Lady and The Track | September 25, 2023

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Six For Santa Anita Derby

By Margaret Ransom

The field of six for Saturday’s Runhappy Santa Anita Derby (GI), which traditionally serves as the Golden State’s final and most significant Kentucky Derby (GI) prep, has been set and again in its traditional spot four weeks out from the Run for the Roses, which will be held on May 7 this year. Two years ago, the Southern California track’s feature race was postponed for two months to early June after the Run for the Roses in Louisville was pushed back four months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but was back on the first Saturday in April last year where Rock Your World punched his ticket to the big dance.

Once again, the race offers Road to the Derby points to the top-four finishers on a 100-40-20-10 scale, which means the winner and quite possibly even the second-place finisher will gain an automatic spot in the gate for this year’s Derby. And even though the race’s purse has been dropped to $750,000, down from the $1 million on offer over the past decade, it still drew a field that packs a significant talent punch.


Messier. File Photo

The main event, which has been carded as Saturday’s 6th race, will go off at 2:45 p.m. PT. This year the local weather calls for dry conditions with continued warm temperatures from earlier in the week, with afternoon highs hovering at about 85 under mostly sunny skies.

In 2018, a lightly raced son of Scat Daddy named Justify made just his third career start and his stakes debut in the Santa Anita Derby and won by three widening lengths, all en route to becoming horse racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner. In 2014, eventual two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome won Santa Anita’s top prep before wearing the garland of roses in Louisville, and in 2012 I’ll Have Another also won, joining the list of past winners of both races that is made up of nothing but Hall of Famers – A.P. Indy, Sunday Silence, Winning Colors, Affirmed, Majestic Prince and Swaps.

Other notable names to have started or won the Santa Anita Derby include Pioneerof the Nile, Point Given and Free House, as well as off-the-board runners Silver Charm, Giacomo and many more. Exaggerator romped to a 6 ¼-length victory in the slop in 2016 before finishing second in the Derby and capturing the Preakness Stakes (GI) and four years ago the race would be the last career win for the John Shirreffs-trained Gormley, whose first crop were eligible for the Derby this year. Two years ago, Shirreffs saddled his third Santa Anita Derby winner in Honor A.P., who currently is standing his secnd season at stud at Lane’s End farm in Kentucky.

Since first contested in 1935, a total of 11 Santa Anita Derby winners – Hill Gail (1952), Determine (1954), Swaps (1955), Lucky Debonair (1965), Majestic Prince (1965), Affirmed (1978), Winning Colors (1988), Sunday Silence (1989), I’ll Have Another (2012), California Chrome (2014) and Justify (2018) — went on to wear the garland of roses in Kentucky, with Affirmed and Justify representing two of the exclusive club of 13 Triple Crown winners. Overall, the race has produced 19 Derby winners.

Not surprisingly, Hall of Famer Bob Baffert has saddled a record nine winners, including Roadster three years ago, Justify, Dortmund (2015), Midnight Interlude (2011), Pioneerof the Nile (2009), Point Given (2001), General Challenge (1999), Indian Charlie (1998) and Cavonnier (1996). This year he sends out a talented pair in Medina Spirit and Defunded.

Retired Hall of Famer Gary Stevens has booted home a record nine winners – Winning Colors (1988), Mister Frisky (1990), Personal Hope (1993), Brocco (1994), Larry the Legend (1995), Indian Charlie (1998), General Challenge (1999), Point Given (2001) and Buddy Gil (2003).

Three horses share the fastest time of 1:47 for the nine-furlong distance – Lucky Debonair (1965), Sham (1973) and Indian Charlie (1998).

The field for this year’s Runhappy Santa Anita Derby, in post position order with jockeys, trainers and morning line, is:

1. Happy Jack, Abel Cedillo, Doug O’Neill, 20-1
Oxbow—Tapitstry, by Tapit

2. Armagnac, Drayden Van Dyke, Tim Yakteen, 20-1
Quality Road—Kitty Wine, by Lemon Drop Kid

3. Forbidden Kingdom, Juan Hernandez, Richard Mandella, 6-5
American Pharoah—Just Louise, by Five Star Day

4. Messier, John Velazquez, Tim Yakteen, 4-1
Empire Maker—Checkered Past, by Smart Strike

5. Win the Day, Umberto Rispoli, Doug O’Neill, 20-1
Midshipman—Sunrise Bay, by Jazil

6. Taiba, Mike Smith, Tim Yakteen, 4-1
Gun Runner—Needmore Flattery, by Flatter


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