By Sean Morris

Santa Anita Derby Picks: Medina Spirit should assert his class

By Sean Morris
Bob Baffert's Medina Spirit looks to stamp himself as a top Derby contender
Bob Baffert's Medina Spirit looks to stamp himself as a top Derby contender

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The 2021 edition of the $750,000 Grade I Santa Anita Derby looks set to one of the most competitive in recent years. With presumptive favorite Life is Good sidelined, it becomes a very open race.

Our in-house handicapper takes us through his thoughts as he previews the race and offers up his picks coupled with our Race Card below...

Santa Anita Park Race 8 15:30 ET

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It should come as no surprise that I’m picking Medina Spirit (#7) in the G1 Santa Anita Derby. I’ve long been a fan of this horse, and after the defection of his stablemate Life Is Good from the Derby Trail I vaulted him to No. 1 on my list of the Top 10 Kentucky Derby contenders. I even backed up that opinion by betting him at odds of 13-1 in Pool 5 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager. For the life of me I still can’t understand why Medina Spirit isn’t getting more attention. He has been nothing short of terrific since stretching out in distance after a debut win going six furlongs, routinely earning Beyer Speed Figures in the mid to high 90’s, and he even gave Life Is Good a serious run for his money in the G3 Sham to begin the year. He’s not the flashiest on track or on paper, but he’s been a consistent performer and unquestionably one of the fastest of his crop. I’m expecting another rock-solid effort from him in the Santa Anita Derby, and while he doesn’t necessarily have to win, I won’t be betting against him.

As an alternative to the favorite look no further than No. 4 on my list of Derby contenders, Dream Shake (#2), who finished a well-beaten third in the San Felipe, 10 ¼ lengths behind Life Is Good and 2 ¼ off Medina Spirit. The distance behind the winner was vast, but all in all it was a promising performance for a horse that was making just his second career start and first around two turns following an unbelievably impressive debut win going 6 ½ furlongs at Santa Anita. I thought he more than backed up that first-out win in the San Felipe and he still has an extraordinarily high ceiling. He’s no doubt the main danger to Medina Spirit.

Behind these two the Santa Anita Derby gets a little murkier. Roman Centurion (#1) nearly beat Medina Spirit two back in the G3 Robert B. Lewis, which also produced G2 Louisiana Derby winner Hot Rod Charlie, however he did so with a very good trip and was exposed last time when he finished a well-beaten fourth in the San Felipe. Despite that margin, I actually think he makes some sense here if he gets enough pace to run at, which should be the case. I’m also slightly interested in Medina Spirit’s stablemate Defunded (#10). He’s giving up quite a bit of experience to this field, aside from Dream Shake, but he was quite impressive in breaking his maiden last out at six furlongs. This is a big step up for him, but Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is a wizard in Derby preps, so dismiss him at your own peril.

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