Updated on 09/17/2011 6:10PM

Rock Hard Ten last-to-first in Malibu

Rock Hard Ten makes his return to the races a winning one with a half-length win over Lava Man in the Grade 1, $250,000 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita on Sunday.

ARCADIA, Calif. - He's big, he's bad, and he's back. Rock Hard Ten, the imposing colt with the bad-boy attitude, showed that he will be a force in 2005 with a stirring, last-to-first run to capture the Grade 1, $250,000 on Santa Anita's opening-day card Sunday.

A raucous crowd of 31,874, lured by a weekend opening, a six-day break since the closing of Hollywood Park, and a sensational card of racing - the most important ingredient - watched Rock Hard Ten knife between rivals and get up in the closing strides to beat a trio of runners from Doug O'Neill's barn.

Rock Hard Ten ($6.80), the second choice, won by a half-length, with Lava Man, Harvard Avenue, and Perfect Moon separated by a pair of noses. Mass Media, the 6-5 favorite, finished fifth. Love of Money, whose trip west was aborted in Texas, was scratched.

Rock Hard Ten was making his first start since August, and his first start since being transferred to trainer Richard Mandella. He has always been an eye-catching horse, but much of his latent talent was short-circuited earlier this year by an aggressive campaign that betrayed his inexperience.

With time off to mature, Rock Hard Ten was composed in the paddock and in the post parade. He broke well, but had no early speed as his nine rivals sped away.

"He behaved himself really well," said his rider, Gary Stevens. "It took a couple hundred yards for him to gather himself. But he's very, very athletic. He reminds me a lot of Point Given. For as big as he is, he's agile. He does things so quick."

Like get into the race in a hurry. Last of 10 after a half-mile in 44.35 seconds, Rock Hard Ten began to roll. He was fifth at mid-stretch, then roared past his remaining rivals in the final furlong and was taken in hand by Stevens in the closing yards.

"I wrapped up on him at the end," Stevens said after Rock Hard Ten completed seven furlongs on the fast main track in 1:21.89.

Rock Hard Ten, a 3-year-old colt by Kris S., is owned by Ernie Moody's Mercedes Stable and Madeleine Paulson. He has won four times in eight starts. His biggest previous victory was in last summer's Swaps Stakes. Rock Hard Ten also was second to Smarty Jones in the Preakness Stakes.

Mass Media, a small colt who looked like David compared to Rock Hard Ten's Goliath in the paddock, broke from the rail and was uncomfortable racing there, according to his rider, Javier Castellano.

"He didn't like the inside," Castellano said. "He's little, and he was intimidated. He's better outside."

Uncle Denny, Whilly prevail

There were two undercard stakes on the opening-day card. Uncle Denny remained undefeated with a front-running victory in the $138,625 California Breeders' Champion Stakes, and Whilly earned a hard-fought victory in the $112,700 Sir Beaufort Stakes.

Uncle Denny turned aside an early challenge from Stellar Magic, spurned Shanghai Joe's bid at mid-stretch, then held off a belated rally by Iced Out to win by three-quarters of a length. Iced Out finished two lengths in front of third-place Lucky J.H.

Uncle Denny ($5.60), the favorite, set fractions of 22.36 seconds, 45.06 seconds, and 1:09.84 en route to a final time of 1:22.73 for seven furlongs. Rene Douglas rode the winner, a 2-year-old colt by In Excess, for trainer Rafael Becerra.

Becerra said he would consult with owner Stan Fulton before deciding on the next start for Uncle Denny, who has won all three of his starts, all against California-breds. A possibility is the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Dash on Jan. 29 at Gulfstream Park.

In the Sir Beaufort, Whilly held off We All Love Aleyna to win by three-quarters of a length after one-mile on firm turf in 1:34.60. Cozy Guy was third. Felipe Martinez rode Whilly ($10.40), a 3-year-old colt by Sri Pekan. O'Neill trains Whilly for the Triple B Farms of Paul Boghossian and his sons, Paul H. and Christopher.

Three Valleys, the morning-line favorite, was scratched. "He had an infection about 20 days ago. I had to treat him with penicillin, and I didn't want to take a chance that it wasn't out of his system," said his trainer, Bobby Frankel.