By now Geo Sette should need no introduction. A few years ago he crushed the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs right here on Past the Wire and just last week he crushed the Florida Derby ice cold, and when we say ice cold we mean it like it was meant to be. Precise. If you missed Geo’s column on the Florida Derby you can check it out here and let him know what you think. Geo does his homework and doesn’t bring a knife to a gunfight. he comes prepared and truly enjoys helping other handicappers get prepared as well. Following are his thoughts on the Santa Anita Derby of 2021.
It’s always a beautiful day over at the Great Race Place and the always picturesque backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains add intrigue every time they load the gate and race around the track.
They have been running this special race, a major steppingstone for the Kentucky Derby, since it inaugurated 86 years ago in 1935. The history of this race is quite obvious, there have been 10 Santa Anita Derby winners that have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby.
Who can forget California Chrome back in 2014 and his later magical Run for the Roses, or the way Exaggerator circled the field making up 20+ lengths as he went past horses as if they were tied to the rail to win the 2016 event in romping style. Exaggerator didn’t win his Run for the Roses, but he did come back to win the Preakness.
Trainer Bob Baffert has won this race a record 9 times, the last with Justify in 2018, who went on to win the Triple Crown. The ageless Mike Smith gets another mount in this big race, he’s won it the last 3 years with Justify in 2018, Roadster in 2019 and Honor AP last year in 2020.
This year’s version sports a field of ten, 8 colts and 2 geldings, who will go at it for the top prize of 100 points and an automatic bid for the Run for the Roses on the first Saturday in May. It would have been special for this race to include West Coast sensation “Life is Good” but an injury took away his opportunity and what seemed to be an inevitable march to the Kentucky Derby.
Even still we have a solid field of 10 which should result in a very compelling race. As always I have exhausted my efforts watching every race all of these three-year-old have run. I dug down deep into their bloodlines and carved up their numbers in past performances.
I am providing my precise order of my top 6 contenders and simply tossing all the others. This is precisely how I see the race panning out. I’m confident my analysis will be a worthwhile vehicle for you to make a more informed decision at the window. It should be a great day overall on the Thoroughbred Racing circuit with the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.
My deeper focus is here at Santa Anita, are you ready? Let’s go!
# 7 Medina Spirit
I really spent an abundance of time in film study breaking down this colt’s 4 career races. With the much heralded Life Is Good not part of this field and clearly his only nemesis, there were simply too many things to like about this colt. This guy has proven himself to be versatile in his approach, showing enough speed to command a lead, and a sensational ability to sit back tactically, be patient, become a close stalking presence, then file his best while in contention. He won his maiden sprint as a juvenile with a nice turn of foot, and he has progressed greatly in his 3 races as a three-year-old. He has shown to be a fighter on multiple occasions, most apparently in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes where he held his lead and held off two major threats to win by a neck, edging Roman Centurian and Hot Rod Charlie who later went on to win the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds. He’s trained by the West Coast master Bob Baffert, who as I mentioned in my opening thoughts, seeks to win this race for the 10th time. It looks to be quite obvious that this colt will be the post time favorite. As you know, I typically do all I can to challenge who I feel will take in the most money at the windows; however, with Johnny Velazquez back up in the saddle, a significant advantage in his overall Beyer speed ratings, his raw ability to display speed and be tactical and his two works for the race all point to him having a good trip, embracing the added distance to 9 furlongs and ultimately emerging victorious. He’s worthy of a wager on top or across the board and to lead most of, if not all of your exotics. It’s simply hard to make a confident, logical case against him. The irony here is that many others in the field sport a more dynamic pedigree and cost significantly more as a yearling, but this guy has simply proven himself over the racetrack and if it weren’t for Life is Good, he could be coming into this race 4 for 4 lifetime. I know now I will probably not like him at the Kentucky Derby, because there are simply tougher, more imposing colts out there, but for this race, he’s my top choice and I’m hoping to nail the exacta and triple underneath him.
