Now that the Kentucky Derby prep races have been completed, it is a good time to take a look at the 3-year-old division from California and analyze what if any impact they may have on the 2017 Triple Crown races.
The first thing that jumps out is trainer Bob Baffert will not be represented in the Kentucky Derby for the first time since 2013 and just the second time overall in the last nine years. His best prospect, Mastery, appeared to stamp himself as the Kentucky Derby favorite winning the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 11, only to pull up abruptly after the race with an injury that required surgery. Now his future racing career is in doubt.
Baffert was unsuccessful trying to get American Anthem and Reach the World into the big dance as well, so the top barn in So Cal is forced to sit this one out.
The other marquee name this winter was the filly Unique Bella. The Jerry Hollendorfer stable decided to keep her racing against her own sex despite the temptations to try to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. She responded with three straight daylight wins in Graded Stakes. However, she had to be taken out of training prior to the Santa Anita Oaks with sore shins and will not be seen in the afternoon again until later this summer.
Where does that leave the So Cal contingent? In order of preference, below is what I consider the top five 3-year-olds from California going into the Triple Crown season:
1. Paradise Woods: It says something that a filly with just three lifetime starts heads the list. She went from a 5-1/2 furlong Maiden win to the Grade-I Santa Anita Oaks and simply dominated her rivals in what was perhaps the best performance this year by any 3-year-old of either sex. She earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 107 from the victory, and her top trainer Richard Mandella thought enough of her to nominate her to the Triple Crown series as a Maiden.
The unusually wet winter in So Cal put her behind and as a result she did not get a chance to take on the boys and qualify for the Kentucky Derby. However, expect to see her in the Kentucky Oaks, and with all due respect to Farrell in the Midwest and Miss Sky Warrior from New York, Paradise Woods could be a slam dunk to win the Kentucky Oaks if she simply repeats her Santa Anita Oaks effort.
2. Battle of Midway: This Hollendorfer trained soph is another who got behind due to the wet winter. The result was having just one chance to earn enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby with a start in the Santa Anita Derby on April 8. He took all the worst of it from a trip standpoint, dueling on the pace while pinned along the rail throughout.
Midway showed his grit fighting to the wire to end up a game second to Gormley. This is a horse that doesn’t need the lead, and that versatility could be put into use at Churchill Downs.
3. Gormley: This two-time Grade-I winner showed a new dimension rating off the early pace before rallying to win the Santa Anita Derby. He gets points for his fighting spirit, but the John Shirreffs trainee also tends to get washy going to the gate, and those nerves won’t help his chances in front of 150,000-plus maniacs at Churchill Downs on Derby Day.
4. Irap: He could not beat Maidens in California, so it was a stunner to see him beat McCraken, Practical Joke, J Boys Echo, and Taprit in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. He got a very easy trip pressing the pace in the clear that day, so until he proves he can repeat this effort the win has to be viewed with plenty of skepticism.
5. Reach the World: A late developer from Baffert’s stable simply ran out of time trying to get to the Kentucky Derby. Baffert has said all along he looks like a “Belmont Stakes” type of horse, and that is where he figures to show up in this year’s Triple Crown series.
With the exception of Mastery, the 3-year-old colts and geldings in California have looked like a weaker than normal group. It appears the strength of the 3-year-old crop is back East this year.
Santa Anita report
The “new” Spring/Summer portion of the SA meet started last Friday. There were a total of 27 races over the opening weekend with an average field size of seven runners per race.
Coming off the dark days, the main track was again very slow last Friday. The times quickened noticeably on Saturday, so expect a similar trend when racing resumes on Thursday. There is a single ticket Pick Six Jackpot carryover of $181,787 and a Super High Five carryover of $35,348 going into Thursday.
Top play this week: Race 8 on Friday at Santa Anita. Take Chocolate Coated (post 1). Candy Ride filly finished with interest in career debut and gets the right pace scenario. Proven form down the hillside turf course is a huge plus.