SOUTH OZONE PARK, NY, April 6, 2014—“You knock him, you just don’t like anything in life,” was the reaction of Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who finished second to California Chrome aboard Hopportunity in Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby.

And if they were being honest, PETA would tell you that they like him, too.

I know I like living too much to dare say something negative. The new California Comet was awesome on the day and I’ll wait until after the post draw to concern myself with any potential Louisville first-turn speed jams.

As all know, Santa Anita Park is a fast surface. But nine furlongs in 1:47.52 is racehorse time on anyone's racetrack. Efforts take their toll, no matter how facile the victory, But it certainly appeared, as Victor Espinoza said, that they haven’t gotten to the bottom of him yet.

They very likely will in four weeks time.

Hopportunity, needing no qualifying points, got a useful prep behind the current divisional leader. On balance, he had an easy time of it, but not so show finisher Candy Boy.

Clearly, Gary Stevens wanted to put some pressure on California Chrome to chase longshot Dublin Up in earnest, but the Santa Anita Derby favorite settled in comfortably off the leader's flank instead as Candy Boy remained parked in the three-path beneath Stevens' long pull.

When California Chrome cruised up alongside Dublin Up, Stevens put his mount in a drive even if he probably would have preferred to wait. The move forced him untenably wider into the stretch, but it wouldn't have mattered. By then the Comet had streaked away.

Candy Boy’s gallop-out was good and he is sure to benefit from Saturday’s run, especially coming off a 55-day absence. All the screws will be bolted down by May 3rd.

Wicked Strong peaked at exactly the right moment. His style and race dynamics gave him very little chance in two starts at Gulfstream Park, and he clearly enjoyed not hearing his feet rattle Saturday at Aqueduct.

He was comfortably into the bridle throughout and deftly guided around the course by Rajiv Maragh. It’s one thing to get a perfect trip; it’s another to take advantage of it. He should only move forward again and perhaps will have a bit more stretch focus in four weeks. Not to worry; Jimmy Jerkens has learned his lessons very well.

If Rick Violette is right about Samraat and his theory that tough races bring out the best in the best horses, then surely his colt's trip in the Wood will do him good. It certainly couldn’t hurt and he deserves the respect of a solid Derby contender.

The place photo lost by Social Inclusion is a blessing in disguise. The Derby is a unique test which would have proven to be too much, too soon for the lightly raced speedster. He did all the Wood dirty work but he lived to tell the tale.

Social Inclusion even briefly appeared to be a winner soon after entering the stretch before tiring, understandably. But to his credit he never stopped trying. Now back home in South Florida, he’ll be trading stone crabs for hard crabs in six weeks.

Intending no disrespect to the class of 2014 and unknown Kentucky Derby results notwithstanding, wouldn’t it be interesting to see the Florida Flash vs. the California Comet in Baltimore? Damn right it would.

Derby qualifying points aside, don’t know what I could possibly learn from Saturday’s upcoming Blue Grass Stakes. It certainly can have an effect on bubble horses such as Social Inclusion, Cairo Prince, etc. But while the Arkansas Derby is coming up light in number of potential entrants, there will be no dearth of talent in Hot Springs this weekend.

Six runners from a possible seven runners, as of early Monday morning, can make a serious impact in Louisville four weeks hence: Bayern, Commissioner, Conquest Titan, Ride On Curlin, Strong Mandate and Tapiture are all deserving of merit at this juncture.

We’ve been mentioning all spring how the HRI Kentucky Derby Power 10 is an amalgam of accomplishment and promise. Given the current final round of Derby preps, opinion is beginning to weigh more heavily on staff and contributors.


The HRI Derby Power 10, Week 7:

1. California Chrome (30)
2. Constitution (26)
3. Wicked Strong (24)
4. Candy Boy (18)
5. Tapiture (15)
6. tie-Samraat (12)
6. tie-Vicar’s In Trouble (12)
8. Hopportunity (9)
9. Intense Holiday (8)
10. Golden A Rod (7)