Bob Baffert and Doug O’Neil look to secure births’ in the Kentucky Derby in the $1,000,000 – Grade 1: Santa Anita Derby. Does Jerry Hollendorfer’s 3-year-old, Battle of Midway steal the show?

The last leg of California’s Kentucky Derby preps drew a large field and the sad part is that it’s missing if not the most talented 3-year-old horse based on the West Coast in MASTERY, it could be missing the most talented 3-year-old in the country. Even without MASTERY, Santa Anita put together a solid crop of Derby contenders looking to put their stamp on this wide open road to the Kentucky Derby season.

 

Here is a breakdown of the field…

 

#1 – TERM OF ART (Tyler Baze/Doug O’Neil)

 

This horse had an interesting start to his career as a racehorse. After a surprising effort at nearly 20-1 in his debut in which he ran 3rd behind another horse in this race (Midnight Pleasure), he was favored in two subsequent starts, the latter of which he won by a nose against a so-so group that hasn’t turned out to be much.

 

His next start turned out to be the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile of all races and he deservedly went off at 90-1. He was brushed at the start, steadied, and was pretty much wrapped up from there by Joe Talamo. The next start was the G3 – CBD Mile @ Del Mar on an off track. It wasn’t off for Term of Art, he cruised home for a nice victory at 7-1.

 

The next three starts as a 3-year-old were not nearly as good as the 2-year-old finale. However, he has improved with every start. In the Sham Stakes, he really never engaged and finished about 20 behind GORMLEY and AMERICAN ANTHEM. In the Robert Lewis, he was much closer early on, but flattened out to run evenly late and finish 4th. And then, in the San Felipe, after bobbling at the late, he continued to make up ground late to get 3rd and grab some more Derby points 63-1.

 

OUTLOOK: Although, he has managed to earn some Derby qualification points along the way, it is hard to imagine TERM OF ART bringing California’s hopes to Kentucky on March 6th. Let’s face it, his best effort came on a wet track and unless he manages to get that and strike lightning at the same time, TERM OF ART should only be used on the very bottom of exotic tickets when you hit the ALL button to fill 3rd and 4th.

 

#2 – REACH THE WORLD (Mike Smith/Bob Baffert 38% 8 starts)

 

You didn’t think Bob Baffert would walk away from the Derby scene quietly after MASTERY and BRONZE AGE failed with their missions, did you? I hope not. I have been holding this horse in my pocket for some time now, and wasn’t surprised one bit to see him in the Santa Anita Derby. Had MASTERY still been in the mix, I could have seen Bob opting somewhere else on the undercard because that’s what he does, but in this spot, REACH THE WORLD is in it to win it.

 

He was bet down to 5.5-1 in his debut, he waited patiently, too patiently in my opinion and ran on to finish well and was a game third. His second start was a gate to wire domination at 3/5, the 3rd place finisher was Sonnateer the bombs away long shot that ran into second in the Rebel at Oaklawn for Keith Desormeaux. In his latest allowance start, he finished just a neck behind BATTLE OF MIDWAY whom we will talk about in a brief second. REACH THE WORLD was forced to wait patiently again and closed willingly, but just missed and will have a chance to improve on the 91 Brisnet Speed Figure (BSF) that he earned on March 9th.

 

OUTLOOK: I know it’s not a whole lot on paper which is unusual at this point of the year, and will be subject to the daunted jinx we all know about regarding Derby runners who have not raced as 2-year-old’s. He has been working very fast in the mornings and will be a handful to contend with in this race. If Mike Smith sticks around for the ride, I stick around for the ride. Oh, and did I say who the sire of REACH THE WORLD is…. TAPIT, that’s right, enough said.

 

#3 – BATTLE OF MIDWAY (Corey Nakatani/Jerry Hollendorfer 80% 5 starts)

 

Won debut on a wet fast surface in the rainiest month in So. Cal in decades, he did it in sloppy fast style though for what it’s worth. Came back in the San Vincente with Mike Smith up got in a ton of trouble after pulling his way along during the opening half, he still managed to get 2nd behind LAW ABIDING CITIZEN (next out winner) and ILIAD. In his latest start, a first level allowance race, he defeated REACH THE WORLD, the aforementioned rival by a neck, it wasn’t an easy task. He is going to have to be even better today. His BSF took a nice jump from an 86 to a 92. It is going to have to take another jump to near 100 or better to get the job done today.

