Brian Nadeau’s Road to the Triple Crown 2019: The Santa Anita Derby

Santa Anita: The GI, $1 million Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 100-40-20-10)

by Brian Nadeau

#1 Roadster (5-2): The first of two from Baffert looked good winning his comeback here last month, when he settled just off the early pace in an optional-claimer and drew off late, in what was his first start at two turns and first in six months. Son of Quality Road has been flying under the radar this year but gets thrown into the fire today, though he was always held in high regard, as he was 3-5 against Game Winner off a dominant debut win when third in the GI Del Mar Futurity, which ended an abbreviated two-race 2-year-old campaign. Expected pace player figures to have the task of keeping Instagrand honest early, though Smith never saw a hot pace he didn’t want to get mixed up in, so he could also be on a send mission early, but either way it means this colt will have to run hard every step of the way, and the gut says that even under ideal circumstances, this 1 1/8-miles trip would be stretching his rubber band a bit thin; making him prove it.

#2 More Ice (30-1): Huge longshot has been doing the turf and synthetic thing since a well-beaten third sprinting on the dirt in his debut last July, and while this son of More Than Ready was a distant third in a pair of stakes in his last two and is bred for the main track, it looks like Hollendorfer entered knowing the field was coming up short; easy toss.

#3 Nolo Contesto (6-1): Lightly-raced son of Pioneerof the Nile has really come to hand since stretching out to two turns in his last two, as he broke his maiden here in January and then stepped up and was a fine second to Roadster while fighting the race flow. Long-striding colt will see a change of circumstances today, however, as the pace—and more importantly the distance—will be a lot more to his liking, in what you have to think was a spot Sadler has been eagerly looking forward to since that run last month. On the face of it, this is a big ask, and the rest of these are already proven in the graded ranks, but there’s a lot of talent waiting to come out here, and today might be the day where it starts showing; expecting a huge run.

#4 Synthesis (30-1): Fellow huge longshot is a one-time winner that has never come close to making a dent in his three stakes tries, and as a son of First Samurai, this doesn’t figure to be a trip he’ll excel at, so, like Hollendorfer with ‘Ice, Papaprodromou is likely here trying to get a small piece in a small field; no shot.

#5 Instagrand (3-1): Arguably the most talented 2yo of 2018 returned in Aqueduct’s GIII Gotham last month in a race he surely needed, got completely run off his feet while forced to chase suicidal fractions, and did well to salvage third while running past six furlongs for the first time, which suggests that he’ll move forward in a big way Saturday. Son of Into Mischief was all the rage last year for Hollendorfer, after he won both his debut at Los Alamitos by 10 and the GII Best Pal at Del Mar by 10 1/4 before being put on the shelf as a happy and healthy horse (at the request of his owner), with the eye on not only a 3-year-old campaign, but reportedly one at 4 and 5, too. Speedy sort should be able to clear here if they want, or sit right off Roadster if that one gets aggressive early, but, like that rival, this trip just seems like it’s going to be a reach, even with an ideal trip, which doesn’t seem in the cards today; not seeing it.

#6 Game Winner (4-5): Reigning 2yo champion and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner saw his undefeated streak end at four in his first start since of the season for Baffert, when he was second in Oaklawn Park’s GII Rebel last month, in what was the better and faster of the two divisions run that day. Oddly, this son of Candy Ride (Arg) might have won more fans in losing than he did in winning any of his 2yo starts, including that championship-cementing win at Churchill Downs, as they were more workmanlike and came over suspect groups, while not overly fast on figures, either, but he showed a lot of fight in the Rebel, while the race flow didn’t work for him, and he was coming on strong at the line while missing by just a nose. Well, the dust has been shaken off for this, the race flow figures to be more to his liking, and the distance should agree with him a lot more than they will for the two that will be setting the pace, so you have to think he gets back on the beam and sets his sights on the twin spires next; imposing favorite.

Game Winner and Joel Rosario at Churchill Downs, winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Photo: Breeders’ Cup Ltd.

 Selections:

#6 Game Winner

#3 Nolo Contesto

#1 Roadster

#5 Instagrand

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