12/22/2016 1:40PM

Two sharp Eastern invaders face Baffert's trio in Malibu

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Barbara D. Livingston
The New York-based Mind Your Biscuits has been working well since arriving in California.

ARCADIA, Calif. – A pair of sharp gate crashers from the East Coast will try to upset the locals on Monday in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes, a seven-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds that is one of four graded stakes on opening day of the Santa Anita winter season.

Mind Your Biscuits, from New York, and Sharp Azteca, from Florida, arrived early this month, flourished in the West Coast climate, worked super over the Santa Anita surface, and enter the $300,000 Malibu in top form. Their chances were boosted further with news that the nation’s top sprinter will skip the race.

Drefong, the Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner and Malibu early favorite, spiked a temperature, was treated, missed training, and did not enter. His next start is undetermined.

That leaves graded-winning interlopers Mind Your Biscuits and Sharp Azteca as the most accomplished sprinters in the field. But they still have to beat the deepest stable on the circuit. And even without Drefong, trainer Bob Baffert will be triple-tough in the Malibu.

Baffert entered three – impressive allowance winner Ten Blessings, a lightly raced colt who earned a 106 Beyer Speed Figure last out; Grade 1 route winner Mor Spirit, 10th in the Kentucky Derby in his last start; and allowance front-runner Jazzy Times.

The remaining entrants are Semper Fortis, Who’s Out, Awesome Banner, and Horse Greedy. The Malibu is race 8 on a card that starts at noon Pacific.

The opening-day program includes an all-stakes pick four on the final four races. Race 6 is the San Simeon Stakes, a turf sprint that Ohio is qualified to upset. Race 7 is the La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old sprint fillies, led by Lightstream. Race 8 is the Malibu. Race 9 is the Mathis Brothers Mile on turf; Conquest Enforcer looks solid as he makes his California debut.

As for the Malibu, the betting will focus on Mind Your Biscuits, Sharp Azteca, and Ten Blessings.

Mind Your Biscuits is making a return trip to California for trainer Robert Falcone; he finished third in the BC Sprint in his most recent start.

Co-owner and assistant Chad Summers said the Breeders’ Cup might have been the final start of his campaign.

“It was going to be one of two things – either he’s tired and we’ll send him home for a break, or he’s going to tell us he’s not done, he’s got something left in the tank,” Summers said.

Mind Your Biscuits had plenty left. He returned to Belmont Park, posted two fast works, and shipped to Santa Anita, where he worked another bullet half-mile Dec. 18. He did the same thing prior to his third in the Breeders’ Cup – train enthusiastically at Santa Anita.

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“He loves this track so much,” Summers said. “He loves the weather, he loves the whole atmosphere.”

Sharp Azteca’s campaign might have ended in summer, when he grabbed a quarter while training at Monmouth Park. Trainer Jorge Navarro said: “I’ve never seen anything like it. I thought I was done for a year.”

Sharp Azteca surprised Navarro by healing quickly. He scored a dominating comeback victory at Laurel, worked fast afterward at Gulfstream Park West, and has two sharp works at Santa Anita this month. Sharp Azteca is speed. He will keep the pace honest.

Ten Blessings won his debut in February, but injured a hock and was off for seven months. In his third start back, on Nov. 4, he crushed a first-level allowance by nearly five lengths.

“He’s getting better and better,” Baffert said. “I think he’ll win a Grade 1. That [pedigree] cross worked.”

Ten Blessings was sired by Smart Strike, and produced by Baffert-trained champion Indian Blessing.

Malibu, Race 8

KEY CONTENDERS

Mind Your Biscuits, by Posse

Last 3 Beyers: 100-99-96

◗ A closer who will be ridden by Joel Rosario, Mind Your Biscuits won the Grade 2 Amsterdam in July at Saratoga. He has won 3 of 12.

Sharp Azteca, by Freud

Last 3 Beyers: 101-90-90

◗ Sharp Azteca’s comeback was over previously undefeated Hot Seat.

◗ Sharp Azteca’s jockey, Edgard Zayas, will be riding at Santa Anita for the first time.

Ten Blessings, by Smart Strike

Last 3 Beyers: 106-89-79

◗ His dominating allowance win last out earned the highest figure in the Malibu field.

◗ Rafael Bejarano rides.

Mor Spirit, by Eskendereya

Last 3 Beyers: 82-94-97

◗ Though Mor Spirit is considered a two-turn horse, Baffert said: “I think seven-eighths is all right for him. He has a lot of class.”

◗ Baffert was particularly impressed with his bullet workout Dec. 21.

◗ Mike Smith rides.