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Santa Anita Derby 2024 | Santa Anita Park Picks [Kentucky Derby]
Stronghold (Sophie Shore/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM)

Santa Anita Derby 2024 | Santa Anita Park Picks [Kentucky Derby]

Aaron previews the 2024 Santa Anita Derby (G1) from Santa Anita Park, then gives his top win pick from the Kentucky Derby (G1) prep race.

Can the Sunland Derby (G3) champion Stronghold turn the tables on the Bob Baffert-trained contingent of Imagination & Wynstock?

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The press release:

Graded stakes winners Stronghold and Imagination are set to clash for the first time Saturday a field of eight entered for Saturday’s 87th running of the GI, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles.

With 12 races Saturday, including five stakes, first post time is 12 p.m. PT. Admission gates will open at 11 a.m.

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Stronghold is exiting a breakthrough victory in the GIII Sunland Derby in New Mexico on Feb. 18. Trained by Phil D’Amato, Stronghold attended the pace under Antonio Fresu and kicked clear late to score by 2 ½ lengths at Sunland Park. The Ghostzapper colt now looks to solidify a berth in next month’s Kentucky Derby. 

The Santa Anita Derby offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to eligible horses who finish in the top five on a scale of 100-50-25-15-10. Stronghold currently has 25 points, which ranks 21st on the Derby leaderboard with still three additional prep races to be run over the next two weekends . The Kentucky Derby is limited to 20 starters.

Prior to his win in the Sunland Derby, Stronghold finished second in both the GII Los Alamitos Futurity at 1 1/16 miles in December and the seven-furlong GIII Bob Hope at Del Mar in November.

Stronghold will again have Fresu in the irons Saturday. A homebred for Eric Waller and Sharon Waller, Stronghold has a record of 5: 2-3-0 with $337,200 in earnings.

Trained by Bob Baffert, Imagination exits a win in the GII San Felipe going 1 1/16 miles on March 3 at Santa Anita. The victory upped his record to 2-3-0 in five starts with $256,800 in earnings for owners SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, et al.

By Into Mischief, Imagination was purchased for $1.05 million at the 2022 Keeneland September yearling sale. He broke his maiden in his third start when going a mile on Jan. 1 at Santa Anita. Prior scoring in the San Felipe, Imagination finished second by neck to well-regarded stablemate Maymun in a first-level allowance at a mile on Feb. 11 at Santa Anita.

International star jockey Frankie Dettori, who rode Imagination for the first time in the San Felipe win, again has the call on Saturday.

Baffert’s other entrant is graded stakes winner Wynstock. Campaigned by Ed Allred, owner of Los Alamitos, and longtime racing executive Jack Liebau, Wynstock won the Los Alamitos Futurity to close out his 2-year-old campaign. In his only start this year, the Solomini colt shipped to Oaklawn Park and finished last on a muddy track in the GIII Southwest Feb. 3.

Wynstock was purchased for $700,000 at auction as a 2-year-old. He has a record of 5: 2-0-0 with $182,740 in earnings. Santa Anita leading rider Juan Hernandez will be reunited with Wynstock  on Saturday. 

The only other stakes winner in the field is E J Won the Cup for trainer Doug O’Neill. After taking seven starts to break his maiden, the Omaha Beach colt came right back to win the Turf Paradise Derby March 14. He will be reunited Saturday with Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who was aboard for the maiden win.

A $95,000 auction buy as a yearling, E J Won the Cup is owned by Superfecta King Stable, He is 2-3-1 in eight starts with $116,440 in earnings.

Tapalo returns to dirt after a solid second-place effort in the 1 1/8-mile El Camino Real Derby on synthetic at Golden Gate Feb. 10. The Tapiture colt finished 1 ¼ lengths back of Endlessly, who would return to win the GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks on synthetic at Turfway Park.

Trained by John Sadler, Tapalo graduated just prior to the El Camino Real in a $40,000 maiden/optional claiming race going seven furlongs on dirt at Santa Anita Jan. 12. Tapalo, who was a $55,000 auction buy as a 2-year-old, was not entered for the optional claiming price. He has a record of 5: 1-2-1 with $62,020 in earnings for owner Hronis Racing.

Tapalo will be ridden by Umberto Rispoli for the first time.


Race 10 of 12 | Approximate post time 4:45 p.m.

  1. Curlin’s Kaos—Diego Herrera—124 – (20-1)
  2. Tapalo—Umberto Rispoli—124 – (5-1)
  3. Stronghold—Antonio Fresu—124 – (5-2)
  4. Imagination—Frankie Dettori—124 – (8-5)
  5. Wynstock—Juan Hernandez—124 – (8-1)
  6. Tessuto—Kazushi Kimura—124 – (10-1)
  7. Mc Vay—Hector Berrios—124 – (5-1)
  8. E J Won the Cup—Mike Smith—124 – (15-1)