Messier Vs. Forbidden Kingdom In Runhappy Derby

April 9, 2022

Yakteen, Mandella Act II: The Oaks, Pincay To Present Derby Trophy, Different Dynamics With Prat Gone

ARCADIA, Calif.—The stage is set for a great day of racing Saturday, capped by one of the most anticipated editions of the Grade I Runhappy Santa Anita Derby, pitting speed versus speed and class versus class in the form of the two overwhelming betting favorites, Messier and Forbidden Kingdom.

Messier is the even-money morning line choice, with Forbidden Kingdom a tick higher at 6-5. A win by any of the other four entrants would be considered a major upset.

Forbidden Kingdom will be triple-teamed in the West Coast’s major steppingstone to the Kentucky Derby on May 7, but that won’t alter his running style.

His forte is speed, speed and more speed, as the son of 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah has been in front at some point in each of his five races, winning his last two leading all the way, in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes and the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes, both Grade II events, the latter his first going two turns.

“We’ll see when the gates open,” said Richard Mandella, his typical self-deprecating deportment at the fore.

 In a more serious tone, the Hall of Fame trainer was quick to add: “Our intention would be not to change him, just let him run his race.”

Also as is his wont, Mandella gave Forbidden Kingdom an 11th-hour pre-race breeze on Wednesday, a three-furlong blowout in 37 seconds flat.

“Triple-teaming” Forbidden Kingdom will be Messier, Taiba and Armagnac, all originally trained by Bob Baffert and now conditioned by Tim Yakteen.

Messier won the Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes by 15 widening lengths in his last start on Feb. 6 and has been firing bullets in his drills for Saturday’s race.

Of Yakteen’s other starters Taiba is the most intriguing commodity, as he has but one start—a dazzling 7 ½ length win at seven furlongs on March 5 to his credit.Ridden by John Velazquez, he was off as the 1-2 favorite and he earned a lofty 103 Beyer Speed Figure.

Taiba, a $1.7 million son of Gunrunner, blew out three furlongs Wednesday in 37 seconds flat, while Armagnac, beaten 27 ¼ lengths by Forbidden Kingdom in the San Felipe, is one of three morning line 20-1 shots in the race.

Yakteen will leave strategy up to his three jockeys, John Velazquez on Messier, Mike Smith on Taiba and Drayden Van Dyke aboard Armagnac.

 “That’s why we’ve got our pilots on the horses,” Yakteen said. “I’ve got confidence in all our riders. They’ll come up with their strategy depending on their horses; they’ll play the break (start) and take it from there.

“If races like these don’t get you excited, no races are going to get you excited.

 “It’s going to be a great weekend with a lot of great racing.

“We’re just glad to be part of it.”

The $750,000 Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles will be run for the 85th time. It offers the winner 100 qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby, 40 to the runner-up, 20 to the third-place finisher and 10 to the fourth.

The Derby is race six of 12 with a 12 noon (3 pm Eastern first post time: 
1. Happy Jack, Abel Cedillo, 20-1
2. Armagnac, Drayden Van Dyke, 20-1
3. Forbidden Kingdom, Juan Hernandez, 6-5
4. Messier, John Velazquez, 1-1
5. Win the Day, Umberto Rispoli, 20-1
6. Taiba, Mike Smith, 4-1

Yakteen, Mandella Act II: The Santa Anita Oaks

Tim Yakteen and Richard Mandella lock horns again in Saturday’s Grade II Santa Anita Oaks with Adare Manor and Micro Share, respectively, Adare Manor winning her last two starts by a combined margin of 25 lengths including a 13-length romp in the Grade III Las Virgenes Stakes on Feb. 6, while Micro Share comes off a 4 ½-length maiden win as the 2-5 favorite.

“Adare Manor is doing super,” Yakteen said. “We’ll just need some racing luck.”

Mandella readily admits the Oaks is a “step up” for Micro Share, but adds, “She won nicely, so we’re going to jump in there and see what happens.”

