Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California is the site for the Grade I $1 million Santa Anita Derby, which takes place this Saturday (Race 8, approx. post time 3:30 p.m. PST). Ten three-year-old colts are seeking to earn their way to Churchill Downs for the prestigious Kentucky Derby, but they may have to battle the elements to do so.
The weekend forecast for usually-sunny Southern California is a wet one, but it shouldn’t inhibit #4 MOR SPIRIT. Trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Gary Stevens, who have the most wins in this race in their respective categories, this three-year-old son of Eskendereya has never been worse than second in six career races. He shipped to Churchill Downs last November to compete in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Cup, and splashed home over a sloppy going to finish a respectable second. The winner of that race, Airoforce, has not run well since then but MOR SPIRIT beat Mo Tom and Gun Runner that day, and both those colts are respected Derby contenders off their races at the Fair Grounds this year.
MOR SPIRIT has been very successful at age three, taking the Robert B. Lewis Stakes in a hand ride over this circuit before steadying early and finding himself with too much to do late in last month’s San Felipe Stakes. Baffert has MOR SPIRIT fully cranked based on his last two works, and I expect this one to deliver on Saturday.
If the going is muddy or worse, #2 EXAGGERATOR becomes the prime candidate to upset the top choice. The highlight of his extensive juvenile campaign was a gutsy win in the Delta Jackpot Stakes over a muddy track. Since then, EXAGGERATOR has run second behind top Derby contender Nyquist in the San Vicente Stakes before rallying for third in the San Felipe after a slow beginning.
#3 DANZING CANDY, the winner of the aforementioned San Felipe in gate-to-wire fashion, should definitely be considered a logical contender in the Santa Anita Derby, but he does have some questions to answer. Can he hold on late if challenged early by a horse like #10 UNCLE LINO or #6 IRON ROB or even #1 DENMAN’S CALL? And can he handle a less-than-fast racing surface? Progeny of Twirling Candy usually take to any surface but there’s relatively little data on his mud runners, as he is a west coast sire.
This should an interesting race to watch, and hopefully we can make some money off of it.
The play: $10 exacta 4/2,3 ($20)
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