# 9 The Great One
This son of Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist is my 2nd choice and my biggest threat to defeat Medina Spirit. He’s trained by Doug O’Neill who has a consistent barn and knows how to win over the Santa Anita strip. O’Neill won this race in back to back years ( 2012 with I’ll Have Another, and 2013 with Goldencents, and I’ll Have Another went on to win the Kentucky Derby. The very capable Abel Cedillo is back up in the saddle as his regular rider. This colt has some much-needed seasoned experience. He ran four times as a juvenile, twice over the lawn and at varied distances. He was 2nd to Spielberg in a Grade 2 race, losing by a nose. It was a race he led and battled for. He later graduated over this same Santa Anita soil winning by 14 lengths, simply smashing his field of maidens. In his last, he faulted, but he had a bad trip, was bumped and weakened in the grade 2 San Felipe which was dominated by Life is Good. There have been great expectations for this colt and I feel he hasn’t fired his best race yet. His works aren’t too fast, but at least they have kept him fit. I am expecting a better overall trip and solid improvement from this colt. He’s fast enough to grab the lead or if sacrificed, I feel he can stalk if needed and then fire his best as they turn for home. Perhaps he’ll fill the exacta well, and if my top choice doesn’t bring his best, perhaps a shot to take it all.
# 1 Roman Centurian
This beautiful looking colt coming out of the Simon Callaghan barn is quite imposing. Purchased for $550,000.00, this son of Empire Maker is bred to run all day, so I am confident he’ll take to the added distance. He’s been pretty consistent and reliable in his 4 lifetime starts. His best race came in the Grade 3 Robert B Lewis stakes where he drifted some, was bumped but closed powerfully over a somewhat wet going, just missing by a neck to my top choice Medina Spirit. Based on that effort alone, he’s a deserving contender to hit the board here, especially if he takes a step forward and improves. His chances will improve if the pace is fast, because I’m expecting him to do his best running during the final furlong of the race. His regular rider, JJ Hernandez is back up. Definitely watch his behavior in the paddock and post parade and watch the board for action.
# 2 Dream Shake
This lightly raced colt could be the wildcard of the race. He definitely has displayed some raw talent and his speed figures rank with some of the best in this field. He did not race as a juvenile , making his career debut in early February where he won rather easily in a sprint showing a fabulous turn of foot even though racing wide, drawing clear to win by a decisive 5 lengths. In his 2nd start they jacked him up to the Grade 2 San Felipe where he ran into two tigers, my top choice Medina Spirit and Life Is Good. The extremely successful and ultra-consistent Flavian Prat who knows the Santa Anita strip very well takes over the mount from Joel Rosario who isn’t available for this race. This son of Twirling Candy will likely have a very profitable career. Based on his morning drills, he seems to be fresh and very fit. With that he is capable to better my 4th place rating. As I mentioned, he’s a wildcard and should be used in many of your deeper gimmicks. I just like those I have listed above much more.
# 6 Otto The Legend
This colt, like Dream Shake, is limited in his experience with only 2 lifetime starts, both as a three-year-old. He comes out of the world class Steven Asmussen barn with a solid rider switch to Mario Gutierrez who will always give you a solid effort. This son of Uncle Mo was purchased for 175,000 and comes off his maiden win so he’s facing winners for the very first time. It’s a tough task, but he’s ambitiously entered into this race so I’m expecting him to again move forward with his progress.
# 10 Defunded
I’m offering some respectful consideration for this gelding mainly because he comes out of the Bob Baffert barn, and is a stablemate to my top choice. This guy was purchased for $210,000, ran a very awkward debut at Delmar, but after being on the shelf for almost 8 months, he came back running to graduate over this same Santa Anita soil where he didn’t have the best of trips, yet still won going away. He’s working well and stretching out to this 9 furlong distance. His rider is Mike Smith who as I mentioned earlier has won this race the last 3 years. Nah, I don’t think he’ll win here, but worthy of a mention for your deeper superfectas and trifecta boxes, just in case my top 3 choices falter.
I’m simply tossing the rest of the field. The others like # 3 Rock This World were confusing as I went though my progress. Rock this World cost big bucks at $650,000 and has some nice pedigree, but he’s raced only on the turf ( winning both). Now after some decent works, they have him facing more seasoned three-year-olds going 9 furlongs on the dirt. It will be interesting to see how he performs, but I had to add him with those I tossed; however, I will be watching the board to see the action he gets at the window.
Ok, There you have it, I’m hoping I have provided enough information for you to make an informed decision at the window. Good Luck and Let’s Go Get-Em.