ARCADIA, Calif. -- The Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Derby on Saturday took a one-two punch this week when Premier Pegasus, the favorite, and top contender Jaycito were withdrawn.
The complexion of the race changed dramatically Thursday afternoon when it was announced that Premier Pegasus, the runaway winner of last month's San Felipe Stakes and the 8-5 favorite for the Santa Anita Derby, would miss the race with a hairline fracture of the cannon bone in his left front leg, according to Maria Ayala, the assistant to owner-trainer Myung Kwon Cho.
Ayala said the diagnosis was made late Thursday morning after Premier Pegasus galloped on Santa Anita's infield training track.
Ayala said she noticed that Premier Pegasus "had a little stumble" during the gallop, which raised concern. She said that after the colt cooled out and had a morning bath that she alerted Cho of a potential problem. X-rays taken later on Thursday morning revealed the injury."The doctor said he had a hairline fracture of the cannon bone," Ayala said. "Not good. The horse is okay. He ate good. Mr. Cho said, 'Maria, relax. It's not your fault.' "
Premier Pegasus has won 4 of 5 starts and $293,400. Last summer and fall, Premier Pegasus won his first three starts, including the Jack Goodman Stakes and Hollywood Prevue Stakes for sprinters at Hollywood Park. Earlier this year, he was third in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes over seven furlongs before scoring a commanding win in the San Felipe by 7 3/4 lengths.
Without Premier Pegasus, the role of favorite would have gone to either Jaycito, who was second in the San Felipe, or Silver Medallion, the winner of the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields on Feb. 12.
Late Friday afternoon, however, trainer Bob Baffert said Jaycito was battling a foot bruise and would be scratched.
"He needs a few days to get him right," Baffert said. "The area is just tender."
Baffert said that if Jaycito responds to treatment he could start in the Grade 3, $200,000 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 23 and still make the Kentucky Derby.
The Santa Anita Derby, at 1 1/8 miles, is the West's final prep for the May 7 Kentucky Derby. There are now nine horses in the race, including such accomplished stakes winners as Anthony's Cross, Comma to the Top, and Silver Medallion.
There's a lot on the line here. Not only is first place in the Santa Anita Derby worth $600,000, and second $200,000 – critical numbers in the quest for sufficient graded stakes earnings to make the Kentucky Derby field – but Anthony's Cross and Silver Medallion could further their quest for the Preakness 5.5 bonus. A Santa Anita Derby victory, combined with stakes wins earlier this year in California, would make that horse eligible for a bonus of $5.5 million if he were to also take the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown, on May 21 at Pimlico.
Dialed In, by virtue of his victories at Gulfstream Park in the Holy Bull and last week's Florida Derby, is already two-thirds of the way toward that bonus.
The Santa Anita Derby is the 10th race on an 11-race card that begins at noon Pacific time. Preceding it are the Las Cienegas Handicap for female turf sprinters, the Providencia Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on turf, and the Arcadia Stakes for turf milers, featuring Caracortado. There was a chance of rain here late Thursday and into Friday, but the forecast for Saturday is for clear skies, cool temperatures, and a fast track.
"I hope it doesn't rain. I wouldn't like it," said Tim Yakteen, who sends out Bench Points, the third-place finisher in the San Felipe. "My horse might like it. But, overall, when the track is tight, it's a little more speed-favoring than I would like."
Though there is less apparent pace in this race than the San Felipe, the early fractions still should be legitimate. Baffert will now be represented in the race by Midnight Interlude, who beat maidens on the front end last time.
"Midnight Interlude, we're taking a shot," Baffert said. "We know he can go two turns. We don't know if he can go fast enough. He's a big, heavy horse that can take a lot."
Comma to the Top was part of a three-way battle for the lead in the San Felipe. He held on for fourth, while his pace rivals finished last and next-to-last.
"We're going to go to the front," his trainer, Peter Miller, said Thursday morning. "If we get beat, we want to get beat our way."
Anthony's Cross and Silver Medallion both have been off since winning stakes on Feb. 12. Anthony's Cross took the Robert Lewis here, while Silver Medallion captured the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields. Silver Medallion is making his first start on dirt after winning stakes on turf and a synthetic surface, but Gary Young, a respected private clocker based at Santa Anita, said Silver Medallion has been training strongly in his recent drills.
Indian Winter disappointed as the favorite in the Turf Paradise Derby after three promising starts. Off his best, he is a live longshot.
Mr. Commons, though making his stakes debut, has won his last two starts.