Friday, April 8, 2016

Handicapper's Corner: Santa Anita Derby (G1)

Danzing With Spirit Through the Santa Anita Derby

By: Laurie Ross

The Santa Anita Derby (G1) is the final California prep race for the 2016 Kentucky Derby. In the last ten years, two colts, I’ll Have Another (2012) and California Chrome (2014) captured two of the three Triple Crown jewels. Last year’s Santa Anita Derby hero Dortmund tasted defeat for the first time in the Kentucky Derby when he finished a close-up third.

This year, six colts, three geldings and a ridgling will line up in the starting gate for the 1 1/8 mile contest. Most of the faces are familiar, since all except Diplodocus have competed together at some point in their career. Some contenders have tangled more than once. Half of the field vied in the San Felipe Stakes (G2), or met up in the Sham or Robert B. Lewis Stakes.   

Starring Roles:

DANZING CANDY (Twirling Candy - Talkin and Singing, by Songandaprayer) has taken them gate to wire and was never pressured in his last three starts.  The son of track record holder Twirling Candy took them along at a steady clip in the San Felipe and passed under the wire two lengths in front of Mor Spirit, getting 1 1/16 miles in 1:43. Danzing Candy is a confirmed front runner with a high cruising speed. His only loss was in his debut, when the colt understandably raced greenly. His dam is a half sister to the popular stakes warrior Better Talk Now. Danzig Candy may carry a dominant large heart (X-Factor) gene.  Danzig Candy’s Pedigree Profile.

MOR SPIRIT (Eskendereya - Im a Dixie Girl, by Dixie Union)  has gone to the post as the favorite in each of his six starts. His speed figures improve in every race.  In the early stages of the San Felipe, Gary Stevens had to steady a couple of times to keep an eager Mor Spirit from running up on heels.  Stevens took the colt back to fifth place to cool his jets.  Mor Spirit has a huge ground-eating stride and it takes him some time to get going.  He made up about six lengths, but didn’t quicken until he was switched to the outside of Exaggerator.  Mor Spirit wasn’t going to catch the loose on the lead Danzig Candy, but the race set the colt up nicely for this spot.  Mor Spirit is out of a precocious stakes winning sprinter. His second dam is a multiple stakes winner at 1 1/8 miles and she’s a half sister to the dam of Santa Anita Oaks heroine Stellar Wind.  Baffert won this contest with Dortmund last year and he has an excellent shot at doing it again this year.  Mor Spirit’s Pedigree Profile.

Also Featuring:
EXAGGERATOR  (Curlin - Dawn Raid, by Vindication) certainly doesn’t duck anyone.  He was all out to keep up with Nyquist in the San Vicente and the hard trying colt had every chance in the San Felipe.  He couldn’t chase down Danzig Candy and was passed at the wire by Mor Spirit for second place.  Exaggerator seems a shade below the best but there’s no quit to the hard knocking colt. 1 1/8 miles could be at the top of his distance range, but he’s a definite include for the exotics. Exaggerator’s Pedigree Profile.

SMOKEY IMAGE  (Southern Image - Special Smoke, by Free House) threw in a clunker in his graded stakes debut and tasted defeat for the first time in his seven race career.  The large bright Chestnut colt had no excuse in the San Felipe and finished a shocking 20 lengths out of it.   Trainer Carla Gaines gave no reason for the colt’s uncharacteristic poor performance. Smokey Image’s sire Southern Image and damsire Free House both won the Santa Anita Handicap, so distance shouldn’t be an issue.  Let’s draw a line through that last race and see how Smokey does here. Everyone’s entitled to an off day.   

Supporting Cast:

 UNCLE LINO (Uncle Mo - Haysee, by Orientate) had a perfect trip stalking the pace in the R. B. Lewis Stakes, but was all out in the stretch dueling with I Will Score. He held second place over that one by ½ length, but was passed by Mor Spirit.  The hard effort might have taken some of the starch out of Uncle Lino in the San Felipe. He half heartedly chased Danzig Candy for half of the race, then faded to fourth, ten lengths out of it.  This is disappointing because Uncle Lino has one of the best pedigrees in the field. By a 2YO Champ and leading freshman sire, Uncle Lino is out of an unraced full sister to Alabama Stakes (G1) winner Lady Joanne.  She’s a half half-sister to Preakness Stakes hero and new sire Shackleford and three other stakes winners. Uncle Lino’s second dam is the blue hen Oatsee. Trainer Gary Sherlock takes the blinkers off this well-bred colt. However, the far outside post combined with his pace pressing style does Uncle Lino no favors.  He’ll have to step up his game to be competitive here.

