2017 Santa Anita Derby Preview

20160312_143746

April 6th 2017

The past twenty years, no Derby prep race has produced more Kentucky Derby winners than the Santa Anita Derby. The Santa Anita Derby has produced six Kentucky Derby winners over this time frame: California Chrome (2014), I’ll Have Another (2012), Giacomo (2006), Charismatic (1999), Real Quiet (1998) and Silver Charm (1997). 

This year’s Santa Anita Derby field seems to be lacking the Derby trail quality that it has enjoyed the past few years. Mastery’s injury indeed hurts here but most of the top 3-year-olds this year are based west of the Mississippi River.

That being said, there is enough talent to make this interesting and especially a nice size field of 13. I generally think this will be the most exciting, unpredictable race of the three big Derby preps this weekend. Below are the post-positions, jockeys and morning line odds.

The Santa Anita Derby  – 1 1/8th Mile – Race #8 at Santa Anita Park – Post-Time: 6:12 PM CST. Televised by NBC Sports Network & TVG

Post/Horse//Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. Term of Art  – Baze/O’Neill – 12/1 
2. Reach the World  – Smith/Baffert – 5/1  
3. Battle of Midway – Nakatani/Hollendorfer – 5/1 
4. Comma Sister – Ocampo/Papaprodromou – 50/1  
5. So Conflated – Gutierrez/O’Neill – 15/1
6. American Anthem – Garcia/Baffert – 5/1
7. Kimbear – Talamo/Kruljac – 12/1
8. Gormley – Espinoza/Shirreffs – 9/2 
9. Iliad – Prat/O’Neill – 7/2 
10. Milton Freewater – Pereira/O’Neill – 30/1

11. Irish Freedom – Bejarano/Baffert – 20/1
12. Midnight Pleasure – Theriot/Ruis – 30/1
13. Royal Mo  Stevens/Shirreffs  – 10/1

Race Commentary:  Trainers Doug O’Neill, Bob Baffert and John Shirreffs all have multiple entries. So when handicapping this race, I had to determine each trainer’s best horse to help sort out this field of 13. On recent form, for Bob Baffert, its Reach the World. For Doug O’Neill, its Iliad. And for John Shirreffs, it’Gormley. Throw in Jerry Hollendorfer’s Battle of Midway and you have four horses to work with for your exotic bets.

Royal Mo and American Anthem are two talented, fast colts who are coming off disappointing finishes in the Rebel Stakes. It will be interesting to see how they bounce back at a track where they had previous success. Doug O’Neill’s Term of Art is a horse who has improved in each of this last three starts at Santa Anita Park, finishing 5th in the Sham Stakes, 4th in the Robert B. Lewis and 3rd in the San Felipe Stakes.

My Prediction: There are too many variables and uncertainties in this race for me to predict a finishing order. The pace and jockey’s race strategies will go a long way in deciding the outcome. I expect to see a few surprises and my intuition tells me that this race my come down to a battle between Iliad and Reach the World.

Reach the World displayed a nice closing speed in his last start and his second place finish by a neck was mainly a byproduct of him getting tied up briefly in traffic. So I like a Boxed Exacta of Iliad and Reach the World to play it safe but I really like Reach the World as the surprise winner here.


On the docket…

A preview of the Wood Memorial. My preview of the Blue Grass Stakes can be accessed by clicking HERE.

–Michael

2017 Rebel Stakes Preview

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

March 17th 2017

Coming up tomorrow (Saturday March 18th) is another big race on the 2017 Kentucky Derby trail at Oaklawn Park. The Rebel Stakes offers 85 Derby points and a purse of $900,000. At this stage of the 2017 Kentucky Derby trail prep races, this is the 3rd highest paying purse to date and the largest since the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes on November 19th. The Rebel Stakes always attracts some of the top young thoroughbreds in the sport. Notable winners of the Rebel Stakes since 2004 include:

  • American Pharoah (2015) – The 13th Triple Crown champion and the first Grand Slam Champion of thoroughbred racing.
  • Curlin (2007) – 2007 Preakness Stakes and Breeders Cup Classic winner who went on to win the 2007 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion award, the 2008 Eclipse Older Dirt Male Champion award and Horse of the Year honors in 2007 and 2008.
  • Smarty Jones (2004) – who went on to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and the 2004 Eclipse Male 3 Year Old Champion award
  • Lookin At Lucky (2010) – 2010 Preakness Stakes winner who went on to win the 2010 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion award
  • Lawyer Ron (2006) – who won the 2007 Eclipse Older Dirt Male award
  • Will Take Charge (2013) – 2013 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion

Other notable Rebel Stakes runners: Afleet Alex who finished 6th in 2005 Rebel Stakes went on to win the 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes and the 2005 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion award. Oxbow finished 2nd in the 2013 Rebel Stakes and went on to win the Preakness Stakes that year. Creator finished 3rd in last year’s Rebel Stakes went on to win the 2016 Belmont Stakes.

