Derby Doings: The Wood & the Santa Anita Derby

Derby Doings
Volume V- Number 4
Monday, April 4

NEW POINTS SYSTEM MAKES FOR DEEP CONTENTION IN WOOD MEMORIAL & SANTA ANITA DERBY

As Many As 6-8 Runners From The Two Races Likely Headed To Louisville Regardless Of Outcome!

Countdown To The Derby Gets Serious Saturday
With The Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby

Both races are major preps and last year's Kentucky Derby Winner, I'll Have Another, prepped by winning the Santa Anita Derby. I will give you my 1-2-3-4 finisher in each race and including the FULL CARD at each track - 12 races at Aqueduct and 11 at Santa Anita,
Before the preps, Build Bankroll Friday with my Keeneland Opening Day Longshot.

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By the time one gets to the final month and major Kentucky Derby prep races such as Saturday's Wood Memorial from Aqueduct and Santa Anita Derby the environment becomes most analytically challenging and because of that, most financially rewarding.

In the Wood Memorial you have to match up runners such as Verrazano and Vyjack  who based on the Churchill Downs points system are already assured of a spot in the Kentucky Derby with capable must win or at least finish second challengers such as Normandy Invasion, Elnaawi and Mr. Palmer.

On the one hand, trainers Todd Pletcher (Verrazano) and Rudy Rodriguez (Vyjack) are always all about winning, but with qualification in place and the Wood being the final prep, there is always the ace-in-the-hole so to speak that the riders (Joel Rosario and John Velazquez respectively) are fully aware that should some sort of trouble develop within the race, they will err on the side of caution and make certain that they don't ask so much of their horses that they leave the Kentucky Derby on the Aqueduct race track.

On the other hand, Chad Brown (Normandy Invasion), Kiaran McLaughlin (Elnaawi) and Bill Mott (Mr. Palmer) don't have the luxury of using the Wood as further training grounds. Their colts have to give everything they've got just to get to Louisville so that means handicappers and bettors know those runners are all in and the impacting results regarding the first Saturday in May will have to play out as they might.

In California the scenario is similar in the Santa Anita Derby as Flashback and Hear The Ghost are sitting in a great spot regarding Kentucky Derby inclusion while reasonable competitors such as Power Broker, Tiz A Minister, Goldencents and Super Ninety Nine need to go all out for one of two spots.

When looking for deep contention that likely ensures great value a handicapper and/or bettor couldn't ask for a better situation.

So let's start by taking a look at the runners in the two races from the rail out...beginning with the Wood Memorial:

CHRISANDTHECAPPER (30-1)- This outsider defines a sharp difference from the speed filled Santa Anita Derby field I will discuss shortly in that he will very likely set the pace and have little suicidal company as those that have more experience and tactical speed gather behind him. The Jason Servis trained son of First Samurai (Giant's Causeway) does have distance breeding but since he just broke his maiden in career start number four and has never run farther than 6 furlongs and is not a Triple Crown nominee it is difficult to believe that the conditioner has entered here with any purpose other than finding out just what kind of runner he has. 

NORMANDY INVAION (5-1)- Trainer Chad Brown has had a solid 26% meet at Aqueduct and has every right to believe he can cap it off by pulling a Wood Memorial upset. On the one hand, his second in last year's Grade II Remsen Stakes is now viewed as a bit tarnished since winner Overanalyze came up a cropper in the Gotham and other runners from that race have not gone forward. His detractors would only point too his fifth place finish in the Grade II Risen Star last time out but I rather choose to take a positive turn. If you watched the Risen Star then you saw a colt that might easily have been best had he gotten a decent trip. He broke slowly, was 11th, 12th and 10th at the first three calls and at the quarter pole encountered a tough traffic jam. Yet once he got clear he rushed up wide to be beaten just a half length for the whole thing. It was a most impressive run and if the four breezes (three of them bullets) are any indication, he is sitting on the kind of race Brown needs out of him in order to get to Louisville. It wouldn't be a big surprise if he gets it. Javier Castellano (26% at Aqueduct) takes over for Jose Lezcano. 

QUINZIEME MONARQUE (30-1)- The Tom Albertrani trained longshot ships up from Florida following a long series of works over the Palm Meadows training track. His last race was a rallying although unthreatening fourth in the Grade III Palm Beach on the grass. Four of his six races have been on turf, one on a sloppy track and one on a fast track. He is still looking for his second career win and other than his maiden breaker has never hit the board. He does have a race over the Aqueduct main track, but that was a 17 ½ lengths beaten fourth at 42-1 in the Remsen (that same distance behind Normandy Invasion.) He looks to be in very deep.

