Santa Anita | Race 9 | Post Time 3:30 p.m. (PT) | Go to the TimeformUS PPs
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This Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby is a race for the fans, if perhaps not a race that will excite most bettors. It features the long-awaited stakes debut of the undefeated phenomenon Justify, who will attempt to stretch out his speed to 1 1/8 miles and stamp himself as the Kentucky Derby favorite. However, it will not be an easy task given the presence of Bolt d’Oro, who has already proven himself against the best colts of this crop.
Unsurprisingly, the Pace Projector is predicting that Justify (#6) will control the early pace. He’s not a horse that necessarily needs the lead, as he displayed in his stalking allowance win last time, but he does appear to be significantly faster than the other horses with tactical speed in this field. His main rival, Bolt d’Oro (#3) should take up a position in mid-pack, but the Medaglia d’Oro colt is certainly capable of applying early pressure if necessary, as he did in last fall’s FrontRunner.
Let’s go through the entire field:
#1, INSTILLED REGARD (5-1): This colt looked poised to break into the upper echelon of Derby contenders following his Lecomte score earlier in the season. However, a disappointing effort in the Risen Star last time has him flying under the radar heading into this final prep. Instilled Regard held his own against the likes of Solomini and McKinzie as a two-year-old, but has yet to progress beyond that career-best performance in the Los Alamitos Futurity in either of his three-year-old efforts. His Risen Star loss as the favorite was particularly disappointing given the subsequent efforts by the first two finishers in that race, who were both soundly defeated in the Louisiana Derby. The lightly-raced Noble Indy did return to win the Louisiana Derby, but he obviously improved in what was just his fourth career start. He’s unlikely to take down either favorite, but third-place does appear to be his for the taking.
#2, ORBIT RAIN (50-1): This maiden stablemate of Bolt d’Oro is a curious entrant in this race. It’s possible that they use him as a rabbit to try to soften up Justify in the early going, given the lack of other speed in this race. However, his prior form doesn’t indicate that he’s necessarily fast enough to be used in such a way.
#3, BOLT D’ORO (6-5): It’s not as if Bolt d’Oro needs any help to win this Santa Anita Derby. Unlike some other top two-year-olds of 2017 who have yet to assert their dominance as three-year-olds, Bolt d’Oro has already cemented his status as one of the Kentucky Derby favorites. He returned with a vengeance in last month’s San Felipe, gamely battling with McKinzie through the stretch in a roughly run race. He ultimately fell just a head short, but was promoted to victory by the stewards in a controversial decision.
Foremost among Bolt d’Oro’s many strengths is his versatility. He has made use of a variety of running styles during his career and has never put forth a poor effort. He also has ample experience racing around two turns against top class company, something that Justify has yet to do. Finally, he showed last time that he’s more than willing to engage in a battle and fight for the victory. He’ll be attempting to negotiate an extra sixteenth of a mile this time, but that hardly registers as a concern given his pedigree and tractable disposition. Justify is an immensely talented foe and may ultimately turn out to be a superior horse, but I have to give Bolt d’Oro the edge this time.
#4, JIMMY CHILA (30-1): The second of two maidens in this field has never run fast enough to contend against a field of this quality, and is an outsider.
#5, PEPE TONO (20-1): He was no match for Justify when they met in an allowance race last month, but he did run a career best speed figure as he closed to get up for third after the leaders set a swift early pace. He would have to hope for a similarly fast early tempo here to have any hope of picking up another minor award.
#6, JUSTIFY (4-5): Ordinary horses don’t do what he did in his debut. After contesting a taxing early pace, he dismissed his rivals at the top of the stretch, loping through the lane as if he was just out for a morning gallop, stopping the teletimer in a blazing 1:21 4/5 for seven furlongs. That was good enough for a 104 Beyer and 130 TimeformUS Speed Figure. Numbers like that are typically reserved for Grade 1 performers, especially among three-year-olds at this time of year. Naturally, a class test like the one he will receive in this Santa Anita Derby has been looming on the horizon ever since that performance.
We didn’t learn much more about him in his easy allowance score last time. He negotiated the two turns successfully and handled a muddy track, but he was facing inferior competition to what he’s meeting today. The early pace of that race was again on the quick side, but his class was able to carry him through the lane as there were no quality closers to come running after him late. This time, he must ration out his speed if he’s going to successfully handle the 9-furlong distance and hold off a horse like Bolt d’Oro in the late stages. It’s Mike Smith’s style to let horses run freely and use their speed in situations like this, so I’d be somewhat worried that he’ll overextend himself in the early portion of this race, with or without early pressure. You have to admire natural talents like him, but I can’t endorse him as the favorite over a quality colt like Bolt d’Oro.
#7, CORE BELIEFS (20-1): He got the job done against maiden company last time, but that performance may have been aided by a race that was kind to front-runners. (Note the red color-coded race rating box in TimeformUS PPs, indicating a speed-favoring surface.) Mike Smith kept him under steady pressure throughout that race and he actually looked to be beaten around the far turn before coming on again for the victory. It’s possible that he’s just improved with added distance, but his connections have picked an awfully ambitious spot for him to make his first start against winners.
This is not a race in which I can recommend heavy wagering. If pressed, I could potentially bet Bolt d’Oro (#3) given a price of 7-5 or higher. I think that represents significant value, as I regard him as a slightly more likely winner than Justify. Regardless of which colt you support, this should be a great race – one to sit back (or perhaps on the edge of your seat) and enjoy.