12/26/2005 12:00AM

Opening day a welcome sight

Proud Tower Too ($42.20) under David Cohen upsets the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita on Monday.

ARCADIA, Calif. - David Cohen had a Happy Hanukkah on Monday at Santa Anita.

The young rider got his first victory in a Grade 1 race by guiding longshot Proud Tower Too to a front-running victory over favored Attila's Storm in the Grade 1, $250,000 for 3-year-olds on the opening-day program at Santa Anita.

Before a crowd estimated by track officials at 34,000, Proud Tower Too and Attila's Storm raced one-two for the entire seven furlongs, with Proud Tower Too ($42.20) prevailing by one length. Attila's Storm finished 3 3/4 lengths in front of third-place Thor's Echo.

Of the better-known runners, Greeley's Galaxy was seventh and Wilko 11th in the field of 14.

The main track tended to favor horses on or near the lead all day, and that certainly benefited Proud Tower Too. The colt, a California-bred son of Proud Irish, had never before run in a graded stakes race, and his lone previous stakes victory came against Cal-breds earlier this month in the On Trust Handicap at Hollywood Park.

Proud Tower Too set fractions of 22.27 seconds, 44.36, and 1:08.61 en route to a final time of 1:21.62 on the fast main track.

Sal Gonzalez trains Proud Tower Too for the Tricar Stables.

There were four stakes on the opening-day card, including two divisions of the Sir Beaufort Stakes for 3-year-old grass runners.

In the second division, worth $86,500, Tedo rallied powerfully under jockey Corey Nakatani to edge favored Eastern Sand and pacesetter Follow the Rainbow in a driving three-horse finish. Tedo won by a head, with Eastern Sand a half-length better than Follow the Rainbow.

Tedo ($12.80) had to overcome the outside post in the field of 10, but on a course that seemed to favor horses with his style, he was able to get up in 1:34.34 for one mile on the firm turf. Nakatani kept Tedo covered up near the rail on the final turn before producing him for his stretch run.

Doug O'Neill trains Tedo, who won for the sixth time in 14 starts. Tedo, a German-bred son of Sternkoenig, began his career in Italy, then came to the United States this summer after being purchased by bloodstock agent Eugenio Colombo on behalf of Paul Bogossian's Triple B Farms. Tedo was second in the Del Mar Derby, but then regressed in the Oak Tree Derby in October before getting a two-month freshening.

In the $84,500 first division of the Sir Beaufort, Chinese Dragon, the favorite, won by rallying from sixth in the eight-horse field to nose out Hockey the General. Becrux, the early pacesetter, was third. Buzzards Bay, the Santa Anita Derby winner, finished seventh.

Michael Carter and Gino Roncelli own Chinese Dragon, and the winner's circle was filled with their family and friends, many of whom were wearing conical-shaped Chinese hats.

Kent Desormeaux rode Chinese Dragon ($5.40) for trainer Bob Hess Jr. He was timed in 1:35.09 for one mile on a course that was rated firm despite the light rain.

"He's quirky," Desormeaux said. "When he makes the lead, he thinks he's done."

Chinese Dragon won four races, including three stakes, earlier this year before suffering a splint injury that sent him to the sidelines. He was upset as the 2-5 favorite in the Paradise Valley Handicap at Turf Paradise on Nov. 19.

Hess said the long-range goal for Chinese Dragon, a son of Stravinsky, is the Grade 1, $300,000 Kilroe Mile on March 4.

The other stakes on Monday was the $125,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes for 2-year-olds, which favored Da Stoops dominated, winning by 8 3/4 lengths in a swift 1:21.63 for seven furlongs on the fast main track.

Direct Connect was second and Brite Maneuvers third. Por Gusto was pulled up a quarter-mile into the race and was vanned from the track.

Da Stoops ($3.80) was winning for only the second time in seven starts, but he finished second to Your Tent or Mine in last month's Hollywood Prevue Stakes. Victor Espinoza rode Da Stoops for trainer Bob Baffert. Da Stoops, a colt by Distorted Humor, is owned by Kathy Watson and Paul Weitman.

A light, misty rain fell throughout the morning, which likely impacted the number of people who would have made the spacious infield, and its picnic areas, their destination. Despite that, a large crowd flocked to the infield, and the grandstand apron was filled with fans who braved the elements and were bundled against the chill. Midway through the card, the sun began to finally peak through, though the nearby San Gabriel Mountains were still shrouded by low-lying clouds.

There were plenty of attractions to bring out racegoers. There had been no racing on this circuit for one week, there had been no grass racing in Southern California for seven weeks, most people had the day off for a holiday, the race card - featuring the Malibu - was outstanding, and Santa Anita gave away its popular wall calendar, a tradition on opening day. After the fourth race, a Budweiser hitch of Clydesdales made a promenade down the stretch, pulling a red wagon.

The parking lot on the clubhouse turn filled up before the second race, causing late arrivers to be redirected to a lot on the backstretch.

There was a festive atmosphere in the stands, where friends caught up with one another following the weekend holidays. Some of the passageways on the mezzanine level were congested, and long lines gathered at a clubhouse sandwich stand from which wafted the smell of corned beef. Mariachi bands and dancers in colorful, Mexican-themed dress strolled the grounds. And the soothing tones of track commentator Trevor Denman emanated from the loudspeakers. No one could deny it was good to be back.