ELNAAWI (12-1) - You are getting a nice ML price on a colt that has every reason to improve big time in here. He wasn't beaten badly by Vyjack in the Gotham (third by 2 ¾ lengths) and given how lightly he was raced heading into the Gotham showed enough to warrant consideration as a legitimate longshot. It was the third of his career and the first since breaking his maiden on a sloppy Inner Dirt Track 7 weeks earlier. He also ran into more than his share of trouble as he was taken up at the break, bumped soundly and caught in tight quarters shortly thereafter and had to wait until angling out for a strong 4 wide rally. Trainer McLaughlin has worked him three times since that race 5 weeks ago and if his best of sixty eight 5 furlong breeze in :59 4/5 last Saturday is any indication the son of 2007 Derby winner Street Sense wouldn't have to improve much to be a major player.

VYJACK (4-1)- It is hard to argue against a colt that is undefeated at 4-for-4 and at 4 different distances. The son of young sire Into Mischief not only repeated his Grade II Jerome victory two back when he came on to win the Grade III Gotham in his last, but under the designed and capable ministrations of new jockey Joel Rosario (who rode for the first time) switched from early running pressing tactics to a calculated off the pace style. That kind of versatility is what it usually takes to win races such as the Wood Memorial and Kentucky Derby... so far so good. Oh...and what has he done in the morning since winning his first four races? On March 22 he turned in a bullet 5 furlong breeze in :59 flat and last Saturday breezed 6 furlongs over the Aqueduct main track in 1:12 3/5. There is every indication that we'll get the same professional effort we've seen ever since this gelding stepped on a race track, but as always it is necessary to add the obvious disclaimer that with his spot at Churchill Downs already assured and with the likes of Verrazano lined up against him, there is every possibility that he will do just what he needs to do to get what the trainer wants out of the race before moving on to Louisville.

MR. PALMER (12-1)- Under normal circumstances the connections that shipped a horse from Laurel, a horse that needed six tries to break its maiden, even if it did follow that up with a win in a minor stakes (in this guy's case the 100K Private Terms 4 weeks ago) would be thought of as reaching for the stars with hope against hope. In fact, Laurel shippers have not exactly been worthy of backing on this circuit the last few years and this son of Pulpit has never shown the kind of tactical speed or consistent late kick that would conventionally fit him with this kind. But there is one little hang up. This last out winner happens to be trained by Bill Mott...and if Bill Mott bothers to ship back here with the idea that he thinks his colt worthy of testing the big boys, attention must be paid. He is not a toss.

ALWAYS IN A TIZ (15-1)- The Dominick Schettino trained son of Tiznow is tough to diagnose. He did run a decent second to Vyjack back on December 9 in a sloppy 7 furlong 75K overnight Stakes and was beaten just a neck by Will Take Charge when the trainer shipped him to Oaklawn for the Smarty Jones. He remained in Arkansas but turned in a stinker when up the track in the sloppy Grade III Southwest Stakes behind runaway winner Super Ninety Nine (who shows up in the Santa Anita Derby) before returning to New York. He has breezed forwardly since the February 18 Southwest and Schettino changes to Calvin Borel and adds the blinkers. Supporting him in the exotics is not the biggest of risks.

VERRAZANO (4-5)- Is he the horse to beat? Yes! Has he kept the faith by winning easily as the 1-5 and 2-5 favorite in his last two races? Yes! Should you be cautious in taking the expected 3-5 or 4-5 he is likely to go off at despite the presence of Vyjack? Definitely yes! If he wins here, regardless of what transpires in any of the remaining prep races, he will be the Kentucky derby favorite. Trainer Todd Pletcher has a monster under tack. The son of More Than Ready has done everything with ease and has truly never been challenged. Even the caveat that the connections might not want to exert him so much that he is low on gas 4 weeks from now isn't as much a consideration as it generally is simply because he looks to be the kind of runner that could win with a 90% or even 80% effort. The colt has had a couple of sharp enough breezes since his blowout Tampa Bay Derby win and will be once again piloted by hall of fame jockey John Velazquez. It is difficult to find anything wrong...except that 3-5 or 4-5.

