Experience Versus Potential in the Santa Anita Derby

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

April 4th, 2018

We’ve already seen some memorable showdowns on the Road to the 2018 Kentucky Derby, but arguably the best of all is still to come in Saturday’s $1 million Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park.

Although the race drew seven starters, all eyes will be on #6 Justify and #3 Bolt d’Oro, who are currently ranked first and second in my Kentucky Derby Top 10. It would be a surprise if they don’t finish 1-2, though determining the order is likely the only way to make a meaningful profit on the race, as both colts will be short prices and the exotic payoffs could be slim.

In many ways, the Santa Anita Derby represents a battle between experience and potential. Bolt d’Oro is the more accomplished of the pair with a couple of Grade 1 wins under his belt, including a 7 ¾-length romp in the 2017 FrontRunner Stakes over this track, which yielded an eye-catching 105 BRIS speed figure. Furthermore, Bolt d’Oro recently returned to action with a sharp effort in the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita, finishing just a head behind the talented McKinzie after a long stretch battle before being awarded the victory via disqualification.

But in Justify, Bolt d’Oro is facing perhaps his most formidable rival yet. There’s no telling how good Justify might be, as the son of Scat Daddy opened his career with a pair of blowout victories at Santa Anita, winning a seven-furlong maiden race by 9 ½ lengths with a 100 BRIS speed figure before stepping up to a mile and winning an allowance race by 6 ½ lengths with a 104 BRIS.

Justify might be conceding experience to Bolt d’Oro, but he’s certainly not conceding speed. In his maiden win, he dueled for the lead through fast fractions of :21.80 and :44.37, and in his allowance win he ran the six-furlong fraction in 1:09.64, earning a massive 117 BRIS E2 pace rating. This level of speed could give Justify a tactical advantage over Bolt d’Oro, who takes his time getting going and occasionally breaks slowly from the starting gate.

With this in mind, I’m going to take a shot with Justify and hope that his abundant talent and speed is enough to offset his lack of experience. I’ll play him on top of a straight trifecta with Bolt d’Oro for second and the Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) winner #1 Instilled Regard for third, then play a similar superfecta using Instilled Regard and #7 Core Beliefs for third and fourth.

$10 trifecta: 6 with 3 with 1 ($10) $5 superfecta: 6 with 3 with 1,7 with 1,7 ($10)

Good luck!