 

#4 – COMMA SISTER (Israel Ocampo/George Papaprodromou 40% 5 starts)

 

Has had three starts all at the MSW level and the speed figures have gradually improved from the mid-70s up to the low 80s. It’s nothing to think that he can compete at the G1-level, but he does have good pedigree. I would never hard on entering a horse in an optimistic spot. It has worked out for many trainers in the past, but I would have to say the 1 for 40 stats in Graded Stakes by Papaprodromou is going to make it rather difficult.

 

OUTLOOK: He will try to close into it from well of the pace but on paper he is simply not fast enough. He is going to have to improve to numbers we have never seen to this point.

 

#5 – SO CONFLATED (Mario Gutierrez/Doug O’Neil 11% 36 starts)

 

Broke the maiden in the CalDerby up at Golden Gate at odds of 3-1. It was a slight improvement from an 85 to a 90 that got the job done. He also changed tactics and decided to be much closer to the pace scenario up front. It was on the tapeta surface so it’s hard to gauge this one with his lone win coming on that track. He was bet to 8-1 in the G3 Gotham, it didn’t go to well, he was caught 5wide into the upper stretch, and flattened as he was really never in touch with the group.

 

OUTLOOK: It would take a serious change from that last effort of a 78 in the Gotham. It was a ship across the country on the inner dirt at the Aqueduct, but it was not intriguing or positive in my opinion. He would have to run back to that CalDerby effort and improve it by about 15 points. I just don’t see it happening. It’s not impossible, just would take some serious Doug O’Neil luck.

 

#6 – AMERICAN ANTHEM (Martin Garcia/Bob Baffert 24% 21 starts)

 

There is a reason that Mike Smith did not get back on this horse after that pathetic effort in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn. It was not supposed to go that way in my opinion and I think Smith knows that he has a better chance of getting the ship righted by riding REACH THE WORLD. In AMERICAN ANTHEM’s 2nd place finish in the Sham Stakes, he set the pace and battled head and head with GORMLEY to the wire. As I have watched the race more closely, I think it just breakdowns down two ways. The 102 BSF earned was just too high and AMERICAN ANTHEM is just not that fast. Or the other, the Rebel Stakes was the oddball and should have been thrown out. I will give the horse the benefit of the doubt in this respect, I don’t know what the hell, Mike Smith was thinking, he was caught 5wide early, then he decided to try and make up ground on the backstretch, and was dead empty heading for home.

 

OUTLOOK: I have jumped off the bandwagon with Mike Smith on this horse. I just don’t think he is very good right now. He may have peaked too soon. I could be dead wrong. For him to have any success, he has to be forwardly placed within a couple lengths of the lead or be on the lead. If that’s not the case, rip up your tickets.

 

#7 – KIMBEAR (Joe Talamo/Eric Kruljac 100% 1 start)

 

It took six starts to break the maiden, four of the first five were on the turf. All were good efforts, but never good enough to get it done. Has been bet down to anywhere from 2-1 to 6-1. His best efforts have come in one turn dirt races, so it’s hard to gauge what this distance on the dirt. His BSF of 95 in the last start was a big improvement and if he does that same amount of improving again routing on the dirt, he will be in the mix. That’s a lot to ask he has never broken the 100 BSF ceiling and he likely will need to do that and then some Saturday.

 

OUTLOOK: I would love to take a chance on a horse like this in this kind of race, but let’s face it, his speed figures just are not fast enough on paper to compete with the top horses in the field. His early pace numbers are fast enough, so if he was able to get alone on the lead than maybe, but I highly doubt that in this field.

 

#8 – GORMLEY (Victor Espinoza/John Shirreffs 0% 10 starts)

 

The connections have been ice cold of late and since the Sham in which GORMLEY put up a 102, he took a serious bounce to a 91 in the San Felipe. He has showed good early pace in four of five starts and will have to get going early in this one to have any serious thought of contending. He has never shown the ability to rate and let’s face it. I am going to bet against the GORMLEY/AMERICAN ANTHEM duo and hope I can take this race down with somebody else.

 

I was a little disappointed in how he responded to MASTERY when he put the gauntlet down in the San Felipe. He didn’t want any part of the battle and wilted.

