Santa Anita: The Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles, by Brian Nadeau of Horseplayer Now.
#1 Creative Cause: The West Coast’s pro-tem divisional leader looked good, albeit in a misbehaving sort of way, when he rallied late to win the local GII San Felipe in his last start and looms every bit of an odds-on proposition today. Predictably moved forward in a big way when he got back to his favorite two-turn trip, and you have to figure that, as a son of Giant’s Causeway, he’ll only relish the added ground today. Ran sideways as much as he did straight last time and now the blinkers come off, so there’s a chance he’s even further off the pace than normal, though once he levels off in the lane, it’s likely only a matter of how much he wins by. Seems to be a bigger, faster version of the horse he was as a 2yo and doesn’t meet the strongest SA Derby field ever assembled either; confirms his status as one of the ones come the first Saturday in May with another GI win.
#2 Liaison: Baffert charge has yet to win a two-turn race on conventional dirt and was beaten pretty soundly by ‘Cause in the San Felipe, so he’s got some work to do to turn the tables today. Won the GI CashCall Futurity over the Cushion track at Hollywood Park to end his 2yo season, but up to this point his conventional dirt runs haven’t been nearly as sharp as his synthetic ones. On the plus side, he did bounce back last time after tossing Bejarano in the local GII Lewis in February, and dad Indian Charlie raised some Goosebumps winning this race back in the day, but top honors seem a bit out of reach; playing underneath, if at all.
#3 Holy Candy: Highly touted Sadler runner finally got his maiden win after burning a ton of money in his first three starts and now gets the acid test to see where he stands with California’s best 3yos. Son of Candy Ride should excel at this trip and there’s a chance he’s still got a lot of improving left to do, but off just an MSW, he’s going to need a big jump forward to factor; worth remembering down the road.
#4 I’ll Have Another: Stunned everyone when he won the Lewis at 43-1 in his first start since September and first start at two turns, and he looms a major pace player today. O’Neill colt has been working beautifully for this and doesn’t meet a ton of pace pressure, so there’s a chance he gets a free pass on the lead, which will make him pretty tough to reel in off the far turn. With ‘Cause likely tightening the screws for the Derby and potentially not fully cranked, this guy is eligible to get mighty brave off the far turn over a track that has been known to carry early speed a long way; the one they’ll all have to run down.
#5 Longview Drive: Exits a nightmarish trip in the slower division of Oaklawn Park’s GIII Southwest but did run huge in the two-turn, GIII Sham over this track in January, so he does have some positives. Owns some serious speed, so he’s likely to keep I’ll Have Another company early and try to kick on off the far turn, and while he may bounce back off that poor run out of town, a win seems a little out of reach; exotics player.
#6 Paynter: Beautifully bred Baffert colt took a little time to figure things out in his debut, but once he did, he leveled off nicely in the lane and won for fun sprinting here over just three rivals. Steps way up today and meets some seasoned stakes foes, but there’s no doubt he’s got a ton of talent and dad Awesome Again won the GI Whitney at this trip back in the day, so you know the 9F’s is within his scope. Has been working lights out for this and has the “sky’s the limit” label attached, but right now this just seems like too big a class rise; major talent will be heard from down the road.
#7 Senor Rain: Looked good winning a local 7F optional claimer in his last in what was by far a lifetime best, but he hasn’t been a real threat in any of his graded stakes attempts, so he’s every bit a longshot today. Figures to be in the first flight early, but it’s tough to envision him threatening when the real running begins; easy toss.
#8 Midnight Transfer: Under-the-radar colt ran huge when finishing third in the San Felipe while making his first start at two turns, and he likely has the biggest upside of any entered. Son of Hard Spun showed a new dimension in the San Felipe, when he settled early and rallied late, and may fall into a nice trip today while getting first run on ‘Cause, which makes him a scary proposition in the lane; expecting a huge run for Gaines.
#9 Blueskiesnrainbows: The second from Baffert takes blinkers off and steps way up after finishing a troubled but well-beaten third in a local optional claimer. Bargain yearling buy seems to have a bit of talent, but would need to improve several lengths to even get a share today; needs softer to threaten.
#10 Brother Francis: Still a maiden after four starts, but he is GI stakes placed after running third to Liaison in the CashCall to end his 2yo campaign, so obviously he’s got some talent. Made his 3yo debut in a local turf MSW and was third, beaten just a head for the win, but if he’s going to threaten here, isn’t he supposed to win a race like that? Talented sort figures to be closing late, but let’s let him get that first initial win before thinking he can factor against a group like this; possible for the bottom rung of the exotics.
#1 Creative Cause
#8 Midnight Transfer
#4 I’ll Have Another