By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Better late than never, the $400,000 Santa Anita Derby (G1) will be contested on Saturday at
Santa Anita. The 1 1/8-mile Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race has attracted
seven starters, representing some of the most talented 3-year-olds in
Let's dig in and start handicapping!
Friar's Road: Though this $500,000 yearling purchase is
still a maiden, he's knocked heads with some pretty talented runners, including
graded stakes winner Thousand Words and fellow Santa Anita Derby starter
Shooters Shoot. A late-charging runner-up effort over 1 1/8 miles on May 2 at
Oaklawn bodes well for Friar's Road's ability to handle the distance of
Saturday's test, but unless a blazing pace unfolds, a spot on the board might
be the best this stoutly-bred son of Quality Road can hope for.
Rushie: Since stretching out around two turns, this son of hot
young sire Liam's Map has been effective while facing tough company. He was a
little green while claiming a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Oaklawn last month,
but he nevertheless showed tenacity to parlay pace-tracking tactics into a 1
1/4-length triumph over Fountain of Youth (G2) runner-up Candy Tycoon. Rushie
has been firing off fast workouts and picks up high-percentage Flavien Prat (a
29% winner at Santa Anita this meet) for his stakes debut, suggesting he can be
a player for the superfecta.
Shooters Shoot: It's safe to say Shooters Shoot has inherited
the speed of his classy sprinter/miler sire Competitive Edge. Though Shooters
Shoot lost his first four starts, he's since won two straight, wiring a 1-mile maiden
race at Santa Anita (beating Friar's Road by 3 1/4 lengths) before battling to
victory in a 1-mile allowance race at Oaklawn. Shooters Shoot was particularly
impressive in the latter race, out-dueling heavy favorite Blackberry Wine through
fast fractions of :45.87 and 1:09.94 to prevail by a neck. Shooters Shoot figures
to set the Santa Anita Derby pace while breaking from post three and might give
his pursuers an unexpectedly stiff tussle under hot jockey Abel Cedillo.
d'Or: True, Anneau d'Or has failed to fire in two starts this
season, finishing off the board in divisions of the Risen Star (G2) at Fair
Grounds and Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn. But perhaps traveling across the
country doesn't agree with Anneau d'Or, who has yet to run a bad race in
California. A stoutly-bred son of Medaglia d'Oro out of a Tapit mare, Anneau d'Or
showed plenty of talent when dropping narrow decisions in the Breeders' Cup
Juvenile (G1) and Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) last season, falling just short of
a championship title. He continues to train as well as ever and could be poised
for a rebound while staying home in California.
Azul Coast: You can't knock the tenacity Azul Coast
displayed while rallying to victory in the 1 1/8-mile El Camino Real Derby over
the Tapeta track at Golden Gate Fields-the race was wide-open in the stretch,
but Azul Coast put everyone away with a final furlong in:12 flat to win by 1
1/4 lengths. But the race came back slow on the speed figure scales and Azul
Coast was soundly beaten by stablemate Authentic in the Sham (G3) two starts
back, so I'm going to oppose this resolute grinder while returning to dirt and
facing tougher competition.
Honor A. P.: When Honor A. P. produced a huge late rally
to finish second in his debut sprinting 6 furlongs at Del Mar, it was immediately
clear he had the talent to be a real runner. He delivered on those expectations
two months later when stretching out in distance at Santa Anita, where he
dominated a 1-mile maiden race by 5 1/4 lengths.
A hoof issue prevented Honor A. P. from contesting the
Sham (G3), but patient trainer John Shirreffs regrouped and prepared the son of
champion Honor Code for a run in the San Felipe (G2). After rating in fourth
place early on under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, Honor A. P. rallied around
the far turn and stayed on strongly down the lane to finish just 2 1/4 lengths
Considering Honor A. P. was returning from a five-month layoff,
this was a very encouraging performance. He's been cranking out fast workouts
like clockwork since then, including a trio of stiff seven-furlong moves, so I'm
optimistic he'll be primed for a career-best effort in the Santa Anita Derby.
If Shooters Shoot keeps Authentic occupied on the front end, a fitter Honor A.
P. can come surging down the stretch to spring a mild upset.
Authentic: It's hard to knock the undefeated favorite, who
has already used his brilliant front-running speed to record decisive victories
in the Sham (G3) and San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita. Conditioned by nine-time
Santa Anita Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert, Authentic raced very greenly
when crushing Azul Coast by 7 1/4 lengths in the Sham, but was much more
professional in the San Felipe, suggesting he's maturing into a more complete
But Authentic can be a little headstrong at times, and if
Shooters Shoot is intent on setting the pace, Authentic may be placed in the
unfamiliar position of rating off the lead. The 1 1/8-mile distance is also a
slight question mark, since Authentic's pedigree (by Into Mischief out of a Mr.
Greeley mare) is geared toward sprints and miles.
Authentic clearly possesses a world of talent and is a
must-use runner for multi-race wagers. But he'll be a short price in the
betting, so for a win bet, I believe Honor A. P.-who may have more upside-offers
First: Honor A. P.
Third: Anneau d'Or
Fourth: Shooters Shoot
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Santa Anita
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.