by Brian Nadeau of Horseplayer Now and Capital OTB TV.
Santa Anita: The GI, $1 million Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points 100-40-20-10)
#1 Denman’s Call (15-1): The potential inside speed stretches out off some fast-paced local sprints and likely has to go from the rail here to maintain his position, so right off the bat you know he’ll have a major say on the complexion of the race. Son of Northern Afleet starts for a O’Neill barn that has this year’s Kentucky Derby favorite in Nyquist, and with today’s expected favorite and potential Derby threat Danzing Candy in here and expected to show a ton of speed, don’t be surprised if the instructions are to send aggressively to see just what this so far one-dimensional runner is made of. It’s tough to think that this lightly raced gelding can make a dent with these, especially after failing at 2-5 when second last month to fellow rival Iron Rob in the San Pedro, but you could argue that he’s the most important entrant in the field, based on his post and early speed; may make life difficult on the chalk before fading.
#2 Exaggerator (4-1): Thought that this beautifully bred son of Curlin ran great behind today’s two favorites in the local prep, the GII San Felipe last month, as he actually tried to win the race with a sharp, aggressive, sustained inside move from the back of the pack on the backstretch through the far turn, and that ultimately cost him second when Mor Spirit re-rallied late. Well, we’ve already hinted that the race flow could be a lot different today, as Danzing Candy may not get loose and free-wheel on the lead like he did in the San Felipe, which should only aid this stalker’s rally in the lane. And don’t forget, he gave Nyquist a nice tussle before relenting off the far turn when second in the local GII San Vicente to kick off his campaign in February for trainer Keith Desormeaux, and that run looks pretty darn sharp after the champ threw down an imposing gauntlet last weekend in winning Gulfstream Park’s GI Florida Derby for fun; love his chances in here.
#3 Danzing Candy (9-5): Heavy-hitter certainly had things his own way when he wired the San Felipe, but give him credit, too, because he went :46 for the half and that’s racehorse time, and he sure wasn’t stopping late en route a two-length win. The hard part will be backing it up today, for a few different reasons, one being distance, as he has to travel a half-furlong farther, and two being race flow, as he may encounter pressure on the lead from both his inside and his outside. Sise has done a masterful job handling this son of Twirling Candy so far, and the path to the winner’s circle goes through him, especially if the track is catering to early speed as it tends to do on big days and as it did on San Felipe (Big Cap) Day, but he’s yet to prove that he can be hooked early and get the job done late, so taking a short price on top to find out doesn’t seem too prudent; second-best.
#4 Mor Spirit (8-5): The third of four exiting the San Felipe ran an odd race, as he was up close early and ahead of Exaggerator, fell back and behind him off the far turn, and then re-rallied late for second, while no threat to Danzing Candy in the lane. So beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as fans will argue that he was just hitting his best stride, while detractors will say that he only passed a tired horse that tried to win, while this son of Eskendereya was a beaten horse and only picked up the pieces. But regardless of your stance, that wasn’t a very inspiring run, and not in line with what he did in winning the GI Los Alamitos Futurity in December and GIII Robert Lewis here in February, so even though Baffert is calling the shots and, like the pick, this colt could really benefit from a much better race flow this time around, the gut says that he may have been exposed a bit last time; not buying into the hype.
#5 Smokey Image (15-1): Well, those looking for California Chrome Part II left the San Felipe majorly disappointed, as this Cal-bred son of Southern Image saw his unbeaten streak end at six when he got beaten up pretty good while finishing fifth, some 18 3/4 lengths behind Danzing Candy. It’s nice to see Gaines come right back and try again, and if you still believe you may get upwards of 10 times the 3-1 he was last time (you might want to demand it before playing), so that’s reason to string along if he’s for you. But the reality of the situation is that all those slow-figure Cal-bred stakes wins aren’t scaring any of the fringe players in here, much less the big guns; needs softer to bounce back.
#6 Iron Rob (12-1): Aforementioned San Pedro winner was actually ahead of Denman’s Call last time and still held on nicely late, so he’s another that could add some fuel to the early pace fire, especially with this nice outside attack post. And while that doesn’t exactly endorse the winning chances for this son of Twirling Candy, it does potentially throw another monkey wrench in the plans of Danzing Candy, who could find himself in a pace sandwich if doesn’t break on top. Papaprodromou is having a banner year and he’s got a talented runner here, but when you see those nine dirt sprints to start his career, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to surmise that they aren’t exactly in love with this colt’s ability to negotiate a distance of ground; pace player, nothing more.
#7 Dressed in Hermes (15-1): Longshot was a well-beaten fourth to Mor Spirit in the Lewis and has proven time and again that he’s a much better horse on the turf, which was evidenced by his stakes win in the Pasadena over the local lawn last month. If nothing else, this son of Hat Trick (Jpn) has a nice closing gear in a race with plenty of early pace, but Armstrong has said that she is just using this as a prep for a Kentucky Derby Day turf stakes, which further dilutes his chances. So that, on top of the fact that he was already soundly beaten by Mor Spirit and has to deal with two more tigers today as well, doesn’t make him the least bit attractive; needs the green to flourish.
#8 Rare Candy (30-1): Hofmans charge is the third son of Twirling Candy (the Uncle Mo of Triple Crown prep sires of the West Coast?) in here but clearly the longest of the trio, as he hasn’t made a dent in a pair of graded dirt starts and enters off a modest second in a local optional claimer last month. Tactical sort does start as a first-time gelding, and the ultimate equipment change had been known to bring about some serious improvement in a horse, so maybe he has that going for him. Respect this barn and the major upsets it has pulled on the national scene in the past, but this gelding doesn’t figure to add to that resume; would be a shocker.
#9 Diplodocus (30-1): The longest of the longshots returns to the dirt for the first time since running sixth in a MSW at Del Mar in November, which was two spots better than his eighth-place finish in his debut sprinting here in October, so you know he’s in for a long day at the office in this tough GI. Son of Sky Mesa woke up a bit when a decent fifth over the Tapeta in Golden Gate Fields’ GIII El Camino Real Derby when last seen in February, so maybe he’s going in the right direction. If this falls apart he could pass a few, but that would only get him to about seventh-best in here; can’t see him making a dent.
#10 Uncle Lino (20-1): The last of the San Felipe quintet to come back got no help from the draw, as he figures wide every step of the way, especially when you consider all the tactical speed he has. Sherlock takes the blinkers off this Uncle Mo colt in the hopes of getting him to settle a bit better early on, as he pressed Danzing Candy early before tiring to finish fourth, beaten some 10 lengths, which is a big chasm to overcome today. There’s talent here, as evidenced by that fine second to Mor Spirit in the Lewis, but from this disadvantageous post in a race with plenty of hitting early, he looks up against it; limiting his use to the bottom of the exotics, if at all.
#3 Danzing Candy
#4 Mor Spirit
#10 Uncle Lino