The Santa Anita Derby has been run, and Bob Baffert won it. If you would have told that to someone at the beginning of the meet, no one would have batted an eyelash at the statement. But if you had told that someone that he would win with a late-developing horse who didn't make his first start until Sunshine Millions Day, you would have been scoffed at as a fool. Furthermore, if you had told that someone that Victor Espinoza, the same Victor Espinoza who Baffert wanted hung from the grandstand after last year's Santa Anita Derby, you would be taken away to the insane asylum for such crazy talk. But yet that is exactly what happened, as the late-developing son of War Chant Midnight Interlude (right) took over in the final strides to win the Grade 1 $1,000,000 Santa Anita Derby.
After the scratches of both blog favorite Premier Pegasus and the other Baffert entrant Jaycito, the race was a wide open affair. Favoritism fell to El Camino Real Derby winner Silver Medallion, who went off at 5-2. He and Robert B Lewis winner Anthony's Cross were still alive for the Preakness 5.5, which would pay $5 million to the owner of any horse who could pull off a trio of wins. Silver Medallion had not run since the El Camino Real, had a change of ownership since the win, but was working well in the interim. Anthony's Cross had not run since the Lewis S., but had thrown bullets in numerous works. He went off as the 3rd choice at 3.30-1. The other buzz horse in the race was Mr. Commons, who had clockers agog with his works over at Hollywood Park after his first-level allowance race in late February. He would go off as the second choice in the race at 3-1.
Comma To The Top went right to the lead, with Silver Medallion sitting a length off. Midnight Interlude sat two lengths off the pace, with another length to Mr. Commons, and one more to Anthony's Cross after the first quarter. Down the backstretch Comma maintained control, with everyone staying about the same distance back from him through moderate middle fractions. As they turned for home, Comma maintained control, with Mr. Commons taking up the chase from Silver Medallion, with Midnight Interlude continuing on on the outside and Anthony's Cross gaining ground. At the wire, Midnight Interlude went by a tiring Mr. Commons and Silver Medallion to finally gun down Comma To The Top, who put in a game effort in defeat. Anthony's Cross finished a disappointing fifth. Bench Points did not lift a hoof finishing 7th.
Now Midnight Interlude must carry around the mantle of The Drought Breaker with him as he goes on to Kentucky Derby the first Saturday in May. He hopes to break the 22 year long drought that has existed since Sunday Silence puled the double back in 1989. He does have some things going for him. His jockey-trainer combo previously won the 2002 Derby with War Emblem. Bob and Victor had a falling out soon after that race, and the relationship hit a low point during last year's Santa Anita Derby, when Victor's mount almost put Bob's Lookin at Lucky over the rail, with Victor coming to blows with Lucky's jockey Garret Gomez. But with many other local jocks already engaged for the race, and Baffert's main jockey Martin Garcia already on derby favorite The Factor (and further engaged to ride Misremembered in the Oaklawn Handicap the same day), Victor had this mount fall into his lap. Now they are riding on a high towards the Twin Spires.
But M.I. has several things working against him, mainly one drought that extends all the way back to 1882. That 129 year gap is the time that has past since a horse won the Derby without a start at two. But if any man can overcome such a curse it is his multiple Derby winning trainer. Hr figured out how to win on synthetics. He figured out how to won stakes across the nation. He figured out how to win Grade 1's with a horse who had only race in 11 months. Surely he can figure a way to break this curse. Another problem is that M.I. pedigree is not the greatest for the 1m & 1/4. His sire War Chant lost the Santa Anita Derby, and was a miler. The damside does provide some additional hope he could get the distance, it does not exactly scream dirt. This blog's honest opinion is that while he is hopeful the drought will end, he doubts that it will happen.
The results of the race had other effects on the Derby situation as well. Comma To The Top's huge effort has caused his trainer Peter Miller to have second thoughts about them not pointing the horse towards the Derby, as they stated they previously would. Neither Silver Medallion, Anthony's Cross nor Mr. Commons likely earned enough money to make the Derby gate, with Silver Medallion having the most cumulative earnings among the three with a little more than $184k. If Comma To The Top does not go, as this blog hopes he does due to his slim chances and his draining effort in the race, the Santa Anita Derby will most likely have only one representative in Midnight Interlude.
So once again Baffert wins the big race of the meet, but this time under some less than Baffert-like circumstances. Midnight Interlude will carry the flag for southern California, and with it the hopes that the drought will finally be broken. Can he do it? We shall see come the first Saturday in May.