It may lack the quantity of wagering options that handicappers will find in the Blue Grass and Wood Memorial, but this Santa Anita Derby field offers quality. Last year’s 2-year-old champion male, Game Winner, is the star attraction in this field of six, but he faces a stern test from a pair of highly regarded challengers. Instagrand and Roadster will attempt to improve upon abbreviated juvenile campaigns as they make their second starts off extended layoffs.
The Pace Projector is predicting that Instagrand (#5) will be clearly in front through the opening furlongs over Roadster (#1), with Game Winner (#6) sitting just behind them in third. The pace is not predicted to favor any particular running style, as Roadster – a Leader type himself – is clearly fast enough to apply more pressure to Instagrand if Flavien Prat attempts to back down the pace.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, ROADSTER (5-2): Stamina is the main concern for this talented son of Quality Road. He was touted prior to his debut at Del Mar last summer and delivered on the hype. Sent off as the odds-on favorite in the Del Mar Futurity following that score, he succumbed to Game Winner’s staying power in the lane after chasing the pace. Roadster spent a long period on the sidelines following that disappointing effort, but he appeared to return in top form last month, registering a facile allowance victory over a mile. Given the slow early pace of that race – as indicated by blue color-coded pace figures – he was able to use his speed to accelerate away from his rivals in the lane. Yet speed alone will not put him in the winner’s circle in this Santa Anita Derby. Roadster will have to chase down Instagrand and fend off Game Winner going a distance that clearly suits his long-winded stablemate. Roadster’s pedigree gives off mixed signals regarding his distance preferences. His dam was a confirmed sprinter, as were some of her siblings. Yet she has produced Roadster’s half-brother Ascend, a winner of the Grade 1 Manhattan over a 1 1/4 miles on turf. Roadster appears to have the frame of a horse who would prefer shorter distances, so I’m somewhat skeptical that he will be at his best in this Santa Anita Derby. Clearly the lesser half of this uncoupled entry.
#2, MORE ICE (30-1): He’s been steadily improving in recent starts, but dirt is not his preferred surface, and he’s never run a competitive speed figure. Pass.
#3, NOLO CONTESTO (6-1): There was plenty of buzz around this ridgling colt ahead of his first start against winners in early March. While he only had a maiden victory to his name, he defeated impressive next-out winner Omaha Beach in that score. That rival would go on to defeat Game Winner in the Rebel. The hype was evident in Nolo Contesto’s price in that optional-claiming event, as he was actually bet down to favoritism over Grade 1-placed Roadster. He lost that race to the Bob Baffert trainee by 2 1/2 lengths, but I think it would be premature to write him off. The race flow on March 1 clearly benefited Roadster, as Mike Smith was able to get the first jump on the closers after stalking a very slow pace. Nolo Contesto was bottled up inside coming to the top of the stretch and was just hitting his best stride in the last sixteenth after getting into the clear. This son of Pioneerof the Nile should relish the stretch-out to nine furlongs. While he is not predicted to get a fast pace ahead of him, he possesses the tactical speed to adapt to a moderate tempo. If Roadster and Instagrand hook up too early, it’s conceivable that Nolo Contesto could run up into the exacta. A contender.
#4, SYNTHESIS (30-1): His prior attempts in graded stakes have been poor, and he’s never run a race that puts him in the mix. Pass.
#5, INSTAGRAND (3-1): Some came away from the Gotham feeling that this colt should have been able to win. Javier Castellano did everything right, getting Instagrand to relax a few lengths off the runaway leader before moving him into position to strike at the quarter pole. Ultimately, the colt just could not see out the one-mile distance, as he stalled once he reached the leaders in the last eighth. Was it the route distance that prevented him from winning, or was he feeling the effects of a blazingly fast early pace? I suspect that the latter excuse could be valid since Gotham winner Haikal came from another zip code to earn the victory. I believe Instagrand proved that he can handle a mile that day, yet two turns could be another story. His 118 TimeformUS Speed Figure for the Gotham is the highest number in this field, but I’m not sure we should expect a forward move in his second start off the layoff. The Pace Projector shows him clearly in front early, owing primarily to the fact that he chased such a fast pace in the Gotham. However, it’s hard to believe that both Baffert runners will back off in the early stages. I expect the pace of this Santa Anita Derby to be honest enough, and it’s difficult to envision Instagrand fending off Game Winner’s stretch rally as long as that rival is within a couple of lengths of the lead at the quarter pole. Will take them as far as he can.
#6, GAME WINNER (4-5): His return effort in the Rebel was solid. He did everything right except win, as he was unable to forge past the talented Omaha Beach after a wide trip. That performance should have set him up perfectly for this second start off the layoff. I have always felt that Game Winner’s true strengths would be revealed at this time of year when the distances begin to increase. He has a solid foundation of stamina breeding on the bottom side of his pedigree, and he is hardly your typical son of Candy Ride from a physical perspective. Baffert appears to have turned up the intensity in his training coming into this Grade 1 start, and I would be somewhat surprised if he is unable to defeat this field. Joel Rosario just has to get him away from the gate cleanly and keep him relatively close to the pace throughout. As long as he’s within range of the leaders at the quarter pole, his superior stamina should carry him to victory. Nothing clever about this selection.
I’m not trying to beat Game Winner (#6), a deserving odds-on favorite. I strongly prefer him to stablemate Roadster and believe he can outstay his main rival, Instagrand. I’ll make a small attempt to get Nolo Contesto (#3) into the exacta, but this is not a particularly compelling wagering event.
Exacta: 6 with 3
Trifecta: 6 with 3 with 1,5
Trifecta: 6 with 1,5 with 3