Should the racing gods ever decree that the consummate book be written on the glory that is Santa Anita, the final chapter is poised for history.
It was written yesterday, when everything that makes Santa Anita great was in full flower, frenetic yet tranquil, in all its natural splendor. Scenic mountains, verdant palms, azure skies, a balmy breeze as 35,088 devotees basked under a warm winter sun.
Dominant victories by Gift Box and Omaha Beach, dramatic photo finishes, a last-to-first triumph by a one-eyed filly, a scintillating debut victory by Devil Made Me Do It and a $110.80 winner to the delight of longshot players.
Oh, and Mike Smith, still vanquishing Father Time at the age of 54, won four races, two of them Grade I's to set a record for career Grade I successes at 217, one more than fellow Hall of Fame member Jerry Bailey.
Ghosts of the past from Seabiscuit to John Henry had plenty to smile about.
“I think yesterday epitomized what Mike is all about,” said trainer John Shirreffs, who gave Smith a leg up on Hard Not to Love for her victory in the Grade I La Brea Stakes. “He's about the horse, and he's always been about the horse.
“It's the horse first; everything else is secondary. That's what I love about Mike.”
Like most, Shirreffs too was smitten with the atmosphere on opening day.
“After Hard Not to Love won her race, I heard the crowd cheering for her, and that was very reminiscent for me (alluding to his great mare Zenyatta),” Shirreffs continued.
“Then when I was walking back to the Grandstand, I thought, 'My goodness. Everybody's having a good time. How fun horse racing really is.'
“Santa Anita did a great job. They had these floral arrangements where people could take selfies in front of them, and I saw a lot of people doing that.
“Yesterday was really a celebration.”
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