Santa Anita Derby Preview: Horse-by-Horse Analysis of Saturday's Grade I Race @SA

The Santa Anita Derby is the Main Event for Saturday's North American Thoroughbred day of racing. With major KYD Points on the line, it pits members of Bob Baffert's stable against some young upstarts seeking to upstage the HOF trainer. See who draws in and our analysis below...
The Santa Anita Derby is the Main Event for Saturday's North American Thoroughbred day of racing. With major KYD Points on the line, it pits members of Bob Baffert's stable against some young upstarts seeking to upstage the HOF trainer. See who draws in and our analysis below...

1 1/8th (Dirt), Santa Anita Derby (G1), Purse $750k, 3

The history of the Santa Anita Derby (G1) is a tale of an annual race that has produced some major players in the 3-yr-old colt division. Recently, those that finish in the Top 4, pocket KYD Points that range from… 100-40-20-10. In the last 3 contests, jockey Mike Smith has won them all… Justify led to Roadster which led to Honor A.P. That is 2 Bob Baffert winners and a John Shirriffs victor... they form a fearsome threesome that displayed sheer power as they muscled through the 9 furlongs for the win. The capstone race of the Santa Anita Meet, this year’s ed. appears wide open. The scratching of Baffert’s Life Is Good off the Derby Trail was caused due to an injury. In the wake of that news, the SA Derby is going to be nothing short of a stellar competition to earn tickets to Kentucky!

Now, let’s find out about this field…


#1 Roman Centurian (Jky: JJ. Hernandez/Trn: S. Callaghan):

With all the LIG, Medina, Shake, and Great Something chatter, everyone seems to have forgotten about this colt out of Empire Maker. Jokes will be told around handicapping tables… for this one to win, he will need some slop to run on. Fat chance in SoCal, someone will say… Simon Callaghan has his main man JJ Hernandez back aboard again, and from my perspective, this is my pick. He never had a chance to do much running in the San Felipe (G2), as the Baffert pair bullied their way to the lead. I think after 2 works, he is sharp as a tack. I am going to bet him on top come Saturday.

Grade: A-


#2 Dream Shake (Jky: F. Prat/Trn: P. Eurton):

My sense is that this colt out of Twirling Candy is a runner with great ability and breakaway speed. For that reason alone, he doesn’t belong in this type of race. Instead, Peter Eurton should rethink his strategy and cut this one back to the 6F sprint division. Over the past number of years that seems to have gotten weaker and weaker. A 3-yr-old like this one who has such natural ability to do that kind of running would be superb. No offense to his connections, but I do not see him even hitting the board against this group. Flavien Prat has strong numbers, but that doesn’t make him invincible, especially when dirt racing in SoCal is all about being “sent” from the get-go.

Grade: C+


#3 Rock Your World (Jky: U. Rispoli/Trn: J. Sadler):

John Sadler and Hronis Racing have paired together before, and when they do, it can be a potent combination. Here is a son of Candy Ride who is perfect on the turf after 2 tries at Santa Anita. Now, in what looks like a knee jerk reaction because LIG isn’t around, they are diving into this spot. It will not work. There is not much to go on when it comes to predicting how this one will take to the dirt. Maybe Umberto Rispoli can work out a trip, but it is unlikely that the runner that cost $650k back at the Keeneland September Sale in 2019 makes it 3/3.

Grade: C+


#4 Parnelli (Jky: E. Maldonado/Trn: J. Shirreffs):

The trainer who won last year’s edition of the SA Derby is back with a Gainesway bred colt out of Quality Road. Those hard-knocking types can run all day and are pretty versatile, as far as their running styles. His conditioner is looking to turn things around after a couple of lackluster performances in the Sham (G3) and the Bob Lewis (G3) that saw him well-back as far as lengths. Entering into this spot is going to necessitate a major leap forward, and that may just be too tough now that Edwin Maldonado comes aboard. His numbers are not what they used to be. Sentimental favorite… Shirreffs in the meantime is hoping that “Blinkers On” will provide focus. It might work… or not.  