The field for the 83rd running of the Santa Anita Oaks, which goes as race four: 
1. Desert Dawn, Umberto Rispoli, 20-1
2. Ain’t Easy, Juan Hernandez, 4-1
3. Under the Stars, Mike Smith, 5-2
4. Micro Share, Victor Espinoza, 6-1
5. Adare Manor, John Velazquez, 3-5.

Legendary Hall Of Fame Jockey Pincay To Present Derby Trophy

A fans’ favorite dating back to the late 1960s, legendary Hall of Fame jockey Laffit Pincay, Jr. will present the trophy for tomorrow’s Grade I, $750,000 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby.A 14-time leading rider at Santa Anita’s Winter/Spring meet, his 138-win season in 1970-71, 68 winners clear of Jerry Lambert’s 70, still stands as Santa Anita’s all-time best single season performance.

“What I remember is I couldn’t do anything wrong,” said Pincay on Friday morning.“I was winning so many races and everything came out good.I got lucky winning races, I rode some really good horses and I rode some really good races.It was just one of those years when everything goes your way.”

Pincay was then asked about the Pancho-Martin-trained Sham, winner of the 1973 Santa Anita Derby and runner-up to Secretariat the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs.

“He won so easy here at Santa Anita,” he said.“I loved that horse and I just knew if I had a clean trip, he’d win.I was not afraid at all of (3-5 favorite) Linda’s Chief.I told my friends, I had never been so optimistic about any horse winning a race as I was with Sham that day.I told all of them, he’ll win and he’s going to win easy and sure enough he did (by 2 ½ lengths over Linda’s Chief, who was bothered at the break).

“Going into the Kentucky Derby, I was very confident in Sham, because he had beaten Secretariat in the Wood Memorial.Jorge Velazquez rode him in New York because I had to ride (eventual Hall of Famer) Susan’s Girl at Hollywood Park.He finished second to Angle Light, who made an easy lead that day.Nobody went after him and the pace was kind of slow.Secretariat, I don’t know what kind of a trip he had, but he got beat, he finished third.

“So going into the Derby, I thought my chances were good.Especially when Pancho Martin told me the night before, ‘Listen, this horse tomorrow, is going to do something that no other horse has ever done before in the Kentucky Derby.’And he was right, because he broke the track record, but so did Secretariat.”

A living legend and race-fit at 75, Santa Anita Park will indeed be honored to have Laffit Pincay, Jr. present tomorrow’s Runhappy Santa Anita Derby trophy.

Mike Willman

Different Dynamics With Prat Gone

“Every man of action has a strong dose of egotism, pride, hardness and cunning. But all those things will be forgiven him, indeed, they will be regarded as high qualities, if he can make of them the means to achieve great ends.”—Charles de Gaulle.

Such is the goal of Flavien Prat, as he bid goodbye to Santa Anita on a fulltime basis last Sunday for greener pastures in the east, where he hopes to achieve rewards heretofore unattainable.

Prat has won all the riding titles he cares to in California. They are bursting through his regal resume.

 How many more does he need? None.

Thus, the 29-year-old Frenchman will now begin riding regularly at Keeneland and later in New York.

Departure of the alpha jockey, in addition to Hall of Fame member John Velazquez and Umberto Rispoli, a regular in the top 10, instantly alters the dynamics in the jockey colony, leaving leading trainers such as Phil D’Amato, Doug O’Neill and John Sadler, regular employers of Prat, asking themselves, “Whither thou goest?”

Ponder they may, but the answer is inevitable. The game doesn’t stop. No one is indispensable. Life goes on.

 It’s just different.

In fact, Ramon Vazquez is already on the scene from Oaklawn Park where he was fourth in the standings. The 38-year-old veteran, whose agent is Bill Castle, makes his debut as a Santa Anita regular in today’s first race aboard Dear Beau for trainer Richard Baltas.

“Prat’s absence will give more riders opportunities,” said Tom Knust, who has an extensive and diverse background in racing and currently is in his 21st year as an agent, presently representing Hall of Fame member and Triple Crown winner Victor Espinoza and Abel Cedillo, consistently among the leaders.

