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Staff Picks: 2012 Santa Anita Derby

It's time for another installment of "Staff Picks" with Jared, JP and TFTribe. After coming up with the winner and the long shot runner-up in the Florida Derby last weekend, the guys are back to tackle the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby (post time: 5:41pm Eastern/2:41pm Pacific; TV: NBC).

Let's take a look at the analysis of the 2012 Wood Memorial from Jared, JP and TFTribe.

Jared L. Christopher:

So far the races leading up to the 2012 Santa Anita Derby has shown one thing - Creative Cause is the most talented horse in the race. Even so, there are three important things to consider when handicapping this race. 1. He will be breaking from the #1 post, if the field collapses on him he will be forced to find a hole or go wide. 2. Trainer Mike Harrington is still tinkering with his gray colt. Creative Cause will run without blinkers for the first time in his career. Harrington is hoping the added vision will help his horse find another gear if he is challenged down the stretch. 3. Never count out a Bob Baffert horse at Santa Anita Park!

Others to consider:

Liaison - Arnold Zetcher, who teamed with Baffert in 2011 in bringing Midnight Interlude to the post, would be the first owner to win back to back Santa Anita Derbies since 1960. Almost a forgotten horse since his last win in the CashCall Futurity last December, Baffert wants this horse to have more ground to work with and this race will provide the extra distance. At the moment, Liaison is listed at 8-1 odds but expect those to drop come post time as money finds its way onto the heads of the three Baffert's entries.

I'll Have Another - trainer Doug O'Neill's entry posted his highest Beyer to date in his last race, the Robert Lewis Stakes, also run at Santa Anita. After a two moth layoff this Flower Alley colt looks ready to roll. His steady improvement and consistent "in the money" finishes make him one to watch.

Midnight Transfer - dueled down the stretch with Creative Cause in the San Felipe. He will have a new rider in the saddle, none other than "King" Mike Smith. This horse has hit the board in four of five career starts. Racing on his home track with a Hall of Fame jockey in the saddle makes this one a serious contender on Saturday.

Senor Rain - Shocked the handicappers pulling off a huge 21-1 upset in his last outing on March 16th over the Santa Anita track under new apprentice rider Eswan Flores. The heavily raced gelding so impressed his trainer that the words Kentucky Derby slipped out of his mouth post-race. Sometimes it just takes a horse a little while to find his stride, might Senor Rain be peaking at the right time? It would make for a great story at 15-1

The Pick

Creative Cause is the best 3 year old in California. If he gets a fairly clean trip and his new-found vision doesn't distract him, expect him to find the winners circle.

Creative Cause to win with heavy pressure from Baffert's Liaison and his old friend Midnight Transfer. I'll Have Another should be sitting just off the lead into the stretch and find himself with a clear path along the outside.

The Long Shot

By all accounts Senor Rain shouldn't even be in this race. The horse found something in his last outing but its 7 furlong distance is nowhere near the 1 1/8 mile the Santa Anita Derby presents.

JP Fanshawe:

1-Creative Cause: What I Like: It's hard to argue against a horse that has reeled off three straight BRIS speed figs of 102, and has never been out of the money at Santa Anita. Three solid works lead him into a stakes for trainer Harrington, who is hitting at a 19 percent clip in them. Colt is also tops in Early, Middle, and Late pace which is usually an automatic single for me in horizontal exotics. Tops in Speed fig average, and dollars earned, and has a five-point advantage in BRIS Prime Power, as well. Perhaps I could just stop writing right here about this race. What Worries Me: Never gone the distance and has shown a tendency for green-ness. I expect yet another pedestrian pace, which makes me wonder how valid any of these preps have been for the first Saturday in May, and this horse has seen predominately slow races, and scored in all of them. The only fast pace he saw found him third to Hansen and Union Rags. Harrington is hitting just 9 percent going blinkers off, and is 0-for-31 going 3rd off the layoff. Harrington wins with just 5 percent of winners last out in his last 41 attempts.

2-Liason: What I Like: Bob Baffert's numbers, heart attack and Dubai notwithstanding, continue to be ridiculous. 22 percent in graded stakes, 25 percent in routes, and 30 percent in dirt starts. Yes, those are win numbers. Three works under his belt since his fourth place finish in the San Felipe, where he was 5 1/2 lengths worse than Creative Cause. He has a win over the strip, and he is second in class by dollars. Bejarano is lights out for Baffert winning 41 percent. What Worries Me: Colt doesn't fit on speed figure par, having never run within 11. Also, it has to mean something that Baffert's go-to jockey, Martin Garcia, did not choose this one, opting instead for the longer odds 6. More on that in a bit.