Below are the entries, jockeys and morning line odds:

The Rebel Stakes  – 1 1/16th Mile – Race #10 at Oaklawn Park – Post-Time: 6:06 PM CST. Televised by TVG

Post/Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/ Odds
1. Silver Bullion (115) – Vazquez/Lukas – 30/1
2. Uncontested (122) – Hill/Catalano – 10/1
3. Sonneteer (115) – Eramia/Desormeaux – 301
4. Petrov (115) –  Ortiz/Moquett – 9/2
5. Untrapped (115) – Santana Jr./Asmussen – 8/1
6. Malagacy (115) – Castellano/Pletcher – 4/1
7. American Anthem (115) – Smith/Baffert – 2/1
8. Silver Dust (115) – Lanerie/Morse – 15/1
9. Appalachian Gem (115) – Stevens/Van Berg – 30/1
10. Royal Mo (122) – Espinoza/Shirreffs – 9/2 
11. Lookin At Lee (117) – Santana Jr./Asmussen – 15/1

Race Commentary: Trainer Bob Baffert has won six out of the last seven Rebel Stakes. He brings American Anthem, the morning line favorite, from California to be ridden by jockey Mike Smith. American Anthem will be stretching out from 8 furlongs to 8 1/2 furlongs for the first time of his career. Trainer Todd Pletcher shipped in Malagacy who will be making the first two-turn start of his career. He is stretching out from 6 1/2 furlongs to 8 1/2. Normally I don’t like horses making two-turn debuts but it worked out wonderfully for Pletcher’s One Liner in the Southwest Stakes. Oaklawn Park stablemates Uncontested and Petrov hope to stave off the shipped-in competition.

Uncontested starts in the #2 post which has been the winningest post for distance races this year at Oaklawn Park. Uncontested impressed in the muddy 1-Mile Smarty Jones Stakes but has faded down the stretch in both of his starts at 8 1/2 furlongs. He will have no excuses this time. This race may determine if he is a legitimate Derby prospect or better suited for sprint races and the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. He likes to get out into the early lead. If he has gained stamina since his Southwest Stakes start, he could win this race especially if he gets an off track like he did in the Smarty Jones Stakes.

Petrov has finished 2nd in the last two Oaklawn preps to Uncontested in the Smarty Jones and One Liner in the Southwest. Petrov has the fastest estimated time through 8 1/2 furlongs in this field. He will battle to the end. Just like Steve Asmussen’s Untrapped did in his 2nd place finish to Girvin in the Risen Star Stakes. Then there Asmussen’s super consistent Lookin at Lee who finished 4th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and 3rd in his first start back for his 3 year-old campaign in the Southwest Stakes.

Finally among the serious threats to win the Rebel, there is the Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner Royal Mo, same owner (Jerry and Ann Moss) and trainer (John Shirreffs) combination as Zenyatta, 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo and this year’s Derby hopeful Gormley.

Overall, this is most talented field for 2017 Kentucky Derby hopefuls that we have seen since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race last fall. With so much talent it will be hard to hit exotic bets. Silver Dust is a Tapit-colt who can’t be overlooked because he finished 4th in the Southwest Stakes and will get the early speed he needs. I like Royal Mo but I think he is hurt a bit by his starting gate position. Malagacy seems to be a more accomplished Pletcher colt than One Liner was entering the Southwest Stakes. But this is a deeper, more talented field. It is hard to go against a Baffert colt with his success in the Rebel so I like American Anthem for the win. The rest of the finishing order is anybody’s guess but I generally like Petrov finishing somewhere in the Superfecta. If his odds go south, Petrov could be a nice option for those looking for a sleeper pick for the win because his #4 starting gate position has been the 2nd most winningest gate position for distance races at Oaklawn Park this season.