“J.J. (Juan Hernandez, second to Prat in Santa Anita’s current standings) is in the best position right now because he’s been riding a lot for Sadler and (Richard) Mandella,” Knust said.

“Taking mounts for them opens up mounts for everybody else, so I think it will even out pretty well. But Hernandez is a great rider and Craig (agent Craig O’Bryan) does a great job.”

Overall, a Flavien-free colony would seem to have a trickle-down effect, providing more mounts for those who otherwise might not have them. Knust concurs.

“I think it will help everybody,” he said.

LA Rams To Share Lombardi Trophy With Fans Beginning At 11:30 A.M.

Prior to Saturday’s races, representative of the Los Angeles Rams will be on-hand to meet fans as part of the Rams Super Bowl Championship Lombardi Trophy Fan Experience near the Kingsbury Fountain in the West Paddock.General Manager Les Snead will be in the Seabiscuit Walking Ring prior to the Santa Anita Derby and will issue the call for “Riders Up!”

Festive Spring Carnival Saturday Until April 17

While the Grade I Runhappy Santa Anita Derby is the centerpiece of a seven-stakes racing bonanza tomorrow, five of them graded, attending fans can avail themselves of a myriad of other activities at Santa Anita’s annual Spring Carnival all weekends through April 17.

 It includes the San Gabriel Valley’s largest Easter Egg Hunt on Sunday, April 17.

For additional Spring Carnival information, please visit santaanita.com or call 626 574-RACE.

Runhappy 5k Run Resumes Today

Santa Anita’s popular Runhappy Santa Anita Derby Day 5K Run & Walk returns tomorrow following a two-year absence due to COVID-19 restrictions.

 Runners and walkers from five to 90 will begin their 5K journey from Santa Anita’s South Lot B, which adjoins the Westfield Santa Anita M all and proceed west to Gate 8 and turn north onto Baldwin Ave.

From there, they will turn left into the LA County Arboretum prior to retuning to Baldwin Ave, from where they will proceed east into Santa Anita’s Gate 7 and onto the backside of the track en route to an Infield finish on the inner training track.

Accordingly, Baldwin Ave. will be closed to vehicular traffic between the 210 Freeway and Huntingdon Drive from 7:45 a.m. to 9:45 a.m.

To register, fans can visit www.derbyday5k.com. Participants can also register in person today from 4 to 6:30 p.m. at the Promenade at Westfield Santa Anita

There will also be Race Day registration available in Santa Anita’s South Lot B April 9 from 6:30 a.m.to 7:45 a.m. For additional information, visit santaanita.com or call 626 574-RACE.

FINISH LINESFlavien Prat leaves Santa Anita with a commanding 72-53 lead over runner-up Juan Hernandez in the jockey standings, while Phil D’Amato and Doug O’Neill are tied among trainers with 31 wins each, four more than Bob Baffert, who is first in purse earnings ($2,714,740) and win percentage (34). D’Amato has an extremely busy Saturday in store with 12 horses entered in eight of the 12 races on the card . . . There were 112 recorded workouts at Santa Anita Friday, including a five-furlong breeze in 1:01 by Smooth Like Strait, whose last seven works have been at Santa Anita after finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Del Mar last Nov. 6. Trained by Michael McCarthy, Smooth Like Strait has run second in four straight races following his victory in Santa Anita’s Grade I Shoemaker Mile last Memorial Day. Smooth Like Strait could defend his title May 30 in the Shoemaker, a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Race allowing the nominated winner to have pre-entry and entry fees waived for this year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland on Nov. 5 . . . Host Tom Quigley’s guests from the XBTV Studios are Mike Ciani, agent for jockey Ryan Curatolo today at 11:50 a.m.; XBTV analyst Jeff Siegel, Saturday at 10:50 a.m.; and Daily Racing Form handicapper Brad Free Sunday, also at 11:50 a.m.

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