The 65th running of the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes kicks off the 2016-17 meeting at “The Great Race Place” and is part of an awesome opening day card featuring four graded stakes. With the early scratch of Navy Hymn, the Malibu field consists of nine three year old sprinters. Many eyes will be on Breeders' Cup Sprint third place finisher Mind Your Biscuits, who returns to his own age group and who won the Grade 2 Amsterdam Stakes this summer. However, two multiple stakes winners, Sharp Azteca and Awesome Banner, with a combined 10 for 19 record, may be the ones to beat. Sharp Azteca just won the City of Laurel Stakes at the distance of the Malibu while Awesome Banner won the Steel Valley Sprint Stakes in his most recent start but was disqualified and placed second. Others with competitive stakes credentials include Semper Fortis (second in the Zia Park Derby) and Jazzy Times (second in the Damascus Stakes). Of note may be Mor Spirit, who won the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes in February but who hasn't been seen since a 10th place effort in the Kentucky Derby.
Sharp Azteca won the third, fourth and fifth starts of his career this winter and spring, the last of the three the Pat Day Mile Stakes on Derby day. The then career best 105 Equibase Speed Figure earned that day was soundly eclipsed six months later in his most recent start when easily taking the City of Laurel Stakes with a field high 121 figure. Jockey Edgard Zayas has ridden Sharp Azteca in all but one of his eight starts, including all four wins, and takes off an entire day in the east for this, his only mount on the card. Likely to improve off his last effort in his second start following three months off and with the ability to win on the lead or from just off the pace, Sharp Azteca should be tough in this year's Malibu Stakes.
Awesome Banner, like Sharp Azteca, is a stakes winner at this seven furlong distance. He won the Prized Stakes in September with a 101 figure, two races after a then career best 107 figure when leading late and settling for second in the Carry Back Stakes. In his most recent race, Awesome Banner won the Steel Valley Sprint with a career best 110 figure, but was disqualified and placed second for drifting out in the stretch. Proven at the level by virtue of winning the Swale Stakes this past January, Awesome Banner may need only repeat his last race and run straight to win.
Mind Your Biscuits ran the best race of his career at Santa Anita a little over a month ago when third behind Drefong in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, earning a 118 figure. Three races before that, Mind Your Biscuits won the Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga with a rally from last of seven. As such, if the pace is hotly contested he could get up in time.
Note about Ten Blessings, who opens as the second choice on the morning line at three to one odds. I am not impressed by this horse as the dominating win (with a stakes quality 118 figure) came in a first level allowance race and there are established, multiple stakes winners in this field. Although the runner-up won his next start, the figure for that win was just an average 107 figure. Ten Blessings is one of three starters from the potent Baffert barn. Jazzy Times is another Baffert trainee and we can look at his form to assess how Ten Blessings may run in this situation. Like Ten Blessings, Jazzy Times won impressively in a first level allowance race this past summer (105 figure), then was put in stakes company, managing only a third place effort, which is why I am taking a stand against Ten Blessings in the Malibu.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is Horse Greedy (112), Mor Spirit (108), Semper Fortis (111) and Who's Out (105).
Mind Your Biscuits
You can get Ellis' entire Santa Anita selections, for opening day and every day, at Equibase.com (http://www.equibase.com/premium/eqpEllisStarr.cfm?)
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