12/26/2015 8:27PM

Runhappy wins fourth straight stakes in Malibu


ARCADIA, Calif. – Lost amid a lawsuit, negative publicity, and countless Internet comments, Runhappy remains a brilliant sprinter.

Eight weeks after his win in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Keeneland, Runhappy won his fourth consecutive stakes and sixth straight race Saturday in the $300,000 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita.

Runhappy ($3) always was in control in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs. He led throughout without significant urging from jockey Gary Stevens and won by a convincing 3 1/2 lengths over the 9-2 Marking. Runhappy was timed in 1:21.76.

“Coming into the stretch, he had a lot of power,” Stevens said. “He left there like a Quarter Horse today.”

The victory was Runhappy’s first start since the BC Sprint, his final start for trainer Maria Borell.

The day after the BC Sprint, Borell was dismissed following a dispute with owner Jim McIngvale. Laura Wohlers, McIngvale’s sister-in-law and racing manager, resumed training the colt. Wohlers trained Runhappy for his first two starts last winter.

Borell’s dismissal led her to file a lawsuit against McIngvale and generated widespread discussion in racing circles on the Internet.

On Saturday, McIngvale downplayed that controversy.

“I don’t think about it,” he said. “I think about Runhappy and his career. We’re moving forward.”

When the gates opened for the Malibu, Runhappy was the focus of attention. Wohlers said the strategy was to lead from the start.

“If anyone was in front, they’d be going too fast,” Wohlers said.

Runhappy set modest fractions of 22.62 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 44.81 for a half-mile, leading by as many as 2 1/2 lengths. Any chance Runhappy’s rivals had of making an impression had largely ended by early stretch. Runhappy led by three lengths with a furlong to go.

“He has strategic speed on the turn,” Wohlers said.

Marking, a colt making his third start, was second throughout but could not keep pace in the stretch.

“He never quit and tried hard the whole way,” jockey Jose Lezcano said.

Marking races for Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Racing and is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin. The Malibu was his stakes debut. Lezcano said Marking, by Bernardini, still is improving.

“I like this horse a lot,” he said. “The more distance, the better.”

Lord Nelson, who won the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs here in February, finished third, followed by El Kabeir, Watershed, Pain and Misery, and Bad Read Sanchez.

After the race, Stevens publicly thanked jockey Edgar Prado, who rode Runhappy in the BC Sprint but missed the mount Saturday because of injury.

“He told me a lot of things that helped me,” Stevens said.

Stevens had a banner day Saturday, the first program of the track’s winter-spring meeting. He won the Grade 2 Mathis Brothers Mile on turf earlier in the afternoon with Om.

The Malibu Stakes was Runhappy’s final start of the year and his last start for several months. McIngvale and Wohlers emphasized that Runhappy will be sent to McIngvale’s property in Texas for a wintertime break before resuming training. The Metropolitan Mile Handicap at Belmont Park in June is a goal.

“We’ll go home and kick him out,” McIngvale said. “He’ll take a few months off, and we’ll look at 2016. He’s a good horse. Let’s face it. Good horses make good owners. He’s the best we’ve had in 25 years.”