12/22/2015 2:06PM

Runhappy the boss of Malibu Stakes

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Barbara D. Livingston
Runhappy has been training up a storm at Santa Anita for the Malibu Stakes.

ARCADIA, Calif. – The drama surrounding Runhappy partly overshadowed his authoritative victory in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Yet while the sudden dismissal of trainer Maria Borell a day after Runhappy won the BC Sprint provided dirty-laundry fodder for kitchen-table pundits, the move is not likely to affect the colt’s chances Saturday, the opening day of the Santa Anita winter meet.

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Runhappy is the fastest horse in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes, a seven-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds. Runhappy is 6 for 6 at one turn and is considered the top sprinter in the country. In the three weeks since arriving in California, Runhappy has looked and acted like he is the boss.

As for the trainer change, Runhappy might not notice.

“His life has not changed at all,” trainer Laura Wohlers said. “I’ve always been very involved in his training, since the day he started training. He is still in the same stall; he still has the same groom.”

Runhappy will have a new rider as Gary Stevens replaces the injured Edgar Prado. And though the Malibu will be Runhappy’s first start in California, Santa Anita is practically home. Runhappy arrived Dec. 3 and has posted two fast works over the track.

Seven were entered in the Malibu (race 8), including four top shippers. In addition to Runhappy, they include the lightly raced Watershed and Marking, two talented Bernardini colts trained by Kiaran McLaughlin. El Kabeir, a graded stakes winner in New York, is rounding into form. The locals include the comebackers Lord Nelson and Bad Read Sanchez.

The Malibu is the marquee race on a card that includes the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes (race 7) for 3-year-old filly sprinters, the Grade 2 Mathis Brothers Mile (race 6) for 3-year-olds on turf, and the Grade 3 Daytona (race 4) for turf sprinters.

The best horse on the card is Runhappy, owned by Jim “Mattress Mac” McIngvale, who has targeted the Malibu since Runhappy scored his first stakes win in August at Saratoga. The day after that breakout win in the Grade 1 King’s Bishop, McIngvale said to Wohlers, “You know, we have to go win the Malibu.”

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Runhappy defeated older horses twice in the interim and along the way picked up a peculiar habit. In the morning, Runhappy sometimes refuses to start training until he is ready.

It’s not as bad as it sounds.

“He loves to stand around and look,” Wohlers said. “We sometimes let him stand for 15 or 20 minutes at home. He’s one of those – ‘I’ll go … I just want to go when I want to go.’ He just wants to look around. He’s very curious.”

Monday morning was typical. Runhappy stood still for seven minutes outside a path that led to the main track. After reaching the track, he stood still on the outside rail for another 11 minutes, watching horses gallop and work. And then, Runhappy jogged.

On Saturday, Runhappy will sprint. And if the good-looking son of Super Saver runs as fast as he has all year, the Malibu could be a formality.

KEY CONTENDERS

Runhappy (Last 3 Beyers: 108-104-113)

◗ After winning the BC Sprint on Oct. 31 at Keeneland, Runhappy jogged for two weeks before cranking up for the Malibu. It did not take long. His first work at Santa Anita was a bullet six furlongs in 1:11.80 on Dec. 8, followed by a seven-furlong work Dec. 15 under Stevens.

“He wanted to do more,” Stevens said after the colt worked in 1:25.40.

The work was fast early; he slowed late. It’s what horses do – they decelerate. Afterward, Stevens said, “The track is super heavy and deep right now. It is tiring.”

◗ Following the Malibu, Runhappy will get a break. His next major objective is the Met Mile in the spring at Belmont Park.

Watershed (Last 3 Beyers: 89-98-97)

◗ From a physical perspective, Watershed will be among the most attractive horses in the field. He is a nice mover with a big stride, and his 47.60-second half-mile workout here Dec. 18 was visually impressive.

◗ He has won 2 of 3; his loss was a troubled fourth in the King’s Bishop.

◗ Watershed did not race at 2 due to chronic allergies and a lung infection. He was treated and cured at Rood and Riddle in Kentucky, with no recurrence since.

Marking (Beyers: 98-91)

◗ The least-experienced horse in the field, Marking won both of his starts by open lengths.

◗ He has a deceptively efficient stride, based on a Dec. 18 work for assistant Neal McLaughlin, the brother of trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. Though he did not appear to be working fast, Marking went a half-mile in 47.40 seconds, faster than Watershed worked a half-hour earlier.

◗ Marking did not debut until Sept. 23 due to mental issues. After a gate scratch Aug. 21, the colt ironed out his issues with assistance by former New York Racing Association starter Bob Duncan.

Lord Nelson (Last 3 Beyers: 90-88-95)

◗ Lord Nelson has three wins and one second in four sprints. Bob Baffert trains the 3-for-8 colt, the winner of the Grade 2 San Vicente at seven furlongs in February.

◗ The Malibu is his first start since May. Baffert said there was nothing wrong with Lord Nelson, “he just wasn’t traveling well.”

◗ Lord Nelson’s first recorded workout on the comeback was Nov. 6. “He came around quickly,” Baffert said. “He’ll come running.”