Besides On the Line, only one other horse in Saturday's $115,550 Malibu Stakes had run more often this year.
But it was the other eight starters who looked as if they needed a rest. Sent to the lead by Angel Cordero, as soon as he left the gate, On the Line ran a half-mile in :44 2/5, six furlongs in 1:08 1/5 and left everyone else in his exhaust while romping to a 7 1/2-length victory as Santa Anita opened its 91-day season before 62,461 shivering fans.
The way the crowd bet the seven-furlong Malibu, four other horses had better chances, but none threatened On the Line. Candi's Gold, the 5-2 favorite, finished third, beaten by 8 lengths; Masterful Advocate, the second choice although he hadn't raced in almost eighth months, was seventh; Temperate Sil ran second and W.D. Jacks was fifth.
On the Line, from the familiar team of owner Gene Klein and trainer Wayne Lukas, paid $18, $7 and $4.20, running the Malibu in 1:21, which was a second slower than the stake and track record that Spectacular Bid set in the first race of his horse-of-the-year season in 1980. Temperate Sil paid $5.60 and $4, and Candi's Gold returned $2.80.
On the Line, making his 16th start of the year, had consistently been hitting the board most of the time, but his first-place earnings had been non-existent since a victory at Hollywood Park in June and a victory in the Kentucky Derby Trial. On the Line ran 10th in the Derby, a race that told Lukas that 1 miles wasn't his game. Another try at the same distance, in the Swaps at Hollywood in July, resulted in a well-beaten fourth, with Temperate Sil and Candi's Gold running 1-2.
"After the Derby," Lukas said, "we thought he'd be a miler, and we still think he'll make a superb miler. When you let him loose on the lead in 1:08 1/5, he gets bold as hell."
On the Line ran well at Santa Anita during the Oak Tree meeting, finishing second to Skywalker at seven furlongs and to Zany Tactics going six. Gary Stevens, who rode On the Line against Zany Tactics, was high on the Lukas colt's chances in the Breeders' Cup Sprint on Nov. 21 at Hollywood Park.
With Stevens injured, Randy Romero rode On the Line, and he stumbled at the start and finished 10th.
Stevens was committed to riding Candi's Gold Saturday; and Cordero, who is spending the winter in California for the first time in several years, got the call.
Cordero, home with his family for Christmas, took a flight from New York Saturday morning, and with an hour's delay he didn't arrive at Santa Anita until the fourth race.
By then, agents for other jockeys were circling Lukas like vultures.
"Cordero won't make it," one of them said.
"He better make it," Lukas said, scanning the page for the Malibu in the program and noting that most of the best jockeys were taken.
W.D. Jacks, Hot and Smoggy and Reconnoitering tried to run with On the Line early. Masterful Advocate, caught flat-footed in the gate, stumbled when the door opened, losing all chance at the start.
"Looking at the paper (the Daily Racing Form), I thought my horse would be right there, but I didn't think he'd be that far in front," Cordero said. "He galloped out pretty strong afterward, and we needed a pony to pull him up."
Temperate Sil was better behaved in the paddock and starting gate than usual, but his trainer, Charlie Whittingham, thought the No. 2 post and 126 pounds worked against the roan colt. On the Line had a nine-pound edge.
Candi's Gold, fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic in his last start, is not used to sprinting.
"That's not his thing," said the colt's trainer, Eddie Gregson. "But we accomplished what we wanted to do, getting him ready to run longer again."
Stevens thought that Candi's Gold was disoriented.
"He didn't know what was going on," the jockey said. "When I pulled him up to turn him to the gate (out of the chute instead of in front of the stands), he was confused. He washed out (sweated) more than usual, and going from a mile and a quarter to seven furlongs, he didn't know what was going on."
On the Line gave the Lukas barn its second stakes victory of the day and 91st in a record-breaking year. Saturday's other victory was even easier, with Notebook beating New York-bred 2-year-olds by 18 lengths in the Bongard Stakes at Aqueduct.
Cordero lingered longer than usual in the Santa Anita winner's circle, and by the time he returned to the jockeys' room, there was little time for a silks change for the ninth race.
"I've got to get out there, and make some more money," he said, running from the room to the paddock.
He did, too. Syrian Wind won the last race, with Cordero aboard.
Horse Racing Notes