Kentucky Derby

Santa Anita Derby Preview: Your Guess is as Good as Mine

© Benoit Photo

Top prospects Iliad, Gormley, Reach the World, and American Anthem all figure prominently among a field of 13 sophomores in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Derby, to be contested for the 80th time at 1 1/8 miles.

With four horses entered, trainer Doug O’Neill will be in search of his third Santa Anita Derby win, while Bob Baffert, a winner of a record seven derbies at The Great Race Place, will saddle three horses.  John Shirreffs, who the 2007 Santa Anita Derby with Tiago, is well represented by graded stakes winners Gormley and Royal Mo.

The West Coast’s premier Kentucky Derby prep, the Santa Anita Derby offers a total of 170 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, with 100 points to the winner, 40 to second, 20 to third and 10 to the fourth place finisher.

Top Choice

#2 Reach the World – What can I say… I don’t love this pick, but there are enough positives here for me to get behind this horse.  As you can see from the title of this article, this race is a total guessing game.  In this particular situation, I followed Mike Smith.  With three Baffert horses in the race, you’d think that Smith would have his pick of the lot, and he chose Reach the World.  That’s a positive sign.  This horse still has some growing up to do, but you can tell that he’s a very talented animal that can run all day.  Hopefully, he can put it together mentally at the right time and pick up a win.  They probably would have preferred an outside post, but that is why you employ a jockey like Mike Smith.  He should be able to work out a decent trip.

Horses to Use in Multi Race Wagers

#6 American Anthem – His effort in the Rebel Stakes last time out is something that cannot be explained.  After going off as the favorite, American Anthem never picked up his feet and finished tenth, beating only one horse.  What makes the performance even more confusing is the fact that, leading up to the race, he was out-working his older stablemate, Mor Spirit, who easily won the Essex Stakes just two races earlier on the same card.  How can you explain that kind of effort, and can he bounce back from something like that in this spot? It’s very possible that he can, but I’m not going to pick him on top until he proves that he can do it.

#3 Battle of Midway – He won a loaded allowance race last time out when he went around two turns for the first time.  The extra distance seemed to be to his liking, so you would think that adding some more won’t hurt him.  Even though that allowance race didn’t come back with the strongest speed numbers, it was visually impressive – Battle of Midway and Reach the World were well clear of the others.  I’ll trust my eyes when judging those two horses and say that they are ready for this type of challenge.

#8 Gormley – This horse gets no respect at all, despite having one of the strongest resumés in every race that he’s entered.  Two races back, he was very impressive while winning the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita, but last time out, he was destroyed by Mastery in the San Felipe Stakes and finished fourth.  Mastery seemed to discourage Gormley a bit in that race, as Gormley tried to catch up with him on the turn and couldn’t do it.  Perhaps he gave up a little bit that day, but without Mastery, he should fair a little bit better.  I still couldn’t pick him on top, but there’s no doubt that he can make some noise in this race.

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Exotic Plays

#1 Term of Art – He was well-beaten in his last two races, which were both Kentucky Derby preps, but he just has that look of a horse that will come with a late run and hit the board.  He’s definitely one that has no business winning a race like this, but he can make your tris and supers pay well with a little luck.  He has the biggest closing kick of the bunch.

#13 Royal Mo – It’s going to help that he gets back to his home track after a disaster in the Rebel Stakes, where he finished a well-beaten ninth.  Who knows what happened in the Rebel; nobody seemed to run their best that day.  I expect a better effort from him in this spot, but the bottom line is, I’m not sure how good he is in the first place.  Hitting the board is probably his ceiling.

Party Crashers

#11 Irish Freedom – Anytime a workout leads to Baffert entering a horse in a stakes race, you’d better pay attention.  That is exactly what happened with Irish Freedom, who was not pointed here until he flashed brilliance one morning, causing Baffert to change course.  Let’s face it, this horse deserves to be 20-1 when you look at his past performances, but perhaps he’s peaking at just the right time.  He also draws Bejarano to ride, which is a positive.  He’s a very intriguing entry here in a race that’s completely wide-open.

Throw Outs

#9 Iliad – That’s right, I’m tossing the morning line favorite for this race.  Last time out going 1 1/16 miles, he acted like he didn’t want to go that far, so I’m thinking that the extra distance today will be tough for him to handle.  He’s possibly the most talented horses in the race, but I think he’ll do better going shorter.

#7 Kimbear – Last time out, he defeated Sonneteer, who came back to finish second in the Rebel as a maiden.  However, that was a one-turn race, and I think it’s questionable that he’ll be as good going longer.

#12 Midnight Pleasure – He was a maiden debut winner at Del Mar, but since then, he’s lost three straight races.  He was beaten handily by Gormley two races back, and last time out, he was third in a one-turn allowance.  He’s not good enough here.

#4 Comma Sister – He won at this distance last time out, it was on turf and against a maiden special weight group.  In a race this wide-open, I don’t blame them for taking a swing here, but he’ll have trouble in this spot.

#5 So Conflated – His races on the dirt have been poor, including a horrible performance last time out in the Gotham Stakes.  Making an impact here would be a major surprise.

#10 Milton Freewater – He’s been in mostly sprint races so far in his career and only has two wins to his credit, both of which came against state-bred company.  This is an odd spot for him to land.

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