Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby (Grade) figures to confirm which 3-year-old is California’s leading hope for the $2 million-guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) at Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 1.
The 1 1/8-mile race over Santa Anita’s synthetic Pro-Ride surface attracted a field of 10 3-year-olds, but three of those horses figure to contend for the unofficial title of “Best of the West.” That group includes Sham Stakes (GIII) winner The Pamplemousse, the 9-5 morning line favorite for veteran trainer Julio Canani; CashCall Futurity (GI) winner Pioneer of the Nile, victorious in three consecutive stakes races for three-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert; and Chocolate Candy, the top 3-year-old in Northern California who bids to build his credentials for the famed “Run for the Roses.”
Pioneerof the Nile – and entered as an apparent “rabbit” to insure an honest pace for his late running stablemate.
But Canani was unruffled by the presence of the “rabbit.”
“If our horse runs his race, I think the rabbit becomes irrelevant,” Canani said. “To me it looks like a desperate measure on the par of the competition.”
Eclipse Award-winning jockey Garrett Gomez will ride the stretch-running Pioneerof the Nile, who won the San Rafael (GII) in his last outing and breaks from post four. The son of Empire Maker is Baffert’s top hope for a fourth victory in the Kentucky Derby. He won the race with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002). Baffert trails D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time winner,, in Kentucky Derby victories by active trainers. Calumet Farm legend Ben A. Jones is the all-time leader with six Kentucky Derby victories.
Chocolate Candy, owned by diet food legend Jenny Craig and bred by Craig and her late husband Sid, won the El Camino Real Derby (GIII) last time out at Golden Gate Fields and was a closing third to Pioneerof the Nile in December’s CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park.
Other contenders in the Santa Anita Derby include Mr. Hot Stuff, third in the San Rafael (GII); Sham runner-up Take the Points, Washington State-based Gallant Son; San Rafael (GII) runner-up Feisty Suances; Cape Truth and Unbridled Roman.
The Santa Anita Derby will be televised live by NBC Sports. Post time is set for 5:45 p.m. (all times EDT).
EAST/I WANT REVENGE HEADS WOOD MEMORIAL
I Want Revenge became an instant star of the 3-year-old crop and joined the short list of possible favorites for the Kentucky Derby when he traveled from California to romp by 8 1/2 lengths in his debut on traditional dirt in the Gotham Stakes (GIII) at New York’s Aqueduct. The son of Stephen Got Even could emerge as the favorite for the “Run for the Roses” with a similar effort in Saturday’s $750,000 Wood Memorial (GI) at Aqueduct.
I Want Revenge had run well against top competition over synthetic racetracks in his previous starts in California, but trainer Jeff Mullins sent him to the Gotham on a hunch that he would fare well on the traditional dirt at Aqueduct. He is looking for more of the same in the 1 1/8-mile Wood.
“Pedigree was the main reason we tried the Gotham,” Mullins said. “There is a feeling that synthetic surfaces are like turf, and I Want Revenge’s dam loved the turf, but couldn’t stand up on dirt. His sire loved dirt and that convinced us to try the Gotham.”
Regular rider Joe Talamo will ride I Want Revenge, who will break from the rail post in a field of eight horses. The colt will race under the colors of new co-owner IEAH Stables, the co-owner of 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness (GI) winner Big Brown. IEAH purchased half-interest in the colt this week from owner-breeder David Lanzman.
His chief competition could come from Imperial Council, the distant runner-up in the Gotham. That race marked the stakes debut for the son of Empire Maker and veteran trainer Shug McGaughey is looking for an improved performance in Saturday’s race.
“He ran a big race in the Gotham,” McGaughey said. “It was his first time around two turns, and it was definitely a step up from allowance company.”
Others in the eight-horse Wood Memorial field include West Side Bernie, Lord Justice, Just a Coincidence, Atomic Rain, Cellar Dweller and Lime Rickey.
The Wood Memorial undercard includes a competitive renewal of the $200,000 Bay Shore (GIII), a seven-furlong race that attracted Hutcheson (GII) winner Capt. Candyman Can; Taqarub, who suffered his first loss in a fifth-place finish in the Fountain of Youth (GII), and unbeaten Counter Move.
MIDWEST/MUSKET MAN, GIANT OAK HEAD ILLINOIS DERBY
Tampa Bay Derby (GIII) winner Musket Man and hard-luck Giant Oak, the runner-up in last fall’s Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) at Churchill Downs, top a balanced field of 11 in Saturday’s $500,000 Illinois Derby (GII) at Hawthorne Race Course.
Musket Man bounced back from his first career loss to score a narrow victory in the Tampa Bay Derby, and the colt is the 7-2 favorite in the 1 1/8-mile Illinos Derby. Eibar Coa will ride the colt for
trainer Derek Ryan in Saturday’s race.
Giant Oak, a son of Giant’s Causeway trained by Chicago-based Chris Block, will attempt to re-enter the Kentucky Derby picture following a star-crossed winter at New Orleans’ Fair Grounds. He finished a troubled fifth in the Risen Star (GIII), and then failed to fire over a sloppy track in a fourth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby (GII). Both races were won by Freisan Fire. Giant Oak will have a new rider in Shaun Bridgmohan.
Trainer Todd Letcher entered three horses in the Illinois Derby and the most prominent of those could be Al Khali, who won his U.S. debut in a Gulfstream Park allowance race after launching his racing career in Peru. A long shot threat in the race is the speedy Perfect Song, who invades from Maryland for trainer Mike Trumpets and could be dangerous if he manages to grab an easy early lead.
Old Fashioned Works – Fox Hill Farm’s Old Fashioned, the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby until his upset loss to Win Willy in the Rebel (GIII), tuned up for next week’s Arkansas Derby (GII) with a five-furlong workout at Oaklawn Park on Tuesday.
The Larry Jones-trained son of Unbridled Song covered the distance in 1:00.40 over a “muddy” track on Tuesday. Jockey Terry Thompson was aboard for the work and will ride Old Fashioned in the Arkansas Derby.
QUALITY ROAD TOPS OPENING DAY OF DERBY FUTURES
Florida Derby (GI) winner Quality Road was the 5-1 favorite after the opening day of betting in the third and final pool of Churchill Downs’ 2009 Kentucky Oaks Future Wager. Betting in the pool will continue through Sunday, April 5 at 6 p.m. (EDT). The pool also features exacta wagering and real time odds are available at http://www.kentuckyderby.com.