peter Pan and finished a distant third in the Belmont on June 8. He emerged from that race with a stifle injury, and trainer Neil Drysdale put him away.

"The time off did him good; he's strengthened, he's stronger," Drysdale said. "He's training forwardly, and we're pleased with the way he's going."

Drysdale has been pointing Sunday Break to the Malibu since late summer. A four-time winner from eight starts, Sunday Break has earned $415,220 and is trying to win his first Grade 1 Thursday. It's a big race, and Sunday Break is not in it to prep. "They're all important, but this is an important race for him," Drysdale said.

Kent Desormeaux rides Sunday Break, drawn in post 2. Arguably the class of the field and one of the fastest horses in the race based on speed figures, Sunday Break is the most likely winner of the Malibu, his five-month layoff notwithstanding.

Mayakovsky underwent surgery for an entrapped epiglottis following his disappointing Aug. 3 comeback at Saratoga. Trainer Patrick Biancone did not originally intend to start Mayakovsky in the Malibu, but a Sunday morning workout changed his mind. Breaking from the gate and under a firm hold throughout, Mayakovsky worked six furlongs in 1:10.80, breezing. The work was 1.20 seconds faster than the next-fastest work at the distance.

"If he had not worked brilliantly, I would have waited a little bit more," Biancone said.

Mayakovsky drew the rail and will be ridden by French jockey Tony Farina. Mayakovsky has won 2 of 5 starts, including the Grade 3 Gotham. While Mayakovsky could win the Malibu on sheer ability, his main goal is the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic on Jan. 25 at Gulfstream Park.