Saturday, April 7, 2012

Drought Report 2012 - Santa Anita Derby

The big one of the meet is finally upon the Great Race Place. The Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby is the local prep for the Kentucky Derby next month. Such past horses as Sunday Silence, Point Given, A.P. Indy and Affirmed have won this race on their way to later greatness. The last horse to win a Triple Crown race after running in the race is dual champion Lookin at Lucky, who finished 3rd in 2010, then went on the win the Preakness. The last horse to run in the Santa Anita Derby and win the Kentucky Derby was Giacomo in 2005, who was 4th in Arcadia before being first in Louisville. It has been 23 years since a horse has won the Santa Anita Derby and gone on to wear the roses, all the way back in 1989 when Sunday Silence pulled the double. That drought is the longest among ANY of the major preps, and the reason this blog calls the search for the Santa Anita Derby winner the "Drought Report". This year's group of ten runners stretch from a grade 1 winner to a horse with just one start.

The favorite is the multiple graded stakes winner Creative Cause. The winner of the last prep for today's race, the San Felipe, he has been on top of the local division for many months. He built off his 3rd in the San Vicente Stakes to win that race. His works since that race have shown plenty of life and that he has plenty of energy in the tank. His pedigree does not suggests that the nine furlongs of the race will be a problem at all. The only member of the field who is guaranteed a spot in the gate come the first Saturday of May due to his significant graded stakes earnings, so that must be taken into account on whether he will be ridden all out for the win. This idea is bolstered by the fact that his trainer Mike Harrington decided to take the blinkers off of him for the first time in his career. Better to experiment now rather than in the biggest race of the year. With the blinker removal, will Creative Cause be further back than normal off the pace.

I'll Have Another shocked the world when he rocked the field in a stylish win in the Robert B. Lewis at 43-1 two months ago. His connections decided that he needed rest to combat the big effort, pointing to this race since the win. He has several solid works, including a dazzling workout in between races on Santa Anita Handicap day. His trainer Doug O'Neill is high on his charge as O'Neill looks for his first win ever in the race. His pedigree suggests that the extra distance will not be a hint of a problem, as his family is filled with stamina-filled types. He needs a decent chunk of graded stakes earnings to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby gate with only $151k in the kitty so far. A first or second would guarantee a trip, but a 3rd place finish ($90k) will lead to a few sleepless nights from worrying.

Bob Baffert fires three bullets in an attempt to add to his record 6 wins in this race with Liaison, Paynter and Blueskiesnrainbows. Liasion is the only one of the three to have any graded stakes earnings whatsoever, and he has enough to have already secured a spot in the gate next month. He has slowly been coming along this year,  rebounding from a poor effort (before he fell) in the Lewis with a decent 4th in San Felipe. He seems to have maybe not progressed from his stellar 2yo efforts, but he will get the chance to change that perception. Paynter has but one flashy start at five and half furlongs 7 weeks ago. He worked mostly across town (usually not a good sign) since the race. This feels like "too much, too soon" for a colt who looks like he has a bright future. The way he acted up while schooling this week leads one to believe he would appreciate the time to grow up mentally. Blueskiesnrainbows comes off a drubbing two months ago in an allowance race won by his stablemate Fed Biz. He appears to be in the race as a pace presence.

The others are Longview Drive ( 3rd in the Sham, lacks a real running style); Senor Rain (distance limitations, pace presence); Midnight Transfer (3rd in San Felipe, working well but has physical make-up of a sprinter/miler) and Brother Francis (Still a maiden, but has over $120k in graded earnings).

This blog thinks that Blueskiesnrainbows and Senor Rain duel on the front end, I'll Have Another earns another great trip and kicks clear turning for home. Creative Cause ends up second, with Liaison and Midnight Transfer fighting for third.

This figures to be a good race, and whomever ends up winning will carry the mantle of the "Drought Breaker" to Kentucky to end the near quarter-century drought. Good luck folks.


  1. Damn, Chris, you nailed it...except for Blueskiesnrainbows hanging in there after a beautiful ride by Joe Talamo. Hope you earned a little something with your wagers...

  2. Mixed thoughts about the quality of the race. I'll Have Another and Creative Cause are obviously quality colts with both coming into the SA Derby off graded stakes wins. The fact they finished 1-2 speaks to a classy race. But the Beyer came back a meek 94 and longshot Blueskiesnrainbows finished only a half length back in 3rd.

    In my opinion, most of the negatives about the race, namely the 94 Beyer and the close finish of Blueskies, was the result of a field of jockeys discounting and almost ignoring Blueskies on the front end. Because Blueskies was such a longshot, the other jocks acted like they could take him at any moment, and that it was only a matter of time before he came back to the field. But this was a dangerous game because they let Blueskies get away with murder; Blueskies was cruising by himself through fractions of 47 and 1:11 that were very slow for a blazing fast surface last Saturday.

    In the end, only Gutierrez and Rosario actually were correct in spotting Blueskies such an easy advantage, as I'll Have Another and Creative Cause were ultimately able to dispose of Blueskies. But they made it so easy for Blueskies that if he was a horse of ANY quality he was going to be right there at the finish. And since the pace was so tepid, particularly for the variant, it didn't matter how fast they finished up, the Beyer wasn't going to be big.

