Handicapping the Santa Anita Derby

Santa Anita at the gateThe $1 million Grade I Santa Anita Derby is scheduled as race eight of 12 at Santa Anita on Saturday, April 9 at 3:30 p.m. PST.

10 contenders will vie for a trip to the Kentucky Derby in this nine-furlong (1 1/8-mile) contest.

Trainer Bob Baffert conditions the morning line favorite, Mor Spirit (by Eskendereya), who was made 8/5 to exact revenge on 9/5 second choice Danzing Candy (by Twirling Candy). Baffert has won the Santa Anita Derby a record eight times.

Mor Spirit rallies to capture the 2016 Robert B. Lewis Stakes

Mor Spirit rallies to capture the 2016 Robert B. Lewis Stakes

Jockey Gary Stevens, pilot of Mor Spirit, has tasted victory in this Kentucky Derby prep race nine times, also a record. Mor Spirit was second in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes, unable to reel in Danzing Candy, when last seen. It is this writer’s opinion that Danzing Candy benefitted from racing on a surface that oftentimes props up horses that make an uncontested early lead.

That won’t happen this time and Danzing Candy will be forced to sing for his supper. Danzing Candy might still win, but the circumstances of this race versus the last time they met benefit Mor Spirit.

I am concerned about Danzing Candy’s ability to stay the distance. The average winning distance for progeny of his sire, Twirling Candy, is 6.4 furlongs. His broodmare sire, Songandaprayer, is known for throwing sprinters too, as evidenced by his progeny’s average winning distance of 6 furlongs.

Danzing Candy has done very little wrong thus far in his career and might be “that good,” but the well-backed colt is not without question marks.

The most accomplished horse in the race based on earnings is millionaire Exaggerator (by Curlin). The dark bay or brown colt is trained by Keith Desormeaux and ridden by Kent Desormeaux. Exaggerator was third behind the aforementioned Danzing Candy and Mor Spirit in the San Felipe Stakes last out.

Like Mor Spirit, the early pace scenario in the Santa Anita Derby will suit Exaggerator much better than it did in the San Felipe Stakes.

Exaggerator’s morning line odds are 4-1.

Smokey Image wins the I'm Smokin Stakes

Smokey Image wins the I’m Smokin Stakes

Smokey Image (by Southern Image) is wheeling back in the Santa Anita Derby after a poor effort in the San Felipe Stakes. Previously undefeated, Smokey Image raced wide in the San Felipe Stakes before fading to be a well-beaten fifth.

That was an uncharacteristically bad effort for the California-bred colt and those willing to stick with him will be thrilled to know his morning line odds are 15-1. The Carla Gaines-trained and Victor Espinoza-piloted colt deserves another chance and, while I’m not backing him as my top choice, I do recognize he can win and will use him on multi-race exotic wagers.

Another contender worth consideration is trainer Doug O’Neill’s Denman’s Call (by Northern Afleet). Denman’s Call owns a win over eventual Grade II Rebel Stakes winner Cupid and was able to draw even with Nyquist in the stretch of the Grade II San Vicente Stakes before settling for third place.

The gelding picks up top rider Rafael Bejarano for this race and should be well positioned behind a fast early pace at odds of 15-1.

Iron Robb, Dressed in Hermes, Rare Candy, Diplodocus and Uncle Lino round out the field.


1) Exaggerator
2) Mor Spirit
3) Smokey Image

Patrick Patterson
Ryan Patrick Patterson has won a few claiming races and cashed a few big bets… and lost many more. He’s brokered a handful of bloodstock deals, including the recent acquisitions Let Me Go First and Best Version. He loves the competitive nature of horse racing and looks forward to engaging with anyone that wants to discuss the Sport of Kings. He can be reached via Twitter @bettorknow.
Posted on