12/22/2011 3:26PM

Santa Anita: Numbers stacked in favor of Baffert, Asmussen in Malibu

Shigeki Kikkawa
The Factor will try to rebound from a pair of sub-par performances as one of trainer Bob Baffert's four horses in Monday's Malibu.

ARCADIA, Calif. – It will be an upset if either Bob Baffert or Steve Asmussen does not win the $300,000 Malibu Stakes on Monday, opening day of the Santa Anita winter meet.

Baffert and Asmussen train seven of the 11 entrants in the Malibu, a seven-furlong Grade 1 that “always looks good on a r é sum é ,” Baffert said. “You have to give them a chance to win a Grade 1.”

Baffert has four starters, including possible favorite The Factor, who will try to rebound following two subpar races. Baffert also entered Hoorayforhollywood, Smash, and longshot front-runner Racing Aptitude. Asmussen entered three – well-regarded Rothko, Wine Police, and Light Up the Score.

The best race on the card also is the last on the card.

“It’s a good late double,” said racing secretary Rick Hammerle. The Malibu is race 9; the Grade 2 Sir Beaufort, which features apparent standout Mr. Commons, is race 8.

Although the Malibu is the first leg of the Strub Series for 4-year-olds of 2012, the sprint may have only minimal impact when the series stretches to 1 1/16 miles for the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes on Jan. 14. That is the target for another Asmussen trainee for whom hopes are high.

“The horse we have that is 3 turning 4 is Tapizar,” Asmussen said. “Even though you would expect him to run a good seven-eighths, mentally I want to get him back to two turns. He has a huge future, and hopefully a big year starts right now.” Tapizar won the Grade 3 Sham last winter before a knee chip ended his campaign.

The San Fernando also will be the local debut for comebacker Casper’s Touch, who was expected to return in the Malibu, but passed. “I didn’t have the horse quite fit enough to run with those kind of horses,” trainer Mike Mitchell said. “I want to run him long.”

Even without Tapizar, Casper’s Touch, or Ultimate Eagle in the field, the Malibu shapes up as an intriguing sprint. And while Asmussen does not make a habit of running multiple horses in the same stakes, it makes sense Monday.

“There are scenarios that can favor [each] horse,” Asmussen said. “It’s going to require a trip, and a pace scenario which suits them.”

The most likely winner of the Asmussen trio is 3-for-5 Rothko, who has won three in a row and will make his graded stakes debut in the Malibu.

“Rothko won his conditions extremely convincing, like there are stakes in his future,” Asmussen said.

Wine Police has won 3 of 7, and Asmussen noted, “kept superb company his entire career.” The company lines for Wine Police include Caleb’s Posse, Stay Thirsty, Redeemed, and Boys at Tosconova.

Baffert will start four in an effort to win his first Malibu. The biggest question is the horse with the biggest reputation – The Factor, who disappointed his last two starts in the Ancient Title at Santa Anita and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs.

“I was disappointed in his last two races,” Baffert admitted, “but he’s training well.”

The Factor has won 4 of 8 and is comfortably drawn outside.

Possibly the most interesting Baffert starter is Racing Aptitude, a gelding whose recent win in a fast (105 Beyer) stakes at Hollywood Park was the best race of his career.

“He wants to get out there and go, we found that out last time,” Baffert said.

Racing Aptitude and The Factor have the same running style, but Baffert said, “I’m not going to take their speed away from them.”

Although the form of Racing Aptitude suggests he prefers synthetic, Baffert said he has trained well on the Santa Anita dirt and credits his turnaround with shortening in distance and letting him rip early. Baffert also entered Smash and Hoorayforhollywood.

The Malibu also includes Richard Dutrow-trained shipper Associate, runaway winner of two allowance races in New York since Dutrow claimed him for $35,000.

“He was a nice-looking horse and we took a shot,” Dutrow said by phone.

In two starts for Dutrow, Associate romped.

“I wasn’t surprised that he won, but the way he did it. We were happy,” Dutrow said.

With Beyer Figures of 97 and 104, Associate will give speed handicappers plenty to cheer for.

Others in the Malibu field include Centralinteligence, El Pocho, and Luckarack.

The Malibu has not been won by a favorite since Afternoon Deelites in 1995.