3-Holy Candy: What I Like: Colt is 3-for-3 at Santa Anita going win or place. Third in BRIS speed figure average and late pace, so could be a part of the action if things go faster than expected. Trainer Sadler hits 17 percent in graded stakes, and 23 percent in routes. What Worries Me: One work is unimpressive, the horse steps in to a G1 after a four maiden races, and has never been within 7 of the BRIS speed par.

4-I'll Have Another: What I Like: The horse's name, as I am, well, having another. (Separated my shoulder coaching baseball this morning; not fun.) Colt is 1-for-1 at Santa Anita, and third in earnings per start. Horse has won twice off of average pace. Nice works pattern, with four since the last out, but I wish more horses had worked with him in those. What Worries Me: O'Neill's numbers are weak. 7% in graded stakes, 9% with horses taking a route for the second time, and just 10 percent when away 46-90 days. Colt ran a best ever 102 BRIS speed fig last out. Fear the bounce.

5-Longview Drive: The lone "E" horse in here, so a slow pace may suit him to steal the race. Hollendorfer's numbers are solid. 30 percent wheeling back a beaten favorite, 18 percent 46-90 days away. I love that he ran a 104 two back and then bounced in the Southwest. that 104 merits him tops in Back Speed. He has the highest speed fig in his last five in this race, and if he runs to that number, he wins this race from the front end. What Worries Me: As the only "E" in here I would want his early speed metrics to be better. The 1 and the 8 both have better early and middle numbers, even though they are stalkers, which might mean this colt's best speed is a notch below them. Hollendorfer is average in stakes, hitting at just 15 percent.

6-Paynter: What I Like: Baffert's confidence. Off of one impressive win in a Maiden 56k (comment: Ridden out, in hand, and he won by 4 1/4), he brings this colt back in a stakes. No, not just a stakes, but an elite derby prep: a G1 with his main jockey aboard. On the strength of that angle alone, I might back him, and if he goes off at 12-1 or longer I'd be very surprised. The savvy SA crowd will scope that out and I bet his odds are in the 6-1 range at post. Baffert: 30 percent first at route, 22 percent graded stakes, 24 percent off a freshening. Sharp workouts,dating from a bullet that preceded is maiden-breaker, and including back-to-back bullets on the 21st and 27th of March. And I love that he enters a route off of a 7 furlong work. What Worries Me: Doesn't fit on BRIS par, has never run a route. Pace may not suit him as I think he might like some hotter numbers up front.

7-Senor Rain: What I Like: Colt is 2-for-2 winning at Santa Anita and posted a sharp workout on the last day of March. What Worries Me: A lot. Horse enters off a career best BRIS speed fig at 7 furlongs. Perhaps he's maturing, but he ran 9 points higher than any previous start, so I have a great fear of a regression. This is the kind of horse that the only way I back him in a graded stakes is if the trainer owns him. Not the case here.

8-Midnight Transfer: What I Like: Even though he never won any of the big ones, Hard Spun was one of my favorite horses to key in exotics, and perhaps his son will be something like his Dad. He has been in the money in three of five starts at Santa Anita. He worked a bullet coming in and he holds the second best late pace number in the field. Trainer Gaines scores at 29 percent in second route races. Horse has represented well since stepping into stakes company in the last two and Gaines moves him up to the top in this one off that bullet. Horse is second in BRIS speed figure average. What Worries Me: Horse gets fifth different jockey in six starts. If he was a money horse, wouldn't someone be stepping up? Mike Smith may be the answer, though, as I don't think California has any money rider that is better.

9-Blueskiesandrainbows: What I Like: Baffert's awesome numbers. 36 percent blinkers off, 24 percent off freshening, 22 percent stakes. Colt is 2-for-2 in the money at Santa Anita with one win, and has seven, count 'em, seven workouts since his last out, which might speak to some intense maturation. I love that English Channel is out there procreating. What Worries Me: Horse is nowhere in any numbers I compile, and his best speed fig is 18 below par for the race. Talamo, who is o-for-4 for Baffert this year, replaces Garcia. Colt is three races removed from running for a 30k tag.

