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Handicapping the SA Derby

Starters for the 138th Running of the Kentucky Derby will be determined in the next three weeks with major three-year old races being run from coast-to-coast. The 75th Santa Anita Derby will be contested as the sixth race (2:46 p.m. PT) on an 11-race program, Saturday, April 7, 2012.

The four races to be run on Saturday will be The Illinois Derby at Hawthorne, The Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, The Ashland at Keeneland, and the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita, the most interesting of the four.

With Graded earnings the criteria for earning a start in the Kentucky Derby, pressure will be intense. As we watched last week with Take Charge Indy winning the Florida Derby, long shot Hero Of Honor winning the Louisiana Derby, and in Dubai Daddy Long Legs was guaranteed a start winning the rich $2-million dollar UAE Derby for trainer Aidan O'Brien.

The Santa Anita Derby will be the most interesting of the four races this Saturday with Creative Cause and Liaison both having sufficient Graded earnings to guarantee a start. Interestingly, trainer Mike Harrington removes blinkers from his stable star, who has run all seven of his previous races with the headgear in place. This move is taking a page from the book of the late Hall of Fame trainer Charles Whittingham … keeping his eye on the big prize.

Bob Baffert, Hall of Fame trainer, will have three starters this Saturday for the Derby. Baffert is confident that Saturday's mile-and-one-eighth distance will flatter Liaison, whose $393,000 in graded earnings ensure a spot in the Kentucky Derby lineup. The Indian Charlie offspring will have to improve off his dull fourth-place run in the San Felipe. "He definitely needs more ground," said Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes. "I think he wants every bit of a mile and an eighth."

Should Liaison emerge triumphant, Arnold Zetcher would become the first owner to win back-to-back Santa Anita Derbies since C. V. Whitney won with Tompion in 1960 following Silver Spoon's victory the year before. Rafael Bejarano has the mount. Long shots from the Baffert barn will be Blueskiesnrainbows and Paynter. Paynter is a son of Awesome Again and was a $325,000 purchase for the Zayat Stables. He will be making only his second career start but has earned the buzz with a blistering set of drills over the synthetic Hollywood Park Surface.

Trainer John Sadler will test recent maiden winner Holy Candy, a son of Candy Ride and bred for the demanding Derby distance, against a stellar field for connections that include Jennie Craig and Drew Brees, quarter back of the New Orleans Saints.

With $151,000 in graded stakes earnings, I'll Have Another needs a strong showing on Saturday to qualify for the May 5 Kentucky Derby. The son of Flower Alley was purchased by Reddam for $35,000 last April. Reddam subsequently named the chestnut colt in recognition of his nightly response when asked by his wife, Zillah, "Do you want any more cookies?"

Midnight Transfer, third in the San Felipe after taking the six-furlong San Pedro Stakes, is pegged at 10-1. "I'll be a long shot in the Santa Anita Derby, but it is what it is," said Carla Gaines, who trains Midnight Transfer for Warren Williamson. "Mr. Williamson [83 years old] is having some health issues. He wants to see his horse run here and he wants to try the Derby, so the pressure is off. We're going to do it and see what happens." Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith replaces Victor Espinoza, who is sidelined with a broken hand.

The complete field for the Santa Anita Derby, with jockeys and morning line odds in post position order (all starters carry 122 pounds):

SANTA ANITA DERBY | PURSE: $750,000 | GRADE 1 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | 1 1/8 MILES

How the race will unfold by Post Position and Running Style

Creative Cause: Tactical speed/no blinkers helps colt relax
Liaison: Lacks early speed/one run type
Holy Candy: Close to early pace/class test
I'll Have Another: Quick/plodding style
Longview Drive: Speed/back winning rider
Paynter: Early pace factor/stiff class test
Senor Rain: Speed/distance question
Midnight Transfer: Close early/sprinter not router
Blueskiesnrainbows: Speed/no blinkers. Baffert shocker?
Brother Francis: Late runner/maidens vs. winners

First quarter into the club house turn
4,7,9 vie for lead, 1,3,5,6,8 maneuver for position, 2,10 lack early speed and settle early.

Straighten out down the back stretch
7 sets pace with 3,4,6,8,9 bunched behind leader, 1,5 settle into stride, 2,10 still trail.

Far turn race develops
3,4,6 move to challenge 7 who tires far turn, 8,9,10 begin move closer and maneuver for position, 1 stays clear and wide beginning his move, 2 stays clear and tracks 1 on the far turn.

Entering the stretch
4 battles 3,6,8 while 8,9 tire and 1,2 move wide to challenge the leaders 5 inside looking for room 7 fades.

At the wire
4 prevails over fast closing 1 while with 3 and 6 hold position gamely over 2 followed by 8,5,9,10,7.

Complete order of finish
1. I'll Have Another
2. Creative Cause
3. Holy Candy
4. Paynter
5. Liaison
6. Midnight Transfer
7. Longview Drive
8. Blueskiesnrainbows
9. Brother Francis
10. Senor Rain