Road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby – The Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby – By Eric Solomon

The top Derby Prep race on the West Coast drew a field of nine runners. After a few Southern California preps early on that were Baffert centric, it’s interesting to see that only one of his former runners, National Treasure, is entered in this $750K contest. Practical Move seems to have put it all together, winning back to back graded stakes races in Southern California. He’s the morning line favorite in this spot today.

Historically, this has been an important stop on the road to Louisville. Winning Colors, Sunday Silence, I’ll Have Another, California Chrome, and Justify, all won this race before winning the Kentucky Derby. Gato Del Sol, Ferdinand, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, and Giacomo weren’t fortunate enough to win the Santa Anita Derby, but they all used this race to help them prepare to win the Kentucky Derby. 

Post time for this race is 2:43 (PT), which has this race being the second of three Derby Points races of the afternoon across the country. 

Santa Anita Park, Saturday 4/8/23, Race 6: The Grade 1 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby

200 Total Derby Points (100/40/30/20/10)

1 – I Don’t Get It (20-1 ML): Doug O’Neill and Reddam Racing won this race with I’ll Have Another back in 2012 and they’re looking to do the same 11 years later with this Cloud Computing colt who graduated from the maiden ranks with a solid ¾ length victory last month. He’s put three nice efforts together in his first three starts, finally breaking through in his most recent try. If you like playing longshots, he is the most appealing of the longer priced runners by a decent amount. I think the short priced runners are better at this point though. 


2 – Dazzlemesilver (50-1 ML): This Tapwrit colt is coming off a third palace finish behind I Don’t Get It in maiden special weight company in his last start. He’s finished third in both career starts, making him the only maiden runner in this field. While his effort was decent last out, I think he’d have to take a massive jump forward to win this race today. 


3 – Geaux Rocket Ride (3-1 ML, 17-1 Circa, 25-1 Westgate):  He’s one of two horses making only their third career start in this race. His debut was tremendous, crushing a maiden allowance field when going six furlongs. He followed that up with a respectable second place finish behind Practical Move in the San Felipe. He’s clearly a talented colt that probably has the highest ceiling in the field. However, from a physical standpoint, I’ll need to see that he’s matured enough over the last month to be able to go toe to toe with Practical Move. He’s had three works since their last meeting, where I do think it’s fair to say that Practical Move had the better trip. I think drawing inside should give him better early position than he had last time out when breaking from post six. He’s the logical alternative and if the price moves up on him, I could be more inclined to take a chance. I’ll be watching him closely in the paddock to see if he looks more fit than he did in his last start.


4 – One in Vermillion (50-1 ML): He ran two weeks ago in a rather unremarkable running of the Sunland Park Derby. He acted up badly prior to the running of the race, and was never really a factor that afternoon, finishing a dull 5th. I haven’t seen enough from him to recommend playing him in a spot like this. 


5 – Practical Move (8-5 ML, 10-1 Circa, 18-1 Westgate): Watching the replays back from the Los Alamitos Futurity and the San Felipe, I was impressed at how much bigger and stronger he looked for his three year old debut. He raced five times as a two year old, earning his first victory via disqualification here in October. He broke slowly in the Bob Hope Stakes going ⅞ of a mile at Del Mar, but he was still able to finish a decent third behind Bob Baffert’s Havanameltdown and Newgate. He was much sharper at Los Alamitos when earning his first graded stakes win. Yakteen gave him a few months off and brought him back in the San Felipe where he was not getting much respect from the betting public. He had a great trip, stalking the leaders from 4th, and he was left with an easy opening when Hejazi floated wide off the turn. He assumed command and was not able to be caught. My knock on this horse is his potential distance limitations. His sire, Practical Joke, was a three time Grade 1 winner, all coming in one turn races. He never won a race at two turns, but he was competitive in races like the Blue Grass and the Haskell. His dam did all of her work on the turf, winning her four races at 1 mile or 1 mile and 1/16. He’s the first foal from the dam Ack Naughty, who was sired by Belmont winner, Alfleet Alex, so perhaps that could be the stamina influence he needs. He looked so much more physically developed than his rivals last time out, especially Geaux Rocket Ride, and I think that is what is going to keep the train rolling for him today.


