by Kevin Stott | Three major tests on the road to Churchill Downs are on tap on Saturday as the Santa Anita Derby, the Illinois Derby and the Wood Memorial will separate the wheat – and maybe a little hay – from the chaff as a number of three-year-old contenders try and make the field for the 2008 Kentucky Derby in four weeks.
In the day’s biggest race at Santa Anita, El Gato Malo (8-1 Kentucky Derby futures, Palms), Colonel John (12-1), Yankee Bravo (50-1), Coast Guard (100-1) and Polonius are among the 11-horse field in the 71st running of the Santa Anita Derby (NBC, 5 EDT/2 PDT) which will be held on a synthetic track (Cushion Track) for the first ever time this year.
Colonel John and El Gato Malo met at the Sham Stakes on March 1 where the the two finished 1-2 in that order. Colonel John gets jockey Corey Nakatani back who missed the Sham with a broken collarbone. Yankee Bravo has won his first three starts while Polonius won two of his first three races and may be a factor tomorrow in Arcadia, California.
The remainder of the field includes Bob Black Jack (75-1) who finished third in the San Felipe Stakes, Coast Guard, The Virg, Signature Move, Shore Do, Meetingwithdestiny and Rosso Corsa. Noticeably absent from the race is Georgie Boy, who was taken out of the race due to a pulled muscle in his back.
At Hawthorne Race Course, the 51st Illinois Derby will see contenders Denis of Cork (12-1), Atoned (40-1) and Z Humor (40-1) get their chance to make the Run for the Roses on May 3. Also in the seven-horse field are Golden Spikes (85-1), Instill, Recapturetheglory and Real Appeal. Undefeated (3-for-3) Denis of Cork (2-1) was made the morning-line favorite with Z Humor next at 3-1.
The Illinois Derby airs on TVG and the scheduled post time is 5:30 p.m. EDT, 2:30 p.m. PDT.
Another important 1 1/8-mile gallop takes place at Aqueduct Park in New York where the Wood Memorial Stakes features heavies War Pass (11-2), Court Vision (10-1) and Tale of Ekati (20-1). The Nick Zito-trained War Pass is coming off a last place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby – as an overwhelming 1-20 favorite – and owner Robert LaPenta said he and Zito will have to see a "competitive race" from War Pass for him to proceed to the Kentucky Derby.
Also running in the Wood Memorial will be Anak Nakal (55-1), Giant Moon (40-1), Inner Light, Roman Emperor, Spurrier, Texas Wildcatter (100-1), and possibly Gattopardo and First Commandement.
The race will also be broadcast on NBC (5 EDT/2 PDT) as part of the network’s hourlong broadcast that will also include the Santa Anita Derby.
Next Saturday, three more crucial prep races go when the Arkansas Derby, the Holy Bull Stakes and the Blue Grass Stakes will all load into the gate.