Grade: B-


#5 Back Ring Luck (Jky: T. Baze/Trn: J. Sadler):

The other John Sadler runner in this race is this son of Malibu Moon, who was traded a couple of times, first to Bret Calhoun then Al Cates. Sadler has little clue what this runner is capable of since he has not worked with him extensively. Last fall, this colt was running in MC events, and then turning the page, he scored in an OC62.5k race @OP. The Beyer he posted was solid at 90. Maybe that gives his new trainer hope… Still, this is a very difficult race to draw into. Seems like a shot in the dark. Sadler has some major ability, but I question this decision. Tyler Baze, whose numbers are like Maldonado’s have continued to decline.

Grade: C-


#6 Ottothelegend (Jky: M. Gutierrez/Trn: S. Asmussen):

The Steve Asmussen Show comes to SoCal, and how he orchestrates this giant national performance across tracks is truly amazing. This colt ships in from Oaklawn after running there in early March in MSW86k Co. Those types of races are extremely strong when you compare them to lower end stakes races. That might sway you to back this runner, and if he can improve on that effort, then he can take a shot to hit the board. Mario Gutierrez gets the call, which could assist with the transition out West. A Three Chimneys homebred sounds pretty inviting to me, and you known Asmussen, a HOF trainer, is going to have him primed.

Grade: B


#7 Medina Spirit (Jky: J. Velazquez/Trn: B. Baffert):

I cannot decide whether this Bob Baffert runner is the best 3-yr-old colt in North America or a wolf in sheep’s clothing, enticing us to hand over our cash. Protonico is not a sire that many follow especially when compared to Maclean’s Music, Into Mischief, or Uncle Mo… This colt continues to be a popular selection on the Derby Trail, and is especially so, now that Life Is Good is off of it. I do not think we really can say how good this one is because you can examine each of his last 3 efforts and find major flaws. Only one of those was a victory, and he almost failed to seal the deal. With John Velazquez riding, the Baffert fortress is making its final push to get as many members of his stable into the “Run for the Roses.” He has managed everything expertly, once again… In some ways, the LIG departure helped because this is the horse that was left out, with few options. So, here we are… ready to see if he can fly home. I am against…

Grade: B


#8 Law Professor (Jky: K. Desormeaux/Trn: M. McCarthy):

Trainer Mike McCarthy chose to send his star pupil Rombauer to Keeneland for the Blue Grass Stakes. He kept behind this bench warmer because he knew that this son of Constitution would be up against it. Sometimes it is necessary to send a colt into a tough spot like this one because you really have the chance to see how they will react. Getting the veteran Kent Desormeaux to ride is a good move because his experience can win out. I am not sure that a couple of MSW61k races is enough under one’s saddle to qualify to win the Santa Anita Derby, but McCarthy is not shy when it comes to taking on a challenge.

Grade: C+


#9 The Great One (Jky: A. Cedillo/Trn: D. O’Neill):

If you go back and watch the replay of the San Felipe (G2), to my eye it was evident that Doug O’Neill’s entry never had a chance to make the lead. He was pushed wide on the first turn, and never had a chance to recover. That left the door wide open for LIG, and he took over the race. That tells me that this son of Nyquist (a sire O’Neill trained himself and won the Derby with back in 2016), still has a chance to run, and run well. All he may need is a chance. Certainly, Abel Cedillo knows what is at stake, and if he can come out firing, then he has the ability to win this race. Simply discounting him as a one-hit-wonder is inaccurate and shortsighted. Big chance at an even sizable price than last time…

Grade: B+


#10 Defunded (Jky: M. Smith/Trn: B. Baffert):

You might be wondering where Mike Smith is because he has not been mentioned as riding in this race until now. Well, here he is… aboard another Baffert entry who is a colt out of Dialed In. As if the HOF conditioner didn’t have enough members of his stable pursuing Derby glory elsewhere like Spielberg, Concert Tour, and Hozier, here is yet another talented runner with promise. What we know about him, which is very little, is that he won a nice Santa Anita MSW76k contest last time with Joel Rosario aboard. That was against a 12-horse field, and anytime you can do that at 9/1 odds coming off the bench, then that is saying something. With solid work from the tab, the question is… could he be ready to face this type of company? Nobody really knows unless you have a sports almanac from the future rolled up in your back pocket. We shall see… seems to be a legitimate response when staring into the abyss.  

Grade: B-


Join us Saturday for all of our Santa Anita Selections! Should be a fabulous set of races from none other than “The Great Race Place!”