GO GET THE BASIL (30-1)- It isn't often that you see a developing colt who has won three of four with the only loss a nose beaten second in a good allowance race get stuck with a 30-1 ML price. It isn't often either that such a runner comes out of the Richard Violette (22% winners at the meet) barn. But that is the number on this son of Andromeda's Hero (by Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus) and given how hard he's fought as he's moved up the latter it isn't easy to disregard him. That being said, he will likely have to try and stay within striking range of expected early send Chrisnandthecapper and then Verrazano, so could easily fall prey to being sandwiched by cheap speed in front of him and the division leader breathing down his haunches. Probably the best assumption is that since the colt is based in New York and not nominated to the Triple Crown, Violette might simply be using the Wood as a measuring stick with the hopes of getting a decent payday with even the most minor o pieces. However, if that does work out, at 30-1 on the morning line he could be an exotic inflation factor.

FREEDOM CHILD (30-1)- A last out maiden winner at Gulfstream park in his fourth career start, about the best thing that can be said regarding the Tom Albertrani trained son of Malibu Moon is that he is one of only four horses in the race to have run the 9 furlong distance of the Wood and one of only two (Mr. Palmer is the other) to have won at the distance. On a minor plus note, his last was easily his best and Elvis Trujillo, who was aboard for the first time then, returns for this engagement. Nonetheless, there seem to be a few other longshots who are further along.

IN CONCLUSION...this is Verrazano's race to lose, but there are a number of possibilities in combination so perhaps the best value will be found with the right contenders in the exotics.

Now let's move to the west coast and take a look at the Santa Anita Derby field in post position order:

FLASHBACK (9-5)- Despite finishing second to Hear The Ghost as the favorite in the San Felipe, the general consensus seems to be that the pace will not be as suicidal this time around. Even Kevin Krigger, the jockey who went head-to-head with Flashback, only to see his colt, Goldencents, who also returns here, has voiced his opinion that the pace will be more moderate. Maybe, maybe not, after all, there was no Super Ninety Nine, Summer Exclusive or even Storm Fighter in the San Felipe, so to this analysts eyeing of the form there is just as much or even more speed this time around. That being said, there is every chance that Flashback moves forward off the San Felipe as that was just his third career start and this will be his third around two turns and third in the form cycle. And although I have often extolled the virtues of Julien Leparoux, Bob Baffert might be making an astute switch here as Garrett Gomez is a patient handler. In addition, the three works since the San Felipe, by Baffert standards, have been quite relaxed, which could mean supreme confidence on the part of the conditioner.

HEAR THE GHOST (5-2)- Sure he benefitted from that fast pace in the San Felipe. But maybe it has as much to do with the probability that the beautifully bred son of run-all-day influence sire Ghostzapper is the real deal. It is also quite germane to the discussion to keep strongly in mind that the smart off-the-pace victory in the mile and a sixteenth San Felipe was just the third race of the Jerry Hollendorfer trained colt's career, first under the guidance of Corey Nakatani and first beyond 6 furlongs. That is a lot of experience to gain so impressively in one race. He worked 7 furlongs twice in race horse time prior to the San Felipe before a half mile lung clearer 4 days out and since his last worked 6 panels in 1:13 3/5 on 3/24 and kept sharp with a five furlong drill 6 days ago. He is lightly raced, travels professionally and with the suspected "addition" of speed in here has every reason to move forward yet again. If there is one hesitancy it is that the colt has likely already earned enough points for Louisville and in the stretch, if he has too much to do, Nakatani might just let him run on his own to pick up a supporting piece, therein keeping him "on edge" for the Kentucky Derby. At the least he is the one runner in the race that is a must use in the exotics.

POWER BROKER (5-1)- One of three of the uncoupled Bob Baffert entrants, the son of Pulpit makes his first start since running 5th in the BC Juvenile in early November. Like Super Ninety Nine (the third Baffert entrant) this guy will have to win, or at least finish second and hope, if he wants to have enough qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby. Jockey Rafael Bejarano had his choice of a number of runners in here and stuck with this guy so that has to be considered a plus. It is also a positive that the colt ran his best career race in winning the Grade I Front Runner Stakes over the surface back in September and has worked well here for the return. The tracking style he showed in his two Santa Anita races could also play well in here, but given the layoff and the competition, it is also very likely that the Baffert/Bejarano connection will deflate the price. That being said, if he is ready he has to be considered for a piece.

