Opening day at Santa Anita is one of those special days in sports. Nestled amongst the holidays, the 2021 edition once again provided a present to us all. As usually can be the case, we may have seen a few things that might tell us a thing or two about the coming year. Of course, we never speak of certainties because in this game the only predictable thing is unpredictability. Nevertheless, let’s talk about a few things that we saw that could come true 2022.
The most eye-popping performance was of course from Flightline.This lightly raced son of Tapit flat toted the mail in the grade 1 Malibu. In just his third career start for trainer John Sadler, Flightline overcame a slow beginning to powerfully score by a whopping 11 1/2 lengths in this seven-furlong dance over the Santa Anita dirt. If that performance offers a premonition for the coming year, Sadler and the Hronis brothers (owners of Flightline) are in for a real party. Not that long ago these same connections had another later developing powerhouse named Catalina Cruiser. The Cruiser won seven of nine lifetime starts between October of 2017 and November of 2019, but unfortunately, his two losses came on the sport’s biggest stage, the Breeders’ Cup (2018 Dirt Mile, 2019 Sprint). Can Flightline become a juggernaut?…based on that Malibu run it might be time to fasten your seat belts.
Hot Rod Charlie is one of the most loveable horses in the game. Full of courage and with a tremendous turn of foot, this son of Oxbow never disappoints in the effort category. He did not win the San Antonio Stakes in his second run against older horses, but he sure put on a show. Nailed by a nose at the wire, the Hot Rod ran with authority as he battled throughout the stretch drive with Eight Rings on the inside only to be nipped on the outside by Express Train. Likely headedf to Dubai for a run at some Middle East money, Hot Rod Charlie proved he is a real race horse and that will not change.
Express Train came away with a year-end victory in the San Antonio which capped a hard-knocking campaign. Eight starts in either grade 1 or grade 2 company yielded three wins, one second, and three thirds. That means this John Shirreffs trained four-year old was usually right there. Experience might have been a key factor in overcoming the courageous Hot Rod Charlie at the wire, but regardless, this son of Union Rags will be a player in all the big California races for older horses…again!
Bob Baffert is still Bob Baffert. Record setting in many ways, this hall of fame conditioner is a guy that always tries to raise the bar for himself. Never resting on his own past performances, Big Race Bob visited the winner’s circle three times on opening day and had six horses finish in the top three in the ten races he had entrants. Kalypso’s upset win in the La Brea was classic Baffert as he teamed with jockey John Velazquez in formulating a great game plan with near-perfect execution. We may have seen a rival for Flightline as the Baffert-trained Shaaz won his debut race as a three-year old. With plenty of talent in his barn and an uncanny ability to cultivate, Bob B will be at the forefront of the game in 2022.