Santa Anita Derby 2011 Preview: The West Coast's Kentucky Derby Prep Race

First run in 1935, the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby is the premier Kentucky Derby prep race on the West Coast.  Since the first Santa Anita Derby 86 years ago, such great horses as Swaps, Silky Sullivan, Boldnesian, Sham, Winning Colors, Sunday Silence, and A.P. Indy have won this prestigious race.  This Saturday, morning line favorite Premier Pegasus will lead 10 other three-year-old colts into the starting gate to compete for the $1 million Santa Anita Derby purse and a chance to run in this year's Kentucky Derby on May 7th. (Post time 4:37 p.m. PT.)

The last horse to win the Santa Anita Derby and go on to win the Kentucky Derby was the great Sunday Silence in 1989.  But while Santa Anita Derby winners haven't fared well in recent years at Churchill Downs, the race has produced several non-winners that went on to capture glory at Churchill Downs.

  • Giacomo finished fourth in the Santa Anita Derby prior to winning the 2005 Kentucky Derby at odds of 50/1.
  • Real Quiet finished second to Indian Charlie before winning the 1998 Kentucky Derby.
  • Silver Charm won the 1997 Kentucky Derby after finishing second at Santa Anita.

Below is a look at the field for this year's Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby:

1-Offlee Wild Boys (50/1): The morning line odds-maker wasn't too kind to Offlee Wild Boys, assigning this colt the co-highest odds in the field, 50/1.  It's tough to argue with that decision when you consider this gelding struggled against claiming competition just three months ago and has never run in a graded stakes race.  While anything is possible in horse racing, if Offlee Wild Boys wins the Santa Anita Derby the rest of the field should kiss their Kentucky Derby dreams good-bye.

2-Indian Winter (15/1): The first of two Indian Charlie colts in this field (Anthony's Cross is the other), this Jerry Hollendorfer trainee last saw action in the Turf Paradise Derby where he finished third as the odds-on favorite (7/10).  Last summer he finished third in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity and he won the listed San Pedro Stakes in mid-January. 

3-Mr. Commons (12/1): A son of Artie Schiller (a colt that did his best running on grass during his impressive career), Mr. Commons broke his maiden in a downhill turf event at Santa Anita back on Jan. 15.  Following that race, trainer John Shirreffs wheeled him back into to action in an allowance event on the main track in late February and he responded with a solid victory in his first try at two-turns.  Trying to predict how this colt will perform on the dirt is a bit of a crap shoot since his pedigree, top and bottom, is all turf. He has a couple of half-brothers that picked up wins while routing on dirt, but they were fairly low-level races and the rest of his siblings have done all their damage on the lawn.  In a race that could be wide-open, perhaps he's got the ability to spring a surprise.

4-Silver Medallion (9/2): Trained by Steve Asmussen, Silver Medallion won the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields last time out and he's displayed a decent amount of talent in his prior races.  The Santa Anita Derby will be this colt's first attempt on dirt, a big challenge in a competitive field such as this one.  If he's able to pull off the win on Saturday he'll be one of a handful of horses that have won stakes races on turf, synthetic and dirt. 

5-Comma to the Top (8/1): A year ago, when this race was contested over a synthetic main track, a horse like Comma to the Top would be impossible to ignore given his strong record on synthetic surfaces (10-5-1-0).  But this is a new/old era at Santa Anita with the return of the main track to dirt this winter and Comma to the Top has yet to prove himself over dirt. 

6-Midnight Interlude (20/1): A Bob Baffert trainee that's raced three times and finally broke through with his inaugural win last time out at Santa Anita.  He's taking a big jump up in class and his jockey from the last race, Joel Rosario (one of the leading riders at Santa Anita), chose to ride Anthony's Cross in this race.

7-Quail Hill (50/1): Finished well behind Premier Pegasus in the San Felipe (fifth, 10 3/4 lengths back) and was only marginally better in the Robert Lewis on Feb. 12 (third, beaten 4 1/2 lengths).  After breaking his maiden on turf, Quail Hill has struggled to show the same tactical speed that he displayed in his early races.  Trainer David Hofmans will throw the blinkers on for the first time on Saturday but he's going to need more than an equipment change to challenge this bunch.

8-Premier Pegasus (8/5): SCRATCHED DUE TO INJURY

9-Anthony's Cross (6/1): It's a bit of a mystery as to why trainer Eoin Harty decided to wait this long to bring Anthony's Cross back into action; he won the Grade 2 Robert Lewis Stakes on Feb. 12 and has spent the last two months working at Hollywood Park.  A son of former Santa Anita Derby winner Indian Charlie, Anthony's Cross is currently right on the bubble of graded earnings needed to make it into the Kentucky Derby and anything less than a top-2 finish will leave his status for Louisville in limbo.

10-Bench Points (12/1): A third place finish in the San Felipe looks nice on the racing form but his high finish was more the result of the other horses in the race slowing down than him speeding up.  Bench Points normally likes to run up front early on but in the San Felipe he hung a ways back of that torrid early pace. If he's able to get involved in the Santa Anita in the early stages he could have a chance to be in the mix at the wire.

11-Jaycito (4/1): While I'm sure Bob Baffert would have liked to have seen Jaycito win his comeback race in the San Felipe, he certainly didn't embarrass himself by finishing second to Premier Pegasus.  There's still a bit of a question about this colt's ability on dirt as his last two dirt starts were clearly a step below his win in the Grade 1 Norfolk at Oak Tree Hollywood last October.  Recognizing that Jaycito probably needs to be near the lead to have a shot to win this race, Bob Baffert will put blinkers back on after taking them off prior to his last start.

The Pick

The scratch of morning line favorite Premier Pegasus creates a huge void in this year's Santa Anita Derby.  Favortism will now likley fall to San Felipe runner-up Jaycito, but there are as many questions surrounding that colt as the other horses in this field.   

How the pace unfolds in this Saturday's race will go a long ways to determining the ultimate winner.  The San Felipe, a race almost half the Santa Anita Derby field is exiting, produced absurd fractions in the early stages, a situation that seems unlikely to occur again since both of the early pacesetters are absent this time around.  If a more sane pace situation develops, that should shift the advantage to horses like Silver Medallion and Anthony's Cross, since both have displayed an ability to run well while sitting on or near the lead. Anthony's Cross is coming off a bit of a layoff and his races have been a notch below the top contenders this spring, but the 6/1 morning line odds make him an attractive play in a race that could be wide-open.

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