 

OUTLOOK: If he is able to get a clear lead or track the pace and either save ground or track outside of rivals but not too wide than he can be considered for a piece of this. I have to be honest, looking back at his big 102 in January, I am re-thinking my position on him. I do think that if there is one more likely to come back from the funk they are in it’s this horse over AMERICAN ANTHEM… I am going to keep this one in consideration but I LIKE SOME OTHERS A LITTLE BIT MORE.

 

#9 – ILIAD (Flavien Prat/Doug O’Neil 27% 11 starts)

 

His effort in the San Vincente put him on my radar immediately because I was so high on BATTLE OF MIDWAY and REACH THE WORLD coming out of that race. He is another horse that has always been near the front in every start, so it’s hard to see him anywhere but forwardly placed in the early going. He did look a little leg weary in the San Felipe when it came down to running time. This race is 9 furlongs so he is going to have to find more stamina and I honestly just don’t think he is bred on the bottom to go that far. I could be dead wrong, but I don’t think so in this case. Doug O’Neil is throwing all the darts at the dartboard and hoping one sticks.

 

OUTLOOK: Breaking it down, I just don’t feel like Doug O’Neil knows what he has with this horse. I don’t think this is the jewel of his bunch and I think he is a bit overwhelmed searching for some Derby glory this year. I am playing against ILIAD in this race.

 

#10 – MILTON FREEWATER (Tiago Pereira/Doug O’Neil 80% 5 starts)

 

Another Doug O’Neil entry this one has been running in mostly state-bred races throughout his career. Until his most recent effort in a first level allowance race which he got 2nd and ran a 90 BSF. He ran in 4 state bred stakes and got 3rd in three of them, other than that he has only won one statebred allowance race.

 

Part of the reason he may be entered in this race is in case the pace breaks down up front. O’Neil might think that MILTON is fast enough in his late pace to pick up the pieces, but I honestly don’t know what O’Neil is doing like I just said, it’s like he grabbed a bunch of darts with his throwing hand and whipped them at a dartboard.

 

OUTLOOK: Simply stated he will have to run into a race that has broken down up front to get any piece of it.

 

#11 – IRISH FREEDOM (Rafael Bejarano/Bob Baffert 80% 5 starts)

 

With only a win in his debut last August and one start on March 9th in a first level allowance race, Bob Baffert is swing for the fences hoping improvement this ones vice. Bejarano gets back on as he was for the victory and I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about this one. His BSF’s are in the low 80s which is nowhere near fast enough, but the latest work on 04/02 is encouraging.

 

OUTLOOK: I have no clue what to think. I guess if REACH THE WORLD fails, I will use this one as a back up on some tickets, I just don’t know enough and there is little to see on paper. One thing is a fact, he is bred to run and win routing at classic distances. At the right odds, is worth a look.

 

#12 – MIDNIGHT PLEASURE (Jamie Theriot/Mick Ruis FTS)

 

The trainer is 0/12 in dirt starts. 0/1 in graded stakes. Ran 3rd in the Del Mar Futurity behind KLIMT and earned a solid 95 doing it. He has been forwardly placed in almost every start except for his 3-year-old debut. He ran an 88 and did well after being off for five months. If he improves back to the high 90’s he has a chance to run onto this ticket at the right price.

 

OUTLOOK: If his trainer wasn’t 0 for 15 in the last year, I would be more willing to take a chance. This is the Santa Anita Derby so it’s hard to consider a horse like this, but the speed figures are fast enough to compete with slight improvement. And, I honestly like this one a little bit. If I get the right odds I am going to use this one more than most. I hope he hits the board, please hit the board. LOL

 

#13 – ROYAL MO (Gary Stevens/John Shirreffs FTS)

 

Well we know that Victor Espinoza decided with the other Shirreffs’ entry, so it’s probably apparent where the talent is. I did not like this one in the Rebel and the poor effort put forth in the race is testament to how week the California preps have been aside from what MASTERY has done.

 

OUTLOOK: Would have to go gate to wire to have any chance in my opinion and I just don’t think he is fast enough to get out of the gate the way he needs to, to have a chance. I am really curious to see what kind of odds ROYAL MO will be because I honestly just don’t see him anywhere near the pace here, but maybe some people will look at his second lifetime start and think he will be able to close ground.

 

MY TOP PICKS:

Tier 1:

#2 – Reach the World

#3 – Battle of Midway

Tier 2:

#12 – Midnight Pleasure

#5 – So Conflated

#11 – Irish Freedom

Tier 3:

#9 – Iliad

#8 – Gormley

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