With the upset of Union Rags last weekend in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, many racing pundits including myself have Creative Cause as the #1 contender heading into the Kentucky Derby next month. There is one more obstacle in the way of the gray Giant’s Causeway colt, the $750,000 Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.
Santa Anita Derby (G1) – $750,000 – 1 1/8 miles – Dirt
1. Creative Cause (KY) – Joel Rosario – 122 – Mike Harrington
2. Liaison (KY) – Rafael Bejarano – 122 – Bob Baffert
3. Holy Candy (KY) – Alonso Quinonez – 122 – John Sadler
4. I’ll Have Another (KY) – Mario Gutierrez – 122 – Doug O’Neill
5. Longview Drive (KY) – Russell Baze – 122 – Jerry Hollendorfer
6. Paynter (KY) – Martin Garcia – 122 – Bob Baffert
7. Senor Rain (IN) – Eswan Flores – 122 – Peter Miller
8. Midnight Transfer (KY) – Mike Smith – 122 – Carla Gaines
9. Blueskiesnrainbows (VA) – Joe Talamo – 122 – Bob Baffert
10. Brother Francis (KY) – Garrett Gomez – 122 – James Cassidy
Creative Cause is a multiple graded stakes winner, coming off once of his most impressive wins in his brief career. His defeat in the four horse field San Vicente Stakes on February 19 was not taken too seriously as it was a four horse field going seven furlongs. It was more of a tune up for his next start, the San Felipe Stakes (G2). The San Felipe was 1 1/16 miles, included a field of 10 horses with a mixture of speed and come from behind horses. The Mike Harrington trained colt was perfectly set back off the leaders by regular jockey Joel Rosario. Bodemeister and American Act battled on the front end until the latter started to fade. Bodemeister was set to dig in and challenge the late charge by Creative Cause. It looked as if he was going to be able to do so, but Rosario rode aggressively but patiently and allowed his colt to do the rest on his own. Creative Cause would win by 3/4 lengths notching his third career graded stakes race. Last year, he won the Best Pal Stakes (G2) at Del Mar and Norfolk Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita. This colt is battle tested and proved that he can win when pressed. He will be very tough to beat come Saturday afternoon.
Was the victory in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G2) a fluke for I’ll Have Another or is this colt for real? That is the question heading into this contest. The Doug O’Neill trained horse won his debut last July at Hollywood Park, then followed it up with a 2nd to Creative Cause in the Best Pal a month later. He was then shipped across the country in an interesting move that saw him run in the Grade 1 Three Chimneys Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. He didn’t get out of the gate well and was never a factor. We didn’t see him race again until the Robert B. Lewis on February 4. Five months between races. No respect given to him upon his return as the betting community had him as the longest shot on the board at odds of 43 to 1. He sat off the leader Isn’t He Clever until the far turn. He took over the lead as they turned for home and he ever looked back. He won under a ride by Mario Gutierrez, 2 3/4 lengths ahead of closer Empire Way. The final time for the 1 1/16 miles was a quick 1:40.84. O’Neill has been working him at longer distances in preparation for this race. Anywhere from 6 furlongs to one mile. I expect him to follow up with a strong performance.
It seems that yet another horse has peaked too early for the 2nd straight year. In the Fall of 2010, Comma to the Top rattled off five straight victories including the Generous Stakes (G3) and CashCall Futurity (G1). Early 2011, he finished 4th in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields and San Felipe Stakes (G2). He did finish 2nd in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), but ran last in the Kentucky Derby (injury). Is Liaison this year’s version of Comma to the Top?
He won three races in a row during the Fall meets at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park including the CashCall Futurity. However, he has yet to duplicate any of those performances in 2012. He finished 8th in the Robert B. Lewis then 4th in the San Felipe. Can we expect a better performance this weekend? The race is longer and his running style should appreciate it. However, I don’t see him getting the better of Creative Cause or I’ll Have Another.
As usual, Baffert is sending multiple horses to a major stakes race. He sends his 2nd time starter Paynter who is coming off a convincing 4 1/4 lengths win from mid-February. It’s tough to fully gauge that performance as it was a four horse field at 5 1/2 furlongs. He has been training well with three consecutive bullet works going 6 and 7 furlongs. The other Baffert trained colt is the Virginia bred Blueskiesnrainbows. He tried maiden special weight for his first two races then had to drop down to $30,000 claimer to get his first win. He won a starter allowance to begin his three year old campaign. His most recent race was a distant 3rd in an Allowance Optional Claiming $80,000. It would be a serious stretch to think he could take on the top in this one.
Who else could make some noise?
Carla Gaines might have a horse who could improve on recent races. Midnight Transfer won the San Pedro Stakes on January 22 and was closing with each stride in the San Felipe. He finished 3rd beaten 2 1/4 lengths by Bodemeister, and another 3/4 length by Creative Cause. He was 2 1/2 lengths in front of Liaison and Rousing Sermon (who just finished 3rd in Louisiana Derby). He comes off a solid 6 furlongs bullet work going 1:11.80. Ranked 1/15 for that day. Veteran jockey Mike Smith will be aboard. He has a knack for coming up big at opportune times.
I don’t see anyone defeating Creative Cause. This race will be a battle for second.
Be sure to stay up to date with the graded stakes earnings rankings, so you can see who is set to qualify for the Kentucky Derby and who has yet to do so.