Updated on 09/17/2011 12:10PM

Just a few questions, for openers


ARCADIA, Calif. - On opening day of the Santa Anita winter racing season, nothing comes easy. The favorite for the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes on Friday is buried on the rail going seven furlongs. How can Midas Eyes possibly win from post 1 in a 13-horse field? Simply by being the best and fastest horse.

The second favorite for the Malibu has not raced in nearly eight months, and even trainer Jeff Mullins wonders if 2002 Santa Anita Derby winner Buddy Gil is up the challenge. "We're not going in expecting to win," he said. "We're not expecting anything other than we hope he performs well and comes back in one piece."

There is a fine line between optimism and realism when the 2003 winter meet begins Friday at The Great Race Place. The 84-day meet will launch California's best 3-year-olds from the Santa Anita Derby on April 3 toward Kentucky; unbeaten filly Halfbridled is aiming for two races, including the Santa Anita Oaks on March 13; and the best older horses in the West race March 6 in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap. The track's racing secretary, Mike Harlow, will monitor both the entry box and the skies.

"I'm optimistic," Harlow said. "I just hope the weather cooperates. The weather dictates how the meet goes."

On the heels of Hollywood fall and Oak Tree, two meets hit by business decline and purse cuts, Harlow and Santa Anita officials have adopted a defensive purse structure. Harlow said daily overnight purses will average $300,000, a 2 percent cut from last winter. "The trend that's going on the last couple meets, we have to be somewhat protective," Harlow said.

Not if the outstanding opening-day card is an accurate indication. Full fields, three competitive stakes, and an average field size of almost 10 wagering interests per race on the nine-race card gets the meet started on a positive note. And what is better than opening day at Santa Anita, anyway? Only one day compares, according to trainer Mike Machowsky.

"Opening day at Santa Anita and Del Mar are the two biggest days," he said. "You always have a tough maiden race opening day, and a tough Malibu. It's the day after Christmas, and you're starting a new year."

Machowsky is starting over with Southern Image, whose splashy debut victory on opening day of last winter's meet set the stage for a 3-year-old campaign that stalled because of foot trouble. Southern Image raced only two more times, including a sensational allowance win in August. That was his last start.

"He bruised a foot pretty bad, and it took time to get it right," Machowsky said.

He admits the $250,000 Malibu is a tough spot for a comeback, but the trainer is right when he says Southern Wish "doesn't lack ability, he only lacks experience.

Machowsky called seven furlongs "a perfect distance" for Southern Wish, "and he's worked sensational."

The best Beyer Speed figure that Southern Wish has earned is 102, and he won't need much improvement to win a race traditionally won with a Beyer Figure of approximately 104.

Thirteen were entered in the Malibu, led by the Ed Gann-owned, Bobby Frankel-trained entry of Midas Eyes and Watchem Smokey. Midas Eyes finished second to Congaree in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile last out. A similar effort would make him tough to beat in the Malibu, despite the rail. Frankel said Midas Eyes "doesn't need the lead, just break well and lay up close." In a field without an abundance of speed, Midas Eyes will set or press modest fractions. Watchem Smokey won a Grade 3 against older last time, earning a Beyer of 101 for his seventh win from seven tries on dirt. Frankel also entered lightly raced Special Rate.

Other entrants include Blazonry, winner of the Lazaro Barrera Stakes last summer at Hollywood Park; Posse and Zavata, who both are expected to retire to stud after the Malibu; and longshots Toccet, Baltic Heights, Marino Marini, Domestic Dispute, and Eye of the Tiger.

Trainer Kathy Walsh starts live contenders in the Malibu and $75,000 Sir Beaufort, which is race 3. Blazonry, who runs in the Malibu, has been training well for his first start since an abscess and illness curtailed his campaign in spring. Devious Boy will be favored in the Sir Beaufort, a mile turf race for 3-year-olds that marks his first start since winning the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby in October.

His rivals include Buckland Manor, Bis Repetitas, Rock N Rosh, Saint Buddy, Kewein, Dust Cover, Eyad, and Atouratoura.

The seven-furlong Cal Breeders' goes as race 5.

The jockey colony begins the meet on the light side. Patrick Valenzuela will miss most of the first 13 days because of suspensions, riding only in designated graded stakes. Julie Krone is expected to be out until mid-January while healing from injuries in a Dec. 12 spill.

First post Friday is noon.

The field

Malibu Stakes (Grade 1)

Purse: $250,000; 7 furlongs; 3-year-olds

1Midas EyesJ. Velazquez1195-2
2Baltic HeightsC. Nakatani11530-1
3Watchem SmokeyP. Valenzuela1195-2
4BlazonryM. Smith11720-1
5Marino MariniT. Baze11520-1
6Domestic DisputeA. Solis11710-1
7Buddy GilG. Stevens1214-1
8Eye of The TigerM. Pedroza11712-1
9Special RateJ. Valdivia11720-1
10PosseC. Lanerie1197-2
11Southern ImageV. Espinoza11512-1
12ToccetJ. Chavez11515-1
13ZavataK. Desormeaux11712-1

* Coupled: Midas Eyes and Watchem Smokey

* Odds by Jim Kachulis