100 points for the Kentucky Derby are on the line, but there’s so much more at stake in the Santa Anita Derby. On paper, it’s a two-horse race. And those are two sensational horses this time of year. I’ll take a look at the two super-contenders and then also look to see if any horse has a decent chance at an upset.
Justify has zero points and needs them to qualify for the Derby. That shouldn’t be a problem, as second-place seems the floor for this lightly-raced Baffert trainee. He’s been lightning fast in his maiden and first-level allowance — triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure fast and untouched with wins of 6 1/2 and 9 1/2 furlongs (which honestly could have been more.) His main knock? He didn’t race at 2 and the “curse of Apollo” is in effect. No horse has won the Derby unraced at 2 since Apollo since 1882. We’ve seen a bunch of curses and “never-happens” fall in sports this decade, so perhaps it’s time for this one to go as well. But that’s not really an argument. The stronger argument is the blazing speed. I’d be more likely to see him make the Kentucky Derby and freak out there due to lack of experience, as opposed to having a bad day today in a field of 7 at his local track. Mike Smith retains the mount for the stakes debut.
Bolt D’oro still has the best name on the trail, but, of course, that’s meaningless. But it’s still a very cool name. He was put-up as the winner against a very good horse in McKinzie in the Grade II San Felipe. He came back just as good as he was last fall and ran his record to 4 wins from 5 starts, with the only loss in the BC Juvenile. He has an experience edge over Justify, having run in exclusively graded stakes (3 G1’s) since breaking his maiden. He’s fast, but Justify may be a bit faster. Javier Castellano retains the mount and he’s as good as a jockey as you can get.
The rest of the field is significantly slower, with maidens in Jimmy Chila and Orbit Rain. Core Beliefs just broke his maiden, but it was on the front end on a slow pace — the weakest type of maiden win. Pepe Tono is too slow to win, absent improvement from a win less than a month ago. The one experience exception is Instilled Regard, who while slower than the top two, won the Grade III Lecomte at the Fair Grounds. But then he finished fourth in the Grade II Risen Star and did not contest the Louisiana Derby. If there’s going to be an upset, it will be Instilled Regard, but he’d need to improve off the February win and have the top 2 not fire. 10-1 seems fair and it’s possible you might get that price with money pouring in on the top 2.
Analysis: It is Justify’s race to lose. He’s fastest and the lack of experience shouldn’t hurt him today and much as it would in Kentucky. There’s not much you can do with 4/5 (may be 2/5) except play it through a Pick 4. It should be a good race to watch as we see what Justify (or Bolt D’Oro) can do. Finally, Keep an eye on Instilled Regard’s price — 10-1 or better should represent some value in an otherwise valueless race.