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Get ready for a showdown! The field for the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby is set for this Saturday, when a field of seven will file into the gate for the final Kentucky Derby prep race in California. The Santa Anita Derby will be featured on the NBC Sports Network, along with the Grade 2 Wood Memorial and the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes. Live TV Coverage will begin at 5:30 PM EST.
There might be seven in the race, but the focus will be on the big two: Justify and Bolt d’Oro. This event was originally scheduled to be round two of Bolt d’Oro vs. McKinzie, but it was announced earlier this week that McKinzie would miss the Triple Crown season with a bruised hock. Trainer Bob Baffert quickly shuffled his other 3-year-olds’ next starts once that news broke, with Justify slated to stay home, rather than ship to Oaklawn for the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.
Justify has been hyped to the moon since his dazzling debut win on February 18, then built on the buzz with another crushing win on March 11 against allowance foes. Then, there are his morning workouts at Santa Anita, which have become legendary. He’s been outworking his workmates each and every time, doing it flawlessly. Longtime clocker Andy Harrigton loves what he’s seeing.
“I had his 5/8 in 1:01 flat,” said Harrington. “I had him in 1:13 for 6 (furlongs) and out 7/8 in 1:27 and two. He did it with aplomb. He does everything they ask and he does it effortlessly. He’s like a big kid who’s just learning how to run… There’s really no-telling how good he is.”
All that said, the proven commodity in this race is Bolt d’Oro. He didn’t cross the wire first in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes, but he was awarded the win via disqualification. He has just one true loss on his resume (the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile) and was undoubtedly the most dominant horse in the crop as a 2-year-old. Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano ships in for the mount once again.
The Santa Anita Derby will go off as race nine with an approximate local post time of 3:30 PM. The field from the rail out: Instilled Regard, Orbit Rain, Bolt d’Oro, Jimmy Chila, Pepe Tono, Justify, and Core Beliefs.
#6 Justify – Here we go! I’ve been covering this sport for over six years now and have been a fan for over 12. Never have I ever seen a horse with this much hype, and trust me, a horse named American Pharoah certainly had a lot of hype during his 2015 campaign. However, hype is one thing, but proving it on the race track is quite another. We’ve seen his workouts, and we know that they’re simply brilliant. We’ve also seen his two career races where he destroyed his competition like they were $5,000 claimers at Fonner Park. The question is simple: How will he react when he’s challenged? Sooner or later, it’s going to happen, and you’d think that there’s a good chance of it happening on Saturday when he goes up against one of the best Kentucky Derby prospects in the crop. His talent is amazing; now it’s time for him to justify the hype. Get your popcorn ready!
#3 Bolt d’Oro – It seems that anytime a relatively unknown trainer hops onto the Kentucky Derby trail with a horse, there are doubts, but Mick Ruis pushed those aside after Bolt’s fantastic performance in the San Felipe. Even though he didn’t cross the wire first, there really was no loser in that race; he and McKinzie put on a show that lasted the length of the stretch. It’s a shame that McKinzie is now out, but Bolt should run even better because the San Felipe was his first start in four months. He only has one career loss , and he had an absolutely terrible trip that race. Let’s put it this way: Justify better be the real deal, because it’s going to take a giant performance to beat Bolt d’Oro. A horse like this will make quick work of Justify if he’s unprepared for this sort of challenge.
#1 Instilled Regard – This is the most intriguing horse aside from the top two giants. Stretching out to two turns helped him tremendously. In his first start going long, he broke his maiden impressively, then rounded out his juvenile campaign with a strong showing in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Derby. He continued to look solid as a 3-year-old with a nice win in the Grade 3 LeComte Stakes to start the year, but last time out, he struggled to a fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer decided to keep his colt at home his final prep, and at his best, he could at least put in a scare to the top two horses.
NONE – Nobody should be able to upset the top two in this race. The only horse with any hope of competing with them is Instilled Regard, but he’s good enough to not be considered a “Party Crasher.” This one is going to be chalky.
#7 Core Beliefs – This colt gives the Kentucky Derby trail a try after breaking his maiden in a solid effort last time out. He’ll probably be no match for the top two, but he at least enters this race off of a two-turn victory, which is more than can be said about the rest of the field.
#2 Orbit Rain – The maiden will try to take down the giants! Good luck to him; he’s going to need it. He was recently second in a maiden special weight at Santa Anita in December of 2017.
#5 Pepe Tono – He’ll likely be one of the longest shots on the board after finishing third in a recent allowance event at Santa Anita. He didn’t run well in his first try again stakes company, finishing sixth in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes.
#4 Jimmy Chila – Still a maiden, he’s never even finished second in a race, and now he goes up against what could be the two best Kentucky Derby prospects in the crop.
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