    My guess is that had that been Bodemeister instead of Blueskies, he's not given a 2 length early cushion and a soft pace. With Bodemeister in the field, I'll Have Another is more aggressively prompting the pace, resulting in quicker splits and, ultimately, a faster final time and higher Beyer. Had Gutierrez and Rosario ridden against Blueskies as if he were Bodemeister, they pass Blueskies on the far turn and draw away from him by about 3 lengths. As it was, they simply used Blueskies like a European pacesetter, a nice target at which to make their runs.

  3. After making the above excuse as to why the set-up was the main reason for the mediocre Beyer and the close finish of Blueskiesnrainbows, I still would have liked to have seen I'll Have Another and Creative Cause draw away from Blueskies by a few lengths more.

    Again, Blueskies was absolutely gifted a perfect trip as the other riders treated him like he was a paid rabbit in a middle distance human race. With Blueskies being a half way decent horse, it's not a shock he could hang around and finish fairly decently. And it's not like IHA and CC weren't finishing well; I estimated IHA's final 3 furlongs to be 36.3 and CC's to be 36 flat. To have finished 2 lengths clear of Blueskies would have required a sensational finish. But it was possible.

    The final eighth was run in 12.5. 2 lengths faster would have been 12.1; yes, that's a very fast final fraction, but given how fast SA was last Saturday, it was certainly possible. If IHA and CC finish up in 12.1, they hit the wire 2 clear of Blueskie, and their Beyer is a more respectable 97.

    At least with Creative Cause, I know he can run faster if needed given his 102 Beyer for the San Felipe. IHA's career top is a 96, meaning he was running just about his best in the SA Derby. That's if Beyers have any meaning.

  4. As for the chances of I'll Have Another and Creative Cause in the Kentucky Derby, I think both fit right with the best from other regions.

    The Cali 3 year old contingent is the best it's been in the last 3 years since I returned to live in the Golder State. This is reflected by the fact that horses from out here won the Southwest(both divisions), Rebel, and Arkansas Derby.

    Without a superstar in this crop, there are about 10 horses that realistically could win the Derby, and IHA and CC are certainly one of the 10. Without question, they fit with the likes of Gemologist, Alpha, Union Rags, Take Charge Indy, Hansen, Dullahan, Bodemeister, and Daddy Nose Best.

    There's much to like about I'll Have Another. He has excellent speed yet can rate kindly, has excellent cruising speed and seems capable of carrying this speed as long as needed. Breeding suggests he should be fine up to and past 10 furlongs. Physically, IHA is nicely conformed, well muscled but atheltic with more than a passing resemblance to the great Affirmed. I really like that he seems to have an intelligence about him, something reflected in his ability to follow a rider's instructions and be placed wherever appropriate. I also like that in battling Creative Cause he displayed real gameness and a desire to win races. The Lewis proved he is fast, the SA Derby proved he's tough.

    But I do have reservations about him. First, the fact his connections skipped the San Felipe indicate to me that they have some doubts about his constitution, namely his ability to run 2 maximum efforts within 4 weeks. Bounce is an over-used word, but there's a real possibility he just won't have is "A" game 4 weeks after such a demanding performance. And with only 2 starts in 6 months, does he have the foundation to pull off something he might not be naturally built for?

    Second, I'll Have Another is unproven in national championship races away from California. To win the Derby, IHA must be able to ship and adapt to the Chuchill surface. In IHA's only previous out-of-town experience, he bombed over a sloppy Saratoga surface in the gr.1 Hopeful. Was the poor performance solely the result of the slop, or does the horse not like to ship? One cannot just assume a horse will be able to transfer its talent away from home as the career of I'll Have Another's stable pony, Lava Man, proves.

    Creative Cause has fewer questions hanging around him. First, he has excellent foundation, having run in 3 grade 1 races at 2 and having made 3 starts since late February. Second, he has shown in the last 7 weeks that he can string together solid efforts in a limited time period.

    Then, unlike IHA, Creative Cause is a proven shipper, and has run well in a national/international grade 1. Most significantly, Creative Cause had success shipping to Kentucky and running over the Churchill dirt when he was a close 3rd in the BC Juvenile. That one race indicated he can not only ship but that he can run well at Churchill against elite horses.

    When one combines these factors with his tactical speed, ability to accelerate on the turn(where most Derbys are won), breeding, and the fact he's capable of running a Beyer over 100, Creative Cause is the best Derby hope from California(and that includes Bodemeister).

  5. Chiming in a month later to salute your handicapping of the Santa Anita Derby; Nicely Done!

  6. Don't like the # 19 for I'll have Another. Mario has got to keep him from being over 5 wide on the first turn. If he's 7 or 8 wide on the clubhouse turn, he will lose ground and drop back, and he doesn't have the style to make up a lot of ground. He also can't be carried out wide coming into the stretch; going wide on the final turn is a rally-stopper. If Mario can keep him 4 or 5 wide on the first turn, and he can get a spot about 4 to 5 lengths off the pace, the outside post could be an advantage, and he could be in position to grind down the frontrunners and get the jump on the closers.

    Possible thunderstorms in Louisville wouldn't do the colt any favors either.

    Of the 5 Cali horses(Creative Cause, I'll Have Another, Bodemeister, Liaison, Rousing Sermon), I'm still with Creative Cause.