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Is this the year to try Christmas elsewhere?

The National Hunt season is rattling along, and even the resumption of Pointing from December 6 is reassuring that life may yet return to normal. However, I can't be the only one feeling rather jaded at the rather dry atmosphere even at our biggest racedays without a crowd. I wonder if this isn't the year to run away for Christmas to the sunshine.

Although the USA seems to have mismanaged the Covid crisis more than most, it is home to some of the most entertaining racing under both codes. It was interesting to learn that supremo Jonathan Sheppard is sending a team of jumpers over to Ireland in preparation for an assault on Cheltenham next Spring. Even in his eighties, he is not a man to underestimate. But whilst the US Jumps season doesn't re-start until the Spring, the Flat calendar continues unabated, switching seaboard to allow for the weather.

So, when the majority of the UK is settling down to mince pies at Kempton and Chepstow immediately after Christmas, Santa Anita is hosting the final hurrah of the US racing calendar - the Malibu Stakes. Santa Anita Park Racecourse in Arcadia, California, is home to top flight racing, and has hosted the Breeders' Cup on no less than 10 occasions - more than any other US course. The Malibu Stakes is a Grade I race for three-year-old colts and fillies, inaugurated in 1952. Whilst it may not be the most renowned in America, or even over here, it definitely has an appeal for those who have the bigger racing calendar in mind, especially sun worshippers looking for some Vitamin D!

Sadly in a familiar story, spectators and fans are not yet allowed back racing, but has everything you need to know about the upcoming Malibu Stakes, centrepiece of a programme worth a staggering $1,375,000 on Saturday, 26th December.

Coming just after the Breeders’ Cup, the Malibu has always attracted horses from the Cup, especially ones whose performances were subpar, looking for recompense before next year. The racecourse is a left-handed track with a dirt turf and is usually busy this time of the year with quite a good number of races that would interest any punter worth their salt. Alongside the Malibu Stakes, other notable mentions of the day at Santa Anita include the 7f La Brea stake for three-year-old fillies, with a grand prize of $300,000, the American version of the Oaks, run over a mile and a quarter, for fillies aged three, also worth $300,000. Two Grade 2 races, the San Antonio Stakes and the Mathis Brothers Mile, also make up the card for the day.

The Runhappy Malibu Stakes sets the tone for the day, named after the Champion US Sprinter of 2015, who concluded a sequence of 6 consecutive victories in this very race that year. Last year’s race was dominated by Omaha Beach, a one-time Kentucky Derby favourite that missed out on that moment of glory due to swallowing his tongue. Jockey Mike E. Smith has won the last two Malibu Stakes, first in 2018 with McKinzie, and then last year with Omaha Beach. The last win was his fourth in the Malibu, another growing number to add for the man who has the most winners in Breeders’ Cup history, with 26.

Other than the Malibu Stakes, Santa Anita has a full two-day programme on the 26th and 27th of December, with lots of races to enjoy and come out smiling on the days following Christmas. But of course, the real attraction will be to get some of that famous Californian sunshine. With average temperatures around 21C, and 10 hours of daylight, it's a climate anyone could enjoy.

We'll understand if you miss the RA at Larkhill on January 16 through quarantine, (or accidently missing your flight), but you've one more chance to enjoy Larkhill this season after Christmas, hopefully as a spectator, at the New Forest on February 28 in this rather truncated season.

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