IRON ROB (Twirling Candy - Cold Blooded, by Tiger Ridge) reached the winner’s circle in his seventh try. He must have enjoyed the attention, because he’s won his last two starts against listed stakes company. Iron Rob has raced exclusively in sprints. Jumping to 1 1/8 miles against Grade 1 competition is a very ambitious undertaking.  Iron Rob’s unraced dam is a full sister to the multiple Grade 2 sprinter/miler Leahs Secret.  Iron Rob could turn into a nice colt if he isn’t forced to run above his current class level.

DENMAN'S CALL (Northern Afleet - Maggie McGowan, by Salt Lake) is tacking on an additional three furlongs. He was third behind Nyquist in the San Vicente and last time out in the listed San Pedro Stakes, he was wide, but was gaining on Iron Rob.  Denman’s Call is the first foal out of a half sister to multiple G1 winner Evening Jewel. This is the family of California legend General Challenge and his ¾ sister, G1 heroine Notable Career.  Despite the jock change to Bejarano, Denman’s Call is going to have a tough time stretching out.  His speed figures don’t indicate that he’ll be competitive against the top horses. Why is he in here? Give him another shot to beat listed company instead.

RARE CANDY (Twirling Candy - Bold Pegasus, by Fusaichi Pegasus) was second in his last two starts against optional claimers, but he just isn’t graded stakes race caliber.  Rare Candy’s second dam Bold Lady Anne won the Churchill Debutante and placed in the Spinaway (G1) at two. However, Rare Candy’s dam is unraced and his and half siblings haven’t shown a whole lot of interest in racing.  Give this guy a chance to win against optional claimers before reaching for the stars.

DRESSED IN HERMES (Hat Trick (JPN) - Elusive Fashion, by Elusive Quality) recorded his worst finishes in dirt races.  The fashionably named colt has carved out a nice little career over the lawn as a stakes miler, so why is trainer Janet Armstrong forcing this colt to run over a surface on which he isn’t competitive? Dressed in Hermes’ pedigree is filled with turf attributes.  The majority of his sire’s offspring are best over turf and synthetics and win from sprints to 1 ¼ miles. Dressed in Hermes’ unraced dam is a half to an English stakes winner. His second dam Indian Fashion set a new track record for the turf mile in the Jenny Wiley Stakes and was second in the 1 ½ mile Orchid Stakes.     

DIPLODOCUS (Sky Mesa - Speciality, by Carson City) has the pedigree of a dirt sprinter, yet won his maiden at 1 1/8 miles over the turf, go figure.  That was the only time he’s come within hailing frequency of the winner’s circle in five starts.  He’s a half brother to a graded stakes placed turf miler with the unfortunate name of Grizzled Robert. Not much blacktype in Diplodocus first two generations, however, his dam is a half sister to the multiple graded winner Faras Team, the dam of Breeders' Cup Classic hero Concern.  Diplodocus was last seen finishing fourth, beaten just ½ length for third in the El Camino Real at Golden Gate.  He’s the only colt in the field who has traveled 1 1/8 miles.  The gelding was far back in his two starts over dirt, but that was when he began his career.  Diplodocus doesn’t have the speed figures to be competitive and who knows if he’ll handle the dirt. 

Race keys: Only two of the last ten winners of the Santa Anita Derby didn’t win their previous race. Five of the last ten exited the San Felipe Stakes. Seems like a no-brainer.  

Danzig Candy is the controlling speed over a speed favoring track. Iron Rob is the only one with enough early speed to push Danzig Candy, although if Denman’s Call breaks sharply, he could grab the coveted rail and keep Danzig Candy between the horses in a speed duel.  Perhaps Danzig Candy can be enticed to run faster than he should, which would set it up nicely for Mor Spirit, but I’d like to think Mike Smith is smart enough not to let that happen. Giving Smokey’s Image another shot to hit the board.

#3  Danzig Candy
#4  Mor Spirit
#2  Exaggerator
#5  Smokey Image

Handigambling:  Looks like a chalky special, so not getting fancy.
$2 Exacta = $4  #3, #4
$2 Exacta = $4  #4, #3
$2 Quin. = $4  #3, #4
$2 Quin. = $4  #4, #3
$2 Trifecta Box = $48  #3, #4, #2, #5
$2 Super Box = $24  #3, #4, #2, #5 
$12 - Snack


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