Santa Anita Derby
Saturday, April 5, Santa Anita
The Low-Down: The two No. 1 seeds that will attract the most attention are COLONEL JOHN and EL GATO MALO. The duo hooked up in the Sham in a race that unfolded like a grass race. The pace was pedestrian, which turned the race into a quarter-mile sprint at the top of the lane. 'COLONEL' was in a better position then 'MALO' when turning for home, which gave him a head start on the frenzied dash to the wire. EL GATO MALO had the entire stretch to get by, but was unable to draw even. Both runners carry a lot of expectation into this race. An objective review of the Sham tells me this year's Santa Anita Derby is far from a two-horse battle. The variables change dramatically for the two favored horses. Field size goes from five to 11. Pace will quicken by over a second in the early stages. The competition is much stiffer. YANKEE BRAVO demands respect in here after a respectable third in the Louisiana Derby behind the super-talented PYRO. 'YANKEE's biggest asset is his ability to change gears. In his U.S. debut, he displayed remarkable acceleration in the final furlong when finding a way to win after a ton of traffic trouble. Meanwhile, speedster BOB BLACK JACK proved he can handle two turns with a good third in the San Felipe. Even longshots like COAST GUARD and SIGNATURE MOVE require consideration.
Our Eyes: Fellow HP PRO Works stopwatch expert Terry Turrell gave me rave reviews on the way COLONEL JOHN looked in his March 25 drill over the Santa Anita track. I personally clocked EL GATO MALO's last drill at Hollywood Park on March 29. He broke off in company and was a tad unsettled early, throwing his head. At the top of the lane, he was asked for run and he responded with his usual honest strides to record a solid final quarter-mile. By no measure was this considered a bad drill. But at this stage of the game, I'm looking for a horse displaying measured improvement. The drill told me nothing new. For those looking to detonate the tote board, I have two runners of interest. The first is a David Hofmans-trained COAST GUARD. Team Hofmans has had high hopes for this colt since before his debut at Del Mar last summer. Terry gave three thumbs up to the drill COAST GUARD turned in March 30, commenting: "He was given a target to run after. He made a nice move on the inside entering the stretch and quickly drew clear without being asked. Primed for a huge effort." His tactical speed should have him in a great spot entering the final turn. The other long shot worth looking at is SIGNATURE MOVE. After a disappointing effort in the Risen Star in early February, trainer Eric Guillot brought this guy back to his Hollywood Park stomping grounds. Each drill 'MOVE' has turned in since March 2 has been an improvement over the previous. His final drill on March 29 was his best. I caught him in :47.60, :59.60 with Baze in the saddle. He was in full stride at the wire and his strong gallop-out left no doubt that he will run all day.
The Bottom Line: I'm inclined to give COLONEL JOHN a slight nod over the rest of this field. He is training strong. He gets to run on the track he has been training over. And lastly, he has experience competing in a large Grade 1 field (CashCall Futurity last year). YANKEE BRAVO falls next in line. The switch from dirt to synthetic is not an insignificant benefit for a horse like 'YANKEE.' His ability to change gears in the face of traffic issues could come in very handy. SIGNATURE MOVE and COAST GUARD both have to show a dramatic change in form off poor performances, but both have hinted the reversal of form is possible with their recent energetic a.m. activity.
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