Saturday’s Grade 2, $400,000 San Felipe at Santa Anita is perhaps the most hotly anticipated of all the Derby preps contested so far this season. It’s the first time that we will get to see two of the early favorites for the first Saturday in May square off in the same race. Last year’s two-time Grade 1-winning two-year-old star Bolt d’Oro takes on the undefeated McKinzie, as well as 6 other rivals.
The Pace Projector is predicting a situation that should be favorable to Bolt d’Oro. A fast pace is forecasted with the speedy types Lombo (#2) and Calexman (#6) expected to battle on the front. McKinzie (#4) has shown versatility in his races and should be sitting just off them, but he will likely be the first horse to move into that projected hot pace. Bolt d’Oro (#1) has used a variety of running styles in his career, all successfully, and one would imagine that he will be closing from a bit farther off the pace than his main rival.
Let’s go through the entire field:
#1, BOLT D’ORO (2-1): While I appreciate the sentiments of those that felt he was robbed of victory by a poor ride in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, I don’t think it’s fair to detract from the winner’s performance. It’s true that Bolt d’Oro was not given his best chance to be effective, going extremely wide around both turns. Yet in the end, he just didn’t quite attain the lofty heights that he reached in his monstrous FrontRunner performance one start prior.
Now Bolt d’Oro returns from the layoff and picks up new rider Javier Castellano, who is typically quite adept at reading pace scenarios and placing horses where they need to be. While it’s highly unlikely that his connections have him ready to fire another FrontRunner-like performance in his first start back, most reports indicate that Bolt d’Oro has been training very well for this three-year-old debut. He’s already proven that he handles the track and the distance. There’s very little to fault about this colt, and I expect him to be awfully tough to beat.
#2, LOMBO (8-1): He picked up some Kentucky Derby points in the Robert B. Lewis last time, but that was essentially a N1X allowance race masquerading as a graded stakes. The waters get significantly deeper here. Last time out, he was able to scurry clear from those chasing him coming to the top of the stretch and open up an insurmountable lead before tiring in the final eighth. This time, you have to think that McKinzie won’t let him out of his sights and will tackle him. If longshot Calexman has already softened him up through fast early fractions by that point, he could have a hard time holding it together late. He’s a neat little horse, but it’s hard to envision a path to success for him this time out.
#3, AYACARA (8-1): He got a fantastic ride from Kent Desormeaux in the Lewis last time, sneaking up the rail to run up into second late while never really threatening the winner. All in all, his dirt form is better than his races on turf and synthetic, so this is clearly his preferred surface. On the other hand, he’s never run a particularly fast race and there are other closers in this race that appear to have more natural talent.
#4, MCKINZIE (8-5): He’s done nothing wrong in three career starts, and is undefeated after getting put up via disqualification in a controversial Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity decision. He’s run remarkably consistent TimeformUS Speed Figures in his races and has already proven that he has no problem negotiating the distance. Bob Baffert removed the blinkers last time out in the Sham in an effort to get him to settle, and it appeared to work well. He was handy throughout for Mike Smith and won without ever being fully set down.
He’s been steady so far, but this is a real test for the talented colt. He was no better than Solomini and Instilled Regard back in that December race, and Bolt d’Oro was indisputably the superior of Solomini when they met in the FrontRunner last fall. I believe that a fully cranked Bolt d’Oro should be able to beat McKinzie. Yet it’s unclear how fast Bolt d’Oro will be set to run in his first start back off the layoff, whereas McKinzie has raced more recently. I should be a great battle between these two, but I’d give the slight edge to Bolt d’Oro.
#5, AQUILA (15-1): This is a quickly improving colt, but he may be getting thrown into the deep end of the pool before he’s ready. Watching his last two races, it never appeared as if he was traveling particularly well, yet on both occasions he persevered admirably despite coming under pressure for well over a quarter-mile. His winning TimeformUS Speed Figure of 113 puts him in the mix here, but that came against maiden company. He was able to set a moderate pace that day, whereas here he should find himself chasing much faster fractions. He’s one for the future, but not today.
#6, CALEXMAN (30-1): His lone win came on turf and he’s been soundly defeated in all of his main-track starts – on both dirt and synthetic. He’s a potential pace factor, but not much more.
#7, PEACE (15-1): This Violence colt was the major disappointment of the Robert Lewis. It’s always difficult to make the transition from maiden company to graded stakes, but he had found a perfect opportunity to do so in a very weak edition of that Derby prep last time out. You can make the argument that he was a little wide throughout, but he came up completely empty in the stretch of that race. His best speed figure was earned three back when he lost to Shivermetimbers by a head, but neither of these runners have gone on to do well against winners, calling the quality of that race into doubt.
#8, KANTHAKA (4-1): If you’re looking for an alternative to either of the favorites, this is probably the one you want. He’s the only other horse in this field to have earned a speed figure that puts him within striking distance of the best races run by either McKinzie or Bolt d’Oro. That figure was earned last time out when he was a visually impressive winner of the San Vicente. While he did run a legitimately fast race, he had everything in his favor. He clearly possesses a strong late kick in one-turn races, and all of his major rivals knocked themselves out dueling through blazing early fractions. Every horse except Nero stopped to a walk at the top of the stretch, allowing Kanthaka to pick up the pieces. He did draw well clear of those rivals late, but it’s a completely different scenario here.
There really aren’t many stamina influences in his pedigree. Sire Jimmy Creed wins with just 12% of his dirt route starters and some of the best runners in the second generation of his female family were sprinters. In my opinion, he’s unlikely to continue his forward progression as the distances increase.
Like most, I have trouble getting past the two favorites, Bolt d’Oro (#1) and McKinzie (#4). I slightly prefer the former given the likelihood of an honest early pace, but it should be a good battle between these two talented colts. If there’s one other runner that I would throw into trifectas at a price, it’s Aquila (#5), who appears to be improving and may be able to outlast the rest for third.
Trifecta: 1, 4 with 1, 4 with 5