Racing for a different trainer and different jockey than he had last out when proving best in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Keeneland, James McIngvale's Runhappy shrugged off those real or perceived burdens with ease, scoring a powerful 3 1/2-length victory as the 1-2 favorite in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes on Santa Anita Park's opening day program Saturday.
Under Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, the 3-year-old colt by Super Saver went right to the front and was never seriously challenged, covering the seven furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.76. It was the first Grade 1 victory as a trainer for Laura Wohlers, who took over conditioning the colt one day after the Breeders' Cup following a dispute with Maria Borell, who saddled Runhappy to victory in the Sprint. Edgar Prado, who rode Runhappy his last three starts – the G1 King's Bishop at Saratoga, G3 Phoenix at Keeneland, and G2 Sprint – was injured earlier this month, breaking six ribs, and unable to ride.
The victory – accomplished as in all of his previous starts without the race-day medication Lasix – solidified Runhappy's standing as the likely male sprint champion in Eclipse Awards competition. The Malibu was the final G1 race of 2015.
Runhappy made his first start for Wohlers at Turfway Park last Dec. 28, winning in errratic fashion but impressive nonetheless. That victory gave Wohlers and her brother-in-law, McIngvale, the confidence to enter Runhappy in the G3 LeComte Stakes next out at the Fair Grounds on Jan. 17, but Runhappy finished ninth – his only career defeat – and came out of the race with an injury. He was sidelined until winning an allowance race at Indiana Grand July 7, after Wohlers turned the colt over to Maria Borell to condition out of a training center in Lexington. Borell was unknown to most people people in racing, having yet to win a race as trainer when hired by McIngvale and Wohlers.
Runhappy followed that victory with another allowance win, this one July 31 at Ellis Park, then was stepped up to G1 company in the King's Bishop, which he won by four lengths. He won the Phoenix Stakes easily and came from off the pace to beat Private Zone in the Breeders' Cup.
The morning after that race, however, Wohlers and Borell had a dispute over whether Runhappy should be sent out for light training. Borell was fired and she eventually sued McIngvale and his wife, Linda, saying she was not properly compensated during her seven months as private trainer for the McIngvales' Gallery Racing Stable. She also sued the couple for defamation.
One constant in Runhappy's training has been groom Cordell Anderson, who has been with the colt throughout his career.
In the Malibu, Runhappy went straight to the lead, setting fractions of :22.62 and :44.81 for the opening half-mile. He covered six furlongs in 1:09.06 and cruised the final furlong under Stevens, who merely showed him the whip down the stretch.
Runhappy's time in the Malibu compares favorably to that of Birdatthewire in the La Brea, who covered seven furlongs in 1:23.31, more than 1 1/2 seconds slower than the Malibu.
Runhappy, produced from the Broken Vow mare Bella Jolie, was bred in Kentucky by Wayne, Gray and Bryan Lyster. He was a $200,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase.
GARY STEVENS, RUNHAPPY, WINNER: “He blows me away. That was only the second time I've sat on him (first in a race) and to get to feel that power coming into the stretch was awesome.
“I just want to say 'Thank you to Edgar Prado.' Edgar and I had a couple of conversations earlier in the week when I found out I was going to ride this horse and he told me quite a few things about him that helped me today. It was all Runhappy though and he's an extremely special horse.
“It was harder to pull him up today, than to ride him during the race. There was some oil on the reins and they were slipping. My hand slipped off of his mane coming away from the gate and I cut my finger pretty good. He usually breaks a step slow but he broke like a Quarter Horse today. He was a complete professional.
“I was hoping to get three graded wins today but we got two of them! No better way to start the Santa Anita Meet. It's perfect.”
RAFAEL BEJARANO, LORD NELSON, THIRD: “The horse ran good, no excuses. I was right behind those two horses and was in the perfect position. But those two horses, they never quit. I was in a perfect position, right behind with the speed, but those two horses, they never stopped.”
LAURA WOHLERS, RUNHAPPY, WINNER: “It didn't surprise me the way he ran today. He's been training well even though he's been doing some crazy stuff in the mornings, it's just because he just wants to stand around and do what he wants to do. We let him get away with that at the training center. Maybe we have to be a little stricter with him, but right now, he really enjoys taking his time looking around. This is a very new environment for him.
“There are lots and lots of horses here. He probably sees more horses before one break than he does in an entire morning at the training center. Training there is a little bit different than training on the main track here, but when he puts his bridle on in the afternoon, he knows what it's all about.
“When we brought him to the Receiving Barn today, he looked like he had his game face on, so I knew he'd run well. We're going to be going to the Met Mile. We want to stretch him out and see how he does, and after that, we'll see if he wants to go longer. It's one step at a time but we know he can sprint; now we'll see if we can stretch him out. Gary (Stevens) came off and said, 'I just want to let you guys know, this horse will go long,' so we may go with his opinion on that.
“We'll give the horse a couple of months off and bring him back in March and begin his training again and we'll see if we have time to prep him in a race before the Met Mile. Otherwise, we'll train him up to it. He'll leave Santa Anita in two days for a farm in Texas for two months for some time off.”
OWNER JAMES McINGVALE OF HOUSTON, TEXAS, RUNHAPPY, WINNER: “The horse ran really well. The entire team did a great job of preparing him, and the people at Santa Anita have been great, so it's been a top-notch experience all the way around.”
“We hoped he would run well, and he certainly did. We're thrilled with him. It's a thrill to win here and we hope to be back for the Breeders' Cup (Nov. 4-5).”
NOTES: Today's on-track attendance was 44,873, the largest Opening Day crowd since 1994.
Watch the race replay here:
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