Five things to know for 2018 Santa Anita Derby
With a scheduled post time of 7:12 p.m. (EDT), the $1 million Santa Anita Derby (G1) is the last of Saturday’s three Kentucky Derby (G1) preps, creating an even greater sense of anticipation. The showdown of freakish talent, in the form of unbeaten Justify, versus the proven class of Bolt d’Oro makes for a brilliant renewal of the 1 1/8-mile test.
Here are my five things to know for the 81st Santa Anita Derby:
1. The result promises to settle early Kentucky Derby favoritism. Justify overtook Bolt d’Oro late as the favored individual interest in Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, and Pool 4 is under way this weekend. As of early Friday evening, they’re both behind two rivals who’ve already impressed in their final Derby preps, Mendelssohn (7-2) and Audible (5-1). Bettors are likely taking a wait-and-see approach on Justify and Bolt d’Oro, respectively 6-1 and 8-1, until the Santa Anita Derby. Pool 4 doesn’t close until Sunday at 6 p.m. (EDT), so there’s plenty of time to digest the result.
2. Budding star Justify needs Kentucky Derby points. His big reputation will not suffice to make the Derby field. And his late arrival on the scene, debuting only on Presidents’ Day weekend, renders his first scoring race a make-or-break situation. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert originally planned to ship to Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby (G1), giving the twice-raced colt a measure of additional experience in his stakes debut. But the injury to stablemate McKinzie caused a rethink of the chess pieces, and Baffert slid Justify into McKinzie’s spot. Now he gets a stiff class test at his home track instead of a travel education. Justify can be master of his own destiny if he wins the top prize of 100 points; a runner-up effort, good for 40, might be enough, but this year it could be cutting it too close for comfort.
3. Bolt d’Oro is in a different position. Safely in the Run for the Roses with 64 points in the bank, he obviously would like to win but has the luxury of using the Santa Anita Derby as part of his natural progression toward Kentucky. That could be very significant, since the Mick Ruis colt ran awfully hard against McKinzie last time in the San Felipe (G2). Factor in that was an all-out war in his first start back from a muscle pull over the winter, and Bolt d’Oro has every right to regress a little off what might have been a gut-busting effort. We all know he’s top-class as the FrontRunner (G1) and Del Mar Futurity (G1) winner, and unlucky third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). Now he’s just got to get through this final prep in a way that moves him forward.
4. Instilled Regard rates as something of a forgotten horse. The Jerry Hollendorfer pupil mixed it up with McKinzie himself back in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1), where he was placed second upon the demotion of Solomini. He advertised the depth of the Southern California form on his trip to Fair Grounds for the Lecomte (G3), his 3 3/4-length victory stamping him as a sophomore on the rise. But Instilled Regard went retrograde in the ensuing Risen Star (G2), winding up a lackluster fourth behind the pace factors Bravazo and Snapper Sinclair. He’s clearly better than that. So was third-placer Noble Indy, who’s since come back to prove the point by winning the Louisiana Derby (G2). As a $1.05 million son of Arch and grandson of Heavenly Prize, Instilled Regard is surely still developing and eligible to perform much better here.
5. Core Beliefs has more to recommend him than the other outclassed horses in the small field of six. While the Quality Road colt steps up from a maiden score for Peter Eurton, at least he beat a next-out winner in Longden (who had previously placed second to Baffert’s Wood Memorial [G2] runner Restoring Hope). Pepe Tono was already drubbed by Justify in an allowance, and sixth in a weak edition of the Bob Lewis (G3) two back. The remaining two are maidens. Doug O’Neill’s Jimmy Chila has placed in a few decent heats, including to Restoring Hope, and Bolt d’Oro’s stablemate Orbit Rain goes turf-to-dirt after chasing the exciting River Boyne. But they look like scavenging for crumbs in a $1 million race.
Justify photo by Benoit