At any rate, this is must-see-TV and a real star will emerge in this year’s Rebel Stakes. And don’t give up on any of the other top finishers as history suggests. Below are the top Beyer Speed Figures for horses in the Rebel Stakes field: 

Petrov –  96 BSF in 8.5F Southwest Stakes 2nd place finish
Uncontested – 96 BSF in 8F Smarty Jones Stakes win
Malagacy – 95 BSF at 6.5F Gulfstream Park win
Untrapped – 94 BSF in 6F James F. Lewis win
Royal Mo –  94 BSF in 8.5F Robert B. Lewis Stakes win
American Anthem – 94 8F BSF in Sham Stakes 2nd place finish

–Michael


Mastery brilliant in the San Felipe but off the Derby trail. Updated 2017 Kentucky Derby contender rankings

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

March 13th 2017

Mastery performed brilliantly Saturday in the San Felipe Stakes (shown below) with an excellent time of 1:42.28 and 105 Beyer Speed Figure. However, he suffered a condylar fracture to his left front leg and will have surgery today. These are repairable and a horse can usually come back racing depending upon the severity. If not, they will have to be retired to stud. At any rate, Mastery is off the Derby trail and if all goes well, we could see him back racing in the 2nd half of the season.

I am almost afraid to have a Kentucky Derby favorite. My early Kentucky Derby Not This Time had to be taken off the Derby trail and retired back in November due to a soft tissue injury to his right front leg. My next Derby favorite, Classic Empire, has had foot abscess and back issues. Now this unfortunate news for Mastery who I briefly had as my #1 after Classic Empire’s 3rd place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes and One Liner’s Southwest Stakes performance.

In the grand scheme of things, the 2017 Kentucky Derby is so wide open at this point that it might be best to draw names out of a hat. Injuries and inconsistency have kept every handicapper on their toes. This has been kind of a weird year and it appears that the best Derby contenders aren’t on the West Coast this year. We will have a better handle on who the Kentucky Derby favorite will be after the three major final prep races on April 8th. But for now, here are my Top Six Kentucky Derby contenders.

Top Six 2017 Kentucky Derby Contenders

1) One Liner – The undefeated son of Into Mischief. His win in the Southwest Stakes earned him a triple digit 102 Beyer Speed Figure, tied for 2nd best of this class in their 3 year-old campaign. I wrote a Kentucky Derby profile on him for US Racing that you can read by clicking HERE. There are questions regarding how he will take to added distance but for now, he’s my #1 for now. Next Start:  Undecided at this point. Todd Pletcher may opt to run him in one more race before the Kentucky Derby. My guess is that it will be the Florida Derby on April 1st.

Career: 3 Starts 3-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Into Mischief
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: John Velazquez (2011 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:41.85 2017 Southwest Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 102 – 2017 Southwest Stakes

2) Classic Empire – The 2-year-old Eclipse champion disappointed in the Holy Bull Stakes with a third place finish. Later it was found that he was suffering from an undetected foot abscess. He is American Pharoah’s half-brother. I was very high on the Pioneerof the Nile colt and wrote about him back in July (SEE).  Classic Empire had a minor issue in a previous workout and refused to run. However, he ran 4 furlongs in 48.95 yesterday (March 12th) at his Palm Meadows training center. If Classic Empire is 100% healthy, he’s probably the most talented colt in this class. Next Start: The Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 8th. 

Career: 6 Starts 4-0-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>3rd
Sire: Pioneerof the Nile  (Finished 2nd in 2009 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Mark Casse
Jockey: Julien Leparoux
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:42.60 – 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 102 – 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

3) McCraken – The son of Ghostzapper is undefeated in 4 starts. One of his big wins was in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. So there are no concerns of how he will take to the track surface at Churchill Downs. Next Start: The Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 8th.

Career: 4 Starts 4-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire:  Ghostzapper
Trainer: Ian Wilkes
Jockey: Brian Hernandez
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:42.45 – 2017 Sam F. Davis Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 95 – 2017 Sam F. Davis Stakes 

4) Tapwrit – The Tampa Bay Derby winner. He finished 2nd to McCraken in the Sam F. Davis Stakes back in February. His pedigree suggests that he will like added distance. And he has a greater trainer in Todd Pletcher behind him. Next Start: The Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 8th.