10-Brother Francis: What I Like: Horse has a start over the track and finished second, and now gets Garret Gomez, who is winning 20 percent of his mounts. Colt must be thought of highly, because two of his four starts were graded stakes affairs, and he hit the board in both. In fact, he has never been off of the board. Colt comes off a sharp workout and may benefit from going turf back to dirt. What Worries Me: Trainer Cassidy is 13 percent in graded stakes, and just 7 percent coming off a layoff. Horse doesn't fit on speed par, especially since all four of his races he has run pretty much the same number. Another 92 doesn't get the win here. But perhaps he is growing up.

Top Selection: Midnight Transfer

Alternates: Paynter, Longview Drive

Scared Of: Creative Cause, I'll Have Another


To me, this race shapes up like this:

Three horses will make for the lead. I'll Have Another, Longview Drive, and Senor Rain all make for the lead. Creative Cause, Midnight Transfer and Liaison all fall in behind them, stalking the pace. Rosario sits Creative Cause just outside of the pace horses so he knows he has a clear run through the straight. Eswan Flores pushes Senor Rain hard into the second turn to try to take the lead, knowing his colt is not as experienced as the others. Creative Cause and Midnight Transfer stay with him while Liaison loses ground. Creative Cause punches it coming in to the stretch and pull away with Midnight Transfer placing and I'll Have Another showing.

In order of finish-

1 - Creative Cause - Just a classy horse, and honestly, one of my top three contenders for the Kentucky Derby (as of right now). Put in a very solid performance in the San Felipe (G2) when he was the high-weight, carrying 5 pounds more than his competitors. His two shows in The BC Juvenile and the San Vicente were both solid performances, as he finished just over a length off the lead in both cases. He is incredibly consistent and removing the blinkers will help him, as he clearly does not lack any competitiveness when it comes to running by other horses.

8 - Midnight Transfer - He's shown that he's clearly a graded stakes horse, and I think this is going to be his opportunity to showcase his talent. With Mike Smith up, I don't see a drop off from his previous rides. He should be very comfortable sitting on the outside of the speed and taking advantage coming into the straight. I'd like his chances better if he had shown a willingness to run on the rail, but he habitually comes wide into the stretch. I think that he'll be able to sit on Creative Cause's hip and cross the line just behind him.

4 - I'll Have Another - I fully expect him to be at the front from gate to wire. While he hasn't raced in two months, he's coming off a very solid showing in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes where he posted a nice speed figure of a 96. Definitely see him contending, but just not strong enough to hold off the surge by Creative Cause or Midnight Transfer. I think he could go off at a value price.

5 - Longview Drive - He stunk in the Southwest at Oaklawn Park. He was never a contender. He's a speed horse that didn't make the lead that day. I think going back Baze is a great move, since Baze was up for all three of his victories, to include two ungraded stakes. I think his speed will show itself Saturday, but he just isn't quite strong enough to hold on.

2 - Liaison - I'm not sure what the deal with this guy is. Has all the talent in the world, but I think when it comes down to it, he's a synthetic specialist. Just like his most recent efforts on dirt, he'll sit 5th-7th for most of the race, and then finish 5th-7th.

7 - Senor Rain - I love Eswan Flores, he's a great rider despite being an apprentice. I fully expect him to put his mount in a spot to succeed on the lead, but there just is not enough in the tank for him to win. Unless he surprises everyone, I don't see him as anything more than a high level allowance or low level stakes horse at this point in time. That's not to say he won't grow into one, but right now he's not ready.

10 - Brother Francis - I don't think he's got it in him to really challenge here. I like his potential, but he's a maiden who is running on the dirt for the first time. He's not ready to grab the brass ring here. That being said, of the four remaining horses, I think Brother Francis is the only one that could get in the money. He'll definitely go off at great odds.

Also-rans: 3 - Holy Candy (making a huge jump, just broke maiden), 6- Paynter (one race, one win, just not ready to compete at this level), 9 - Blueskiesnrainbows (I think his ceiling is as a very nice allowance horse)

What I'm betting:

I'm going to try to beat the favorite(s) and place a 4 over 2/5/10 exacta. If Brother Francis goes off at crazy high odd (greater than 50) I throw something his way to win. But other than that I think I'll play Longview Drive to win, based on value (ML is 12/1).

I really don't see anyone beating Creative Cause, but his odds will be 3-5, so I'm not touching him.

Good luck everyone!