6 – National Treasure (3-1 ML, 14-1 Caesars, 40-1 Circa): After an impressive maiden victory in his debut in September at Del Mar, he came back to lose twice to his stablemate, Cave Rock, in the American Pharoah Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. I thought his effort in the Juvenile was solid, finishing third despite a wide trip from his outside draw. However, I thought his effort in the Sham in January was thoroughly disappointing. He was beaten by both of his stablemates, Reincarnate and Newgate that day, never really looking like a winner. At this point, I think both Practical Move and Geaux Rocket Ride are better than the duo he lost to in January, and Skinner might be in that conversation as well. He was moved to the Yakteen barn in time to earn Derby Points for the San Felipe Stakes last month, however he was a vet scratch that afternoon. I don’t like it when a horse’s schedule is disrupted this time of year, because ultimately, the Derby is the Derby and there is a specific timeline to get a horse ready for that. John Velasquez will be riding once again, but I’m not getting good vibes from this one here. He’ll be the shorter price that I’m trying to beat outright. 


7 – Skinner (4-1 ML, 45-1 Circa, 60-1 Westgate): He’s a horse that has come back much stronger and much more competitive from what we saw from him as a two year old. Expectations have always been high as he was entered in two Grade 1 races while still a maiden last year. He was no match for Cave Rock in the Del Mar Futurity or the American Pharoah, finishing a distant third at Del Mar, and fading badly here in his last race as a two year old. Shirreffs gave him some time to get right, and he looked very professional when breaking his maiden here in February. That effort was good enough to earn him a spot in the starting gate for the San Felipe Stakes last month. He broke at the back of the pack and settled down along the outside of horses. He made a nice move on the turn, but appeared to have trouble switching leads while trying to sustain that bid. Watching his last few races, it appears that Victor Espinoza rides him to intentionally keep him on the outside. I’m not sure he’s good enough to concede the ground loss without there being a breakneck pace in front of him, and that doesn’t feel likely today. He feels like a horse that will get better as the races get longer, but I think being in the bottom of the vertical exotics is the most likely outcome today.


8 – Mandarin Hero (8-1 ML, 125-1 Circa, 60-1 Westgate): The Japanese invader in this race is an absolute wild card. He won his first four starts as a two year old in Japan, ending his season with a win in the Haiseiko Kinen Stakes going one mile in November. He returned in the Kumotori Sho Stakes in February, going this nine furlong distance. He was moving well late, but came up just short. The Equibase speed figures for his Japanese races have him a little bit behind the top contenders here. The way Japanese horses have performed recently on the global stages will be enough to keep his odds lower than what feels like should be the fair market value. At odds of 15-1 or higher, I’d be willing to get involved, but at 8-1, or possibly lower, I’m not willing to take that chance.


9 – Low Expectations (30-1 ML): I thought he represented great value going off at 21-1 in the Sunland Park Derby two weeks ago, and he ran well enough to finish second behind a massive longshot, Wild On Ice. He had a great trip and had every opportunity to pass that one, but the reality is that he simply wasn’t good enough. While he is a perfect 2-2 on this oval, I don’t see him improving enough in two short weeks to be able to beat this group. 


The Verdict: 5-3-7

I’m playing this race, expecting the same result as what we saw in the San Felipe Stakes last month. I think Practical Move (#5) is adaptable to whatever the pace scenario is, and right now, he’s just better than his eight rivals in this spot. I’ve been siding against him in his last two Derby Prep races, so perhaps I’m too late to the party today. While the pedigree suggests there could be distance limitations, nothing I’ve seen on the racetrack supports that notion. My hope is that the odds on National Treasure (#6) come down a bit, maybe offering a bit of value on this runner. However, short price or not, I think he’s the most likely winner.


Geaux Rocket Ride (#3) could wind up being the most accomplished runner in this field when we look back on the careers’ of these nine horses. However, I didn’t love his race in the San Felipe last time out. Yes, it was his first start at two turns, so it definitely was a learning experience. However, he never really made a significant run for the lead, and once he got clear, he was never gaining ground on the winner. When looking at Practical Move and Geaux Rocket Ride on the racetrack, Practical Move was physically superior last month. A lot can change in a month with these horses, so if he looks stronger and more fit in the paddock and warming up, I’d consider playing him more prominently. 


I’m not comfortable taking any kind of short price on National Treasure (#6) in this race and I’m not sure there’s going to be enough pace signed on for the Japanese invader, Mandarin Hero (#8) to do what he wants to do. That leaves me to come back to Skinner (#7) as my underneath horse. He’s a larger horse that takes a while to get going. Espinoza has intentionally kept him outside of horses in all of the races that he’s been on board. He’s definitely a better horse than he was in the fall, but there’s still a lot missing from his game that he’ll need to find if he’s going to emerge from this race victorious. 


We’ll have coverage of every North American Derby Points Race, along with plenty of coverage leading up to the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6th, 2023. Current futures odds from Circa,  Caesars-William Hill, or Westgate will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.

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