Remember my blog post last week when I wrote it might take $150,000 to make the Derby? Well, that might need to be revised. Here is the current graded earnings list. While at least four in the top 20 are not pointing toward Churchill, it still looks like it may take at least $150,000, and maybe as much as $180,000 or more to get in the starting gate.
There are still six important preps remaining (if you count the Lexington Stakes), and if there are a couple more upsets in those, there could be some very talented and high-profile horses left out. The plot thickens...
Let's take a quick look at the big 3 this weekend. At the very least, we should know who the favorite for Derby 136 will be after Saturday:
Only a field of six in here but four of them are top notch. The race is being billed as a showdown between Eskendereya and Awesome Act, and it may very well come down to those two, but I also look for a big run from Schoolyard Dreams.
I would like to be able to pick against Eskendereya, who will almost certainly be an odds-on choice, but I just can't do it. He looks too tough in this spot. He has had a full six weeks off since his Fountain of Youth romp and has trained very well since then. He should get a perfect set-up from the inside horse, Most Happy Fella, who should provide some pace. Eskendereya needs to get some additional earnings, and while a third-place finish will likely get him in the Derby, Pletcher won't play any games. He is in this race to win.
Awesome Act was explosive in the Gotham and it would be no surprise if he ran another big one. But I'm going to take a chance that he bounces a bit off that race, as many Euros do in their second start off a layoff. I'll use Schoolyard Dreams instead. He ran a winning race in the Tampa Bay Derby, showing a big turn of foot to gain the lead. Derek Ryan chose the Wood over the Illinois Derby, which was a bit of a gamble, but he was able to secure top New York rider Ramon Dominguez--a huge bonus. He had a very sharp work on Sunday, posting four furlongs in :46 4/5.
Jackson Bend wouldn't be a shocker to finish in the top two either, but you have to take stand somewhere. I'm not sure he wants to go this far.
Eskendereya/Schoolyard Dreams exacta box.
Santa Anita Derby
The angle I've been hearing from many is that they will take a stand against Lookin At Lucky in this spot because they don't feel Baffert will have him fully cranked. It's a legitimate angle and I wouldn't be surprised to see him finish second or third as the 3-5 choice. That being said, I'm not confident enough in any of the others, so I'll go the exotics route.
The horse I like to improve the most is Setsuko, who ran second to Alphie's Bet by a couple lengths in the Sham. It was the stakes debut for the son of Pleasantly Perfect and he was closing well. He shows a bullet work on Wednesday and gets Bejarano back while making his third consecutive start at this distance. He needs to improve, but at a price of likely 10-1 or more, I'll take my chances.
I also like Carcortado to run well. He closed well into a slow pace in the San Felipe last out during a wide trip. He should enjoy the added sixteenth of a mile and he better because the gelding likely needs at least a third-place finish to make the Derby.
Thomas Baines is my longshot to fill out exotics. It's just a hunch bet, but I liked his optional claiming win over this track on March 3. He failed in his only other try at 1 1/8 miles, but maybe he can improve and get a piece at a huge price. I'm gambling that Sidney's Candy will tire and Alphie's Bet will regress.
I like the second choice here, American Lion. The well-bred WinStar colt make his first start on dirt after disappointing in his last two in California. The connections think that may make the difference. I like him more than anything because he will likely be on or near the lead in a race with little pace. We have seen horses wire the field often during recent runnings of this race.
Backtalk is the morning-line favorite and could certainly run a big race. But his work on March 25 was enough to scare me away: six furlongs in 1:09.60--which was almost as fast as the stakes winner a couple days later. Not usually a good sign.
Yawanna Twist will also be included in my exotics, as will longshot Game Ball, who won an optional claimer impressively at Tampa Bay on March 5 despite a bad start.
Good luck to everyone this weekend. Who do you like?