12/22/2015 10:02AM

Santa Anita: Peering into the crystal ball

Barbara D. Livingston
Mario Gutierrez rode Nyquist to victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. But could he be replaced by a certain 185-pound hockey-skate-wearing rider?

Last year’s Santa Anita winter meeting saw American Pharoah train toward his Triple Crown run, Dortmund emerge as the leading 3-year-old who actually raced at the meet, Shared Belief beat California Chrome in the San Antonio, and jockey Gary Stevens win his 5,000th race in North America, then turn 52.

This year’s meet might unfold a bit differently:

:: Santa Anita: Buy PPs, watch Saturday’s card live

Dec. 26 – Race-caller and ace mimic Frank Mirahmadi calls the first race in his voice, the second imitating Michael Wrona, and the third as Trevor Denman, leaving everyone even more confused as to who actually is calling the races in the chaos following Denman’s sudden retirement from Santa Anita. A 3-5 shot goes wire to wire in the opener, prompting a flurry of activity on Twitter claiming the track is speed biased. Runhappy wins the Malibu under Stevens, who proclaims Runhappy “the best sprinter I’ve ever ridden.”

Dec. 27 – Laura Wohlers fires herself as the trainer of Runhappy and gives the colt back to Maria Borell following their late-night trip to Joshua Tree to smoke a peace pipe and sing “Kumbaya.”

Jan. 1 – A giant birthday cake made of oats and molasses is brought to the winner’s circle for the day’s first race in honor of this being the birthday for all racehorses. In a stunning breach of security, before the horse who wins the race can partake of the tasty treat, former jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. gulps down the cake in three bites. “I don’t have to diet anymore, suckers!” he chortles while being led away.

Jan. 2 – Chiropractor wins the San Gabriel Stakes. Trainer Tom Proctor surprisingly accedes to a winner’s-circle interview, then, accompanied by close friend Marshawn Lynch, says only, “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”

Jan. 7 – Wrona takes over for his turn as the public address announcer. The face-off between Mirahmadi and Wrona gets picked up by NBC to lead off the new season of “The Voice.” Things get ugly when Mirahmadi declares, “I’ve eaten pizzas bigger than Wrona.”

Jan. 9 – California Chrome returns to action and defeats Dortmund in a thrilling edition of the San Pasqual. Though he’s no longer part of the ownership team, Steve Coburn magnanimously hosts a winner’s celebration at Matt Denny’s Ale House. When principal owner Perry Martin fails to show, Coburn declares he took “the coward’s way out.”

Jan. 11 – Gustav Nyquist of the Detroit Red Wings blows off the morning skate at Staples Center to pilot his namesake through a four-furlong drill in 46 seconds. Trainer Doug O’Neill says they get along so well that he names Nyquist to ride Nyquist in the San Vicente on Feb. 15, confusing headline writers everywhere.

Jan. 16 – Beholder has her first workout of the year early this morning at Santa Anita and, later that night at Gulfstream Park, is named an Eclipse Award winner for the third time. Trainer Richard Mandella gets to Gulfstream in time for the ceremony, and it’s a good thing because when Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated receives his Eclipse Award for news writing from guest presenter Serena Williams, Mandella has to step between Layden and an irate Ahmed Zayat, still smarting over the Sportsman of the Year announcement one month earlier.

Jan. 24 – On “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” his segment “How is This Still a Thing?” spotlights California having breakage set at 20 cents.

Feb. 15 – Nyquist, in his first start since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, wins the San Vicente, with Nyquist up. Stablemate Mrazek gets in all sorts of trouble and winds up sixth, after which O’Neill names Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek as his replacement rider. “I don’t care if these guys are 70 pounds over. They get along with my horses, although I wish they’d wear boots instead of skates,” O’Neill says.

Feb. 18 – A major snafu occurs on AARP’s Day at the Races when honorees Stevens and Mike Smith cut out before the final race to get to the early-bird dinner special at Rod’s Grill, since they get an extra appetizer if they order before 5 p.m.

Feb. 26 – Following up on his stint on “Dancing With the Stars,” Victor Espinoza is named by ABC as “The Bachelor” for its upcoming season.

March 12 – After being found infertile two months earlier, American Pharoah goes back into training and wins the Santa Anita Handicap, becoming the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont, Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Big Cap – now known as racing’s Super Hi-5.

March 19 – Beholder wins the Santa Margarita, then is sold to Godolphin Racing for $12 million to run in the Dubai World Cup one week later.

April 9 – After splitting the meet’s preps, trainers Bob Baffert and O’Neill end up with all the runners in the Santa Anita Derby. Fittingly, two of their runners dead heat for the win. Songbird wins the Santa Anita Oaks in faster time than the Santa Anita Derby winners. For the 1,198th time during the meet, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer reiterates that Songbird will not run in the Kentucky Derby.

April 10 – With no front-runner having yet emerged in the choice for permanent public address announcer, Santa Anita on closing day decides to have a one-race title-decider. Locked together in a cage suspended above the grandstand, Mirahmadi calls the first six furlongs of the San Juan Capistrano, Wrona the next six furlongs, before an unprecedented stretch-call duel for the final quarter-mile.