The Santa Anita Derby is one of the final stops on the road to the Kentucky Derby, which is now less than a month away. The Grade 1 race is a popular choice for trainers looking to test their horses one last time before Churchill Downs while others are still trying to race their way into the marquee field.
A win in the spotlight race at Santa Anita Park usually bodes well for Kentucky Derby hopefuls. Seven different times a horse has won this race and then proceeded to capture the Run for the Roses. It's a feat most recently accomplished by I'll Have Another in 2012.
The 2014 edition of the Santa Anita Derby certainly features at least a few horses capable of joining that list. Let's check out the complete field for Saturday's race, followed by a preview and prediction as the year's Triple Crown slate starts to come into focus.
|2||Friendswith K Mill||Tyler Baze||20-1|
|3||Hoppertunity||Mike E. Smith||3-1|
|4||Big Tire||Edwin Maldonado||20-1|
|5||California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||6-5|
|6||Candy Boy||Gary Stevens||9-5|
|8||Dublin Up||Kent Desormeaux||30-1|
California Chrome enters as the slight favorite over Candy Boy and Hoppertunity. Those three horses are a step above the rest, at least on paper, and the difference between them is small. The high level of competition is what makes Triple Crown season special.
Last month, California Chrome put together a remarkable display to win the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes. It was run a the same distance (1 1/16 miles) as his win in the California Cup Derby back in January, but he shaved nearly three seconds off his time.
Now the question surrounds whether he peaked too soon or that it's simply a sign of things to come. Trainer Art Sherman believes it's the latter. He was very impressed with his workouts leading up to the Santa Anita Derby, according to BloodHorse.com:
He looked sharp. He galloped out strong, five furlongs in a minute, and three-quarters in 1:13 2/5. All systems are go. His work was super; I was very impressed. I'll get him over there (to Santa Anita), school him in the gate, go through the paddock and then we'll be ready to go.
California Chrome is the winner of three straight, having also captured the King Glorious Stakes to go along with his triumphs in the San Felipe and California Cup. If he puts in another strong performance on Saturday he could get in the conversation for Kentucky Derby favorite.
Candy Boy figures to pose a serious challenge if he continues his recent upward trend.
The colt took four races before he finally broke his maiden at Hollywood Park in November. The signs since that point have been overwhelmingly positive, however, with a second-place showing in the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity and a victory in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes.
His last three races have all been at 1 1/16 miles, but he's dropped his time by more than four seconds and into the same range as California Chrome.
An interesting factor is Candy Boy's need for Kentucky Derby points. Jay Privman of the Daily Racing Form notes he needs a very strong effort today while the other top horses in the race aren't in the same type of desperate situation:
California Chrome, Hoppertunity have enough pts to make Ky Derby. They don't have to bring "A" game. Candy Boy needs pts, needs "A" game.— Jay Privman (@DRFPrivman) April 3, 2014
Hoppertunity is an interesting horse. He didn't take to the track for his first race until January. For the sake of comparison, California Chrome has been racing since last April and Candy Boy made his first start back in August.
Which horse will win the Santa Anita Derby?
He's looked comfortable on the track despite a later start than many of his rivals. He picked up his first win at Santa Anita Park in his second career start before moving right into a pair of Grade 2 races, finishing fourth in the Risen Star Stakes before winning the Rebel Stakes.
The Santa Anita Derby is a turning-point race for him. Either he's going to take another step forward and prove he can compete with the likes of California Chrome and Candy Boy or the lack of experience will leave him behind those two standouts at this stage of his preparation.
As for a potential long shot, keep an eye on Rprettyboyfloyd. He hasn't won a race in three career starts, but he did finish better than Hoppertunity in their debuts back in January and is coming off a third-place result in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes.
How he'll handle the distance and increased level of competition is unknown, but he's flashed the talent necessary to contend.
Prediction: Candy Boy