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Horse racing calendar starts new year in 4 days

Horse racing is conducted 364 days a year in the United States. The only dark day is Christmas, and with that, I wish my readers Happy Holidays and enjoy the one day off.

However, we horse fans operate on a different calendar. Most folks look at Jan. 1 as the start of the New Year. In horse racing, our New Year starts Dec. 26 with opening day at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California.

Santa Anita actually first opened Dec. 25, 1934. Track officials soon realized it was better to open the day after Christmas, and so a horse racing tradition was started that resonates with fans to this day from coast to coast.

The opening day program is spectacular. It features full fields in all nine races, plus an all-stakes Pick 4 to end the card. Fans are eager to get started, as California has been dark since Los Alamitos closed its meet Sunday.

I will handicap the four stakes and suggest horses to use in the late Pick 4.

The first leg is the San Simeon down the grassy hillside turf course. A max field of 14 is entered. One of the first things I look for is horses that have had success down this unique course. It is unique as it is shaped like a question mark before horses straighten out for the stretch run.

I like Richard’s Boy, Bettys Bambino and Holy Lute. All three are on the outer half of the starting gate, which is an advantage.

The outside posts typically will have a better trip than the inside posts.

Next is the La Brea, a Grade 1 sprint race for 3-year-old fillies. My choices are Finley’sluckycharm, Lightstream and Enola Gray.

Finley’sluckycharm has won her past three races by a combined 21 lengths at Churchill Downs. She will be tested for class in the La Brea, but is clearly the fastest horse in the race. Lightstream might be more battle tested, plus she has won three of four starts at 7 furlongs.

In the Grade 1 Malibu for 3-year-olds males, I like Sharp Azteca, Mor Spirit and Mind Your Biscuits.

Sharp Azteca came to my attention with a scorching win in the Pat Day Mile on the Kentucky Derby undercard. This is one fast colt you don’t want to mess around with.

Trainer Bob Baffert has not started Mor Spirit since the Kentucky Derby, but we know how great he is at pointing for a race and having his horse peak.

The Pick 4 and the card ends with the Mathis Brothers Mile at one mile on the turf. My choices are Conquest Enforcer, Blackjackcat and Isotherm.

Conquest Enforcer was transferred to trainer Philip D’Amato and has been working great for his California debut. Blackjackcat has a lot of early speed and is cutting back in distance for the Mathis.

SHOWVIVOR

One of the best free contests all year is the Santa Anita ShowVivor. The goal is to pick a horse to finish in the money every day of the meet. Winners will split a $5,000 pool. Go to santaanita.com to enter.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at rich_eng@hotmail.com and follow @richeng4propick on Twitter.

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