After three $1 million Derby prep stakes were run at Aqueduct, Keeneland and Santa Anita Park on Saturday, it was clear to see Exaggerator’s strong stretch run victory in the Santa Anita Derby was much the best performance in those three 1-1/8 mile Derby preps.
Exaggerator not only beat the Bob Baffert trained Mor Spirit by more than six lengths, he earned a 103 Beyer Speed Figure. That was 10 points higher than Outwork earned winning a close decision over the maiden Trojan Nation in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and 12 points higher than Brody’s Cause earned taking the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.
Actually, Exaggerator’s 103 Beyer was the best Fig. earned by this year’s 3 year olds in any race they have ever run.
That said, Mor Spirit and others in the SA Derby may have had built in excuses for their respective performances. Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens said as much after he dismounted Mor Spirit, who went to the post as a slight favorite over fourth place finisher Danzing Candy, who set the pace until displaced by 26-1 shot Uncle Lino entering the stretch.
Uncle Lino’s lead didn’t last very long as Exaggerator whisked on by to take control of the contest in the upper stretch while Mor Spirit finally got untracked while swinging out for a clear path to pass Uncle Lino and Danzig Candy for a clear second while no match to Exaggerator.
“I’m proud of this horse,” Stevens’ said. “He didn’t get a hold of the (wet) track very well; But,” Stevens continued, “on his class, he rallied well (to get second.)”
Trained by Keith Desormeaux and ridden by his younger brother, Kent Desormeaux, Exaggerator’s performance certainly raised the level of anticipation the two brothers have toward running their emerging star colt in the 1-1/4 mile Derby at Churchill Downs next month.
“I knew he was to going to run a super race,” said jockey Kent D., who has won three Kentucky Derbies in his Hall of Fame career. “He was so composed, so relaxed and yet so full of energy while we were warming up.” With those behavioral tips, it will be important to watch the way Exaggerator trains in Louisville and maybe even how he looks going to the post when 19 other 3 year olds try to win America’s most famous race.
The final field of 20 (less late defections), will be determined by the point system Churchill Downs established a few years ago. To get a fix on who is currently likely to be in the Derby, please check out the point totals in the chart below. On Saturday, the Wood Memorial, the Blue Grass Stakes and the Santa Anita Derby each awarded 100 points to their respective winners; 40 for each second place finisher; 20 for each third and 10 for those who finished fourth.
Next Saturday, Oaklawn Park will host the final 100 point race, the $1 million Arkansas Derby, in which the Baffert trained Cupid may rule a slight favorite over a wide open field that will include fast working American Pioneer and Whitmore, who was a good second to Cupid in the $900,000 Rebel stakes at Oaklawn last month.
Should Cupid win the Ark. Derby, he will replicate the two Oaklawn stakes wins Baffert’s American Pharoah used in 2015 to set up his rare sweep of the American Triple Crown. Until Exaggerator won the SA Derby, I thought Cupid’s victory in the Rebel was the most impressive victory by a 3-year-old Derby candidate this year.
All of that notwithstanding, the undefeated 3-year-old filly Songbird won her seventh straight race in the Grade-1 Santa Anita Oaks on Saturday. This was Songbird’s sixth stakes victory, her fourth in a Grade-1, and she never seemed in any danger at any stage of the 1-1/16 mile contest.
Actually, Songbird was considered such a sure thing going into the $400,000 SA Oaks that thousands of Santa Anita bettors bet so much on her she was 10 cents on the dollar to win the race, which resulted in a $2.20 payoff for each $2 win bet.
Much more money however, was wagered on Songbird to finish second or better, or at least third, that so-called minus pools were created to ensure place and show bettors would get the minimum legal payment of 5 cents on the dollar for every $2 they bet. This guaranteed $2.10 payoffs for all who made place and show bets on Songbird.
When a minus pool occurs, the host track has to make up the difference from what was actually wagered. So in this case, a bet on Songbird to place forced SA to reach into their coffers for $716 to set up the guaranteed minimum $2.10 place payoff. But that was chicken feed compared to the $139,000 SA had to cough up to set up the minimum $2.10 payoff to the thousands of fans who bet on Songbird to finish third or better.
While Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer resolutely states he has no intention to run Songbird in the Kentucky Derby and is pointing her to the 1-1/8 mile Kentucky Oaks the day before the Derby, it says here there is a distinct possibility Songbird will have a different target should she win the Kentucky Oaks as expected.
I believe that target is likely to be the 1-3/16 mile Preakness Stakes at Pimlico in Maryland on May 21. Yes, it says here if – and it’s an important if – all should go well for Songbird at Churchill Downs, I believe we will see this terrific filly in the middle jewel of racing’s vaunted Triple Crown. Stay tuned!
Steve Davidowitz, author of the best selling “,” has covered racing since Secretariat, lives in Vegas and has just completed a new book – “Cashing Big on Racing’s Biggest Days.” Should you wish to purchase a personally autographed copy, please send Steve a note for details: SteveDavidowitz @GamingToday.com