TIZ A MINISTER (6-1)- Based on his form it is probably easy to say he'll have the last run...likely from last. In the San Felipe the 40K maiden claim Minister's Wildcat colt certainly looked powerful following Hear The Ghost as he would up a ½ length short of catching the resolute Flashback. I've already spoken to the thought that could be even more speed in here than there was in the San Felipe, with the Caveat being that more speed type runners but at a mile and an eighth as opposed to a mile and a sixteenth, the very real possibility that the pace could be slightly slower. All that being said, he clearly has the most foundation of any in the race (7 tests as juvenile and 3 this year with 8 on-the-board appearances) an as a Triple Crown nominee needs points so you eliminate him at your peril...although 6-1 is a bit short to take on the win end. It is also worth mention that Garrett Gomez, who rode him in the San Felipe, jumped to Flashback.

GOLDENCENTS (6-1)- The Doug O'Neil mania that carried over from I'll Have Another's success a year ago seems to be dissipating and his once top tier Kentucky Derby hopeful is now in a position where he is in a must win-and you're in situation. He definitely got caught up in the san Felipe speed dual, but he collapse and Flashback didn't, so he has a big reversal to accomplish. In a world in which loyalty seems to carry little wait, one can applaud O'Neil for sticking with jockey Kevin Krigger, but as this oft-beaten analyst and many other lifetime bettors know, sentiment does not make horses run faster and when Goldencents pulled early in the San Felipe and was acting "out-of-sorts" the jockey had little answer. The colt's two 6 furlong works since his last are also open to interpretation. After blistering the track prior to his last he has returned to work relatively pedestrian 6 furlong drills. Is that a sign he is regressing or is O'Neill trying to get him to relax. As they say, "you have to pay to find out," and he could be another that gets over-bet.

SUPER NINETY NINE (6-1)- Another son of Pulpit and another Baffert runner, the colt put himself in this must win position by failing miserably as the 6-5 favorite in the Grade II Rebel Stakes three weeks ago. You can be forgiven if you are inclined to chuck that race as an anomaly given his smashing sloppy surface win in the Southwest prior to that and a very impressive fast track mile allowance win here at Santa Anita on January 31. It must be noted that Rafael Bejarano chose Power Broker over this colt (who he has ridden to the last two victories) although Martin Garcia, who piloted him to a win in his debuted is reunited. His two half mile drills and running lines indicate but one thing, he is on or right with the leaders so he takes them as far as he goes. Tough call.

SUMMER EXCLUSIVE (20-1)- There is most likely one known...the son of Elusive Quality will make or press the pace right from the start. On the other hand, the unknowns are multiple. This is his second career start, this is his first versus winners and his first around two turns. In addition, Garrett Gomez jumps to Flashback so the colt even gets a new rider in Edwin Maldonado. Trainer peter Miller has kept after the colt in the morning with a trio of solid drills over the Betfair Hollywood Poly Track so he appears to remain on edge. He seems to have an upside and should improve; how much would be needed against this kind remains the question. He is a deserving longshot.

STORM FIGHTER (20-1)- Long time trainer Bruce Headley optimistically enters the son of Stormin Fever here following a maiden beaked vs California breds at a mile and a sixteenth over this surface in his most recent. That was his first try (in his third career race) around two turns and he seemed comfortable with the distance. The breeding and running style says he'll be with or right off the front runners and that further makes the case for a contested pace. The colt turned in a solid 5 furlong work over the surface in :59 2/5 on Monday (second best of twenty three) so is progressing. But he has a steep hill to climb and the most promising thing on his side might be the fact that returning veteran Gary Stevens has decided to stick with him.

DIRTY SWAGG (50-1)- The outside on the morning line has definitely earned that status. There are occasions where one has to look closely when a horse that hasn't come close in four tries against any level of Stakes opposition and has a maiden win and a third in eight career races enters against this sort of opposition, but given how often trainer Myung Kwon Cho tries to hit the lottery with just one set of numbers it is probably responsible to recommend that if you too look to hit a lottery with a $1 ticket that you bet a $2 saver at the most...just so you can convince yourself that it is the right maneuver...as they say, you can't win it if you ain't in it. This analyst will pass.

IN CONCLUSION...this edition of the Santa Anita Derby seems a bit top heavy with speed types and is also constructed around a number of horses that will be all-in because they need qualifying points and others that will run just as well as needed to stay fit for Louisville. It makes for a challenging handicapping effort...but one that should yield a decent return regardless of the final construction.
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