Brian’s Derby Preps: The Santa Anita Derby

Santa Anita: The Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles, by Brian Nadeau

#1 Rprettyboyfloyd: One of two maidens in the field has been beaten in photo finishes in each of his last two starts and steps way up in the Great Race Place’s premier event. Son of Bluegrass Cat was third to the talented Kobe’s Back sprinting in the local GII San Vicente in February, but that was around one-turn, and even that runner would be at the very least the fourth choice in this spot. Breuer hoss appears to have talent, but let’s get that initial win out of the way first before entertaining his prospects in a race like this; tough to like.

#2 Friendswith K Mill: Intriguing O’Neill charge took a huge step forward when a close second to a nice Baffert runner (The Admiral) in a local N1X last time, in what was his first two-turn start on dirt, so at the very least he deserves some longshot love. Flashy Bull colt drew well and should be up close to what looks like a relatively moderate early pace, so you have to think he’ll be in the right spot off the far turn. From there it’s simply a matter of whether he’s good enough, and while a win may be out of reach, the bottom rung of the exotics isn’t; price chance for a share.

#3 Hoppertunity: Baffert runner exits a solid win in the GII Rebel at Oaklawn Park when he vanquished heavyweights Tapiture and Strong Mandate in the process, so he enters as the “now” horse, even though his participation in this GI was a question mark up to a few days ago. Well-bred son of Any Given Saturday could have moved up over the wet, sealed track in Hot Springs, especially when you consider his damsire is Unaccounted For, who loved a track with moisture in it, but he did break his maiden locally in his two-turn debut, which does help alleviate any worry. Tactical sort should be able to lay close to likely pacesetter and favorite California Chrome and get first run on a horse like Candy Boy, which makes him intriguing, but the fact that he could regress off a lifetime best and the wavering by his connections before finally entering dampen the enthusiasm some; mixed signals in this corner.

#4 Big Tire: Recent local MSW winner over ‘Floyd steps way up after posting a nose win and figures to be closest to the big horse to his outside early, which doesn’t exactly strengthen his chances. On the plus side, he is a local two-turn winner and goes for a Glatt barn that has enjoyed a solid meet thus far, but there’s not much more to tout in this corner, especially since he might have to be the one to tangle with ‘Chrome early on. Candy Ride colt is definitely on the improve, but with no edge in figures or race flow, he’s behind the eight-ball against several who are legitimate graded stakes performers; pop and stop seems likely.

#5 California Chrome: Deserving favorite simply ran a hole in the wind when galloping to a 7 1/4-length win in the local GII San Felipe last time, after dueling on the lead early before pulling clear in hand late. Of course, that track was intensely speed-favoring that day (see Game On Dude’s win in the Big ‘Cap later on the card), and it was by far his lifetime best, so there’s a chance that he regresses a bit off such a monster run. But it’s also quite possible that today’s strip could be similar (they always seem to speed up the tracks on these big race days), and he also might be loose on the lead over a group that really doesn’t have a whole heck of a lot of legitimate early speed, and if that’s the case, then he’ll be tough to catch once again. Son of Lucky Pulpit stepped out of the California-bred ranks and blasted open foes last time and goes for a Sherman barn that is hitting at 35% on the year, so with a big edge in terms of race flow over a surface you know he loves, it’s going to be tough to down him, today at least; looks too sharp to deny.

#6 Candy Boy: Stretch-runner will likely be at the mercy of the pace today but on paper looms the main danger to the chalk next door and would certainly benefit if someone feels like attacking the big horse early. Sadler charge is by Candy Ride, so you know he’s bred to run all day, and he showed in his local GII win in the Lewis when last seen in February that he can play with some big boys, as runner-up Chitu won the GIII Sunland Derby for Baffert last month. The obvious drawback is the pace, or lack thereof, not to mention the speedy nature of the track, so while he probably can’t reel in the favorite today, his prospects in Louisville look a whole lot brighter; second-best…today.

#7 Schoolofhardrocks: The wiseguy horse looked awesome winning his debut over the Polytrack at Del Mar last August, then didn’t resurface until the San Felipe, when he basically ran in position the entire way and was a distant fourth behind ‘Chrome. It’s nice to see Hofmans forge on and you know this Rock Hard Ten colt will be a much tighter commodity today, especially judging by those last two snappy works, though obviously this is still a lot to bite off. On the face of it, this is asking a bit too much at this point in his development, but there’s no doubt this is a name you’ll hear again before too long; tabbing for down the road.

#8 Dublin Up: The second maiden in the field was third to ‘Floyd last time out for Miller and just looks like a fish out of water against these. Speedy son of Unbridled’s Song could muddle the pace a bit early on, especially from this nice attack post, but you have to think ‘Chrome will swat him like a fly and go about his business after about five furlongs, which leaves this colt in the “get home safely mode.” Lightly raced runner no doubt took a big step forward last time, but the fact he was 16-1 in a MSW says all you need to know about his chances today; easy toss.

Selections:

#5 California Chrome

#6 Candy Boy

#3 Hoppertunity

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