This year's Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Derby drew a field of six. Two of the sextet, More Ice and Synthesis, appear to be fillers as neither have the credentials to win. However, the other four appear about as evenly matched as they can get so if nothing else, this should be an exceptionally exciting race as we move closer and closer to the first Saturday in May.
Last year's Juvenile Champion Game Winner suffered his first defeat in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes last month but only by a nose and he will likely to go to the gate as the betting choice based on his nearly unblemished record including a win in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile to end his two year old campaign. Instagrand won the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes by 10 lengths last summer but slight issues kept him on the sidelines throughout the fall and most of the winter. When he returned off a seven month layoff, Instagrand ran respectably well to be third in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes last month and he could improve to be a significant factor in the Santa Anita Derby.
Roadster and Nolo Contesto finished first and second, respectively, in an allowance race at Santa Anita last month and both appear to have the talent to win, particularly as both are making their second start off a layoff. Of the pair, Roadster has positive stakes experience as he finished third behind Game Winner last summer in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity, and similar to Instagrand slight issues kept him on the sidelines until his winning effort last month. However, it must be noted Nolo Contesto has the equivalent of graded stakes experience because before being beaten by Roadster, he defeated Omaha Beach, who is Kentucky Derby bound after capturing the Rebel Stakes in his most recent start.
Watching the replay of the March 1 allowance race won by Roadster, with Nolo Contesto checking in second, it was apparent Roadster won with more than a modicum of ease. Jockey Mike Smith, who has ridden Roadster in all three career starts, helped the colt to easily relax in third in the early stages and when asked to change gears at the top of the stretch, Roadster responded nicely to pull away to a two and one-half length margin of victory. Following the strong maiden win last July with a 90 Equibase Speed Figure, Roadster ran even better with a 96 figure effort when third in the Del Mar Futurity. Since the comeback effort earned a new career-best 104 figure and since the Santa Anita Derby will represent his second start following six months off and second race around two turns, another similar improvement makes Roadster the one to beat.
There is no taking away from the accomplishments Game Winner has earned in his five race career. He won four times and missed by a nose in the other, all graded stakes except his debut. In the third start of his career last fall, Game Winner earned a 111 which is pretty much unheard of for a two year old at that time of year. He backed that effort up with a strong two length win in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in November although his figure regressed to 100. However, after four months off and likely a bit short of being 100% fit because of his work schedule being interrupted by suspended training at Santa Anita, Game Winner redeemed himself with a 110 figure last month in the Rebel. Watching the replay of the Rebel, it was interesting to note that Game Winner easily passed three horses on the backstretch to go from sixth to second, but then was asked pretty hard by jockey Rosario to get to leader Omaha Beach. Making no progress for most of the last quarter mile against his rival, Game Winner really picked up the pace in the last few yards and was cutting into the eventual winner's margin with every stride, coming up a nose short on the wire. Therefore, with any improvement second off the layoff, Game Winner could be starting a new winning streak going into the Kentucky Derby next month.
Nolo Contesto stretched out to two turns for the first time in January in his second career start winning gamely to earn a 104 figure. In that race he beat Omaha Beach by a half-length, with the runner-up flattering Nolo Contesto when winning the Rebel Stakes last month. However, Nolo Contesto did not improve in the March 1 race won by Roadster, in which jockey Smith (aboard Roadster) made sure Nolo Contesto was without room to run until it was too late as Roadster had accelerated to draw off by two lengths. However, Nolo Contesto galloped out strongly after the finish to be in front of Roadster and he too can improve in his second start off a layoff, so is not without a chance to win.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is Instagrand (101), More Ice (93) and Synthesis (92).
Win Contenders, in probability order:
New to the Paulick Report? Click here to sign up for our daily email newsletter to keep up on this and other stories happening in the Thoroughbred industry.
Copyright © 2019 Paulick Report.