The weekend racing action at Santa Anita in Arcadia, CA will feature the $1 million Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. The Santa Anita Derby has historically been a very important prep race on the road to the Kentucky Derby, and this year figures to be no different. The last winner from the Santa Anita Derby to prevail at Churchill in May was Sunday Silence in 1989, but we’ve had several other horses come from further back in the Santa Anita Derby to prevail in the Kentucky Derby, including 4th place finishers Giacomo (2005) and Charismatic (1999).
Here’s the field, including jockeys and morning line odds:
Yankee Bravo – Alex Solis (4/1)
Signature Move - Michael Baze (30/1)
Cost Guard – Joe Talamo (20/1)
Bob Black Jack – Richard Migliore (6/1)
Colonel John – Corey Nakatani (2/1*)
On the Virg – Tyler Baze (15/1)
Shore Do – Chauntel Sutherland (20/1)
El Gato Malo – David Flores (5/2)
Polonius – Victor Espinoza (10/1)
Meetingwithdestiny – Joel Rosario (30/1)
Rosso Corsa – Alonso Quinonez (50/1)
Earlier in the week this looked like it was shaping up to be a chance to separate the top 3-year-old colts on the California circuit, including Georgie Boy, Colonel John, and El Gato Malo. Then word came that Georgie Boy had pulled a muscle and would miss both the Santa Anita Derby and the Kentucky Derby. Now Bob Black Jack, yet another 3 year old with promise, has chosen to enter into the race after failing to qualify for the Arkansas Derby on April 12.
This looks like a two horse race on paper. Colonel John and El Gato Malo will rightfully take the lion’s share of the action at the betting windows, as they’ve already started to develop fan bases with their previous efforts.
Colonel John is coming off a pair of impressive wins in the Real Quiet Stakes and the Sham Stakes. In fact, he defeated El Gato Malo in the Sham Stakes, and as such is established as the 2/1 morning line favorite. Veteran jockey Corey Nakatani pilots the son of Tiznow, who has made an impression on me by showing a lot of heart in previous races. Perhaps surprisingly, the effort that made the most impression on me was not one of the Colonel’s winning moves. The race that made me stand up and take notice of Colonel John was when he fought through traffic to finish 2nd behind Into Mischief in the CashCall Futurity. It remains to be seen how he’ll handle the dirt of Churchill in May, but he has the look of a legitimate Derby contender about him.
El Gato Malo, aka The Bad Cat, is a 3 year old son of Ell Corredor that is trained by Craig Dollase. He broke the 1 mile track record at Santa Anita by winning the Grade 3 San Rafael Stakes in 1:33.37 on January 12. In my opinion he got trapped along the rail during his duel with Colonel John in the Sham, and that may have cost him the victory. I’ve been saying since January that he’s one of the more interesting colts on the Derby trail.
That being said, bettors would be wise to look a bit deeper into the field as well, as there are some horses here that demand closer inspection – especially if they look sharp in the post parade (or, conversely, if something were to appear to be bothering the top two contenders).
Bob Black Jack is interesting to me as a possible contender here. I have to admit that going into the San Felipe Stakes on 3/15, where he finished third behind Georgie Boy and Gayego, I had thought of him as a pure sprinter and didn’t really give him much of a chance to contend over longer routes of ground. He didn’t win the San Felipe, but he showed he had some guts, and perhaps most importantly a bit more left in the tank turning for home than folks like me were willing to give him credit for. Gayego and him were battling it out while Georgie Boy moved forward off a nearly perfect trip. He’s got lights out speed and will certainly be a pace factor on Saturday.
Yankee Bravo is another horse that I don’t think you can discount. Most recently, the son of Yankee Gentleman was 3rd behind Pyro in the Louisiana Derby. It’s interesting to see him come west after his first dirt try, and you don’t get the sense that trainer Paddy Gallagher came here to compete for place or show money. They’re here to win and see if they can’t qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
Another horse that looks usable to me is On the Virg, who is listed at 15/1 on the morning line. He’s a Todd Pletcher trained son of Pulpit that is exiting back to back wins at Santa Anita. I don’t think he can win today, but he’s a guy I wouldn’t leave off the trifecta.
This is an intresting betting race, even if it may be a bit favorite heavy. I’m going to go out on a limb and figure that El Gato Malo and his connections need this race a bit more than Colonel John – plus it will make for good blogging fodder if The Bad Cat can turn the tables on his rival.
I’ll play El Gato Malo over Colonel John – hoping that The Bad Cat gets a better trip. I’d like to take them both in a dead heat if I could, so if you’ve got the cash I’d cover both of their numbers for the win. In my short tickets I prefer to try and play “beat the favorite” if possible, and I think El Gato Malo has enough of a chance here to warrant such a play. He and Colonel John are just about dead even in my mind – but don’t expect the Colonel to go down without a fight. That’s why I’d still suggest covering him if you can afford to do so.
Underneath I think you have to look at Yankee Bravo and Bob Black Jack, as each could find their way into the exacta. I’ll toss in On the Virg for show in the trifecta. My bare bones ticket would then look like this:
8/ 1, 4, 5 / 1, 4, 5, 6
If you want to really try and pull the upset, take a shot on Yankee Bravo to win, as I suspect you may end up with better odds than the 4/1 currently listed on the morning line.