Career: 5 Starts 3-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd>1st
Sire:  Tapit
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:42.36 – 2017 Tampa Bay Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 96 – 2017 Tampa Bay Derby

5) Girvin – The Risen Star Stakes winner. His sire, Tale of Ekati, won the 2008 Wood Memorial and finished 4th in the Kentucky Derby. He has excellent closing speed. His Risen Star stakes time of 1:43.08 was 0.86 seconds faster than what Gun Runner accomplished the previous year (1:43.94). And Gun Runner finished 3rd in the Kentucky Derby. Girvin is probably not a Kentucky Derby winner but one to keep an eye on and on your early radar for your Derby Day exotic bets. Next Start: The Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds on April 1st.

Career: 3 Starts 2-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd>1st
Sire: Tale of Ekati
Trainer: Joe Sharp
Jockey: Brian Hernandez
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:43.08 – 2017 Risen Star Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 93 – 2017 Risen Star Stakes

6Royal Mo The winner of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. A son of Uncle Mo like his half-brother Mo Town and last year’s Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist. Same owner/trainer combination as Zenyatta (Moss/Shirreffs) and his Derby trail rival Gormley. Next Start: The Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 18th. 

Career: 4 Starts 2-2-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>1st–>1st

Sire: Uncle Mo
Trainer: John Shirreffs (2005 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Victor Espinosa (2002, 2014 & 2015 Kentucky Derby Winner)

Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:43.48 – 2017 Robert B. Lewis Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 94  – 2017 Robert B. Lewis Stakes

On my radar:  J Boys Echo, Gunnevera, Practical Joke, Petrov, American Anthem, Uncontested, Irish War Cry, Iliad, Untrapped, Malagacy, El Areeb and Unique Bella although I haven’t heard anything to suggest she will skip the Kentucky Oaks in favor of the Derby. 


Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park – March 18th

Coming up this Saturday at Oaklawn Park is another key race on the Derby trail that carries a $900,000 purse and 85 Derby points. The Rebel has historically spawned some great champions the past 15 years. Below are the rumored entries for the Rebel Stakes with notable Beyer Speed Figures (BSF). Royal Mo or American Anthem will probably be the early morning line favorite.

Royal Mo – Victor Espinoza/John Shirreffs  – 94 BSF in Robert B. Lewis Stakes win
American Anthem – Mike Smith/Bob Baffert  – 94 BSF in Sham Stakes 2nd place finish
Petrov –  Jose Ortiz/Ron Moquett  – 96 BSF in Southwest Stakes 2nd place finish
Malagacy – Javier Castellano/Todd Pletcher – 95 BSF at Gulfstream Park win
Uncontested – Channing Hill/Wayne Catalano  – 96 BSF in Smarty Jones Stakes win
Untrapped – Ricardo Santana Jr./Steve Asmussen  – 92 BSF in Withers Stakes win
Lookin At Lee – ?/Steve Asmussen – 83 BSF in Breeders Cup Juvenile 4th place finish
Silver Dust – Corey Lanerie/Randy Morse  
Silver Bullion – Ramon Vazquez/D. Wayne Lukas 

Notable winners of the Rebel Stakes since 2004

  • American Pharoah (2015) – The 13th Triple Crown champion and the first Grand Slam Champion of thoroughbred racing.
  • Curlin (2007) – 2007 Preakness Stakes and Breeders Cup Classic winner who went on to win the 2007 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion award, 2008 Eclipse Older Dirt Male Champion award and Horse of the Year honors in 2007 and 2008.
  • Smarty Jones (2004) – who went on to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and the 2004 Eclipse Male 3 Year Old Champion award
  • Lookin At Lucky (2010) – 2010 Preakness Stakes winner who went on to win the 2010 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion award
  • Lawyer Ron (2006) – who won the 2007 Eclipse Older Dirt Male Champion award
  • Will Take Charge (2013) – 2013 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion

Other notable Rebel Stakes runners: Afleet Alex who finished 6th in 2005 Rebel Stakes went on to win the 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes and the 2005 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion award. Oxbow finished 2nd in the 2013 Rebel Stakes and went on to win the Preakness Stakes that year. Creator finished 3rd in last year’s Rebel Stakes went on to win the 2016 Belmont Stakes.


Who’s in the Kentucky Derby? Gunnevera (64), Tapwrit (54), J Boys Echo (53), Girvin (50) and Practical Joke (34). All have enough Derby points historically to earn a starting spot in the Run for the Roses.

–Michael