Michael Tabor, John Magnier and Derrick Smith's War Academy vaulted onto the Kentucky Derby trail with a 3 1/2-length allowance score in Santa Anita's 2ND race on Friday, in a performance that pleased Hall of Famers Bob Baffert and Mike Smith.
War Academy, most recently fourth in the Grade 2 San Vicente on February 17, was making only his third start and his first try around two turns here. Dispatched as the 4-5 favorite, the Giant's Causeway colt was content to sit second as stablemate Manando opened up through splits of :24 2/5, :48 3/5 and 1:11 4/5. War Academy was 5 1/2 lengths behind Manando at that six-furlong mark, but easily reeled him in down the stretch. The promising sophomore won with his ears pricked in a final time of 1:43 2/5 for 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track.
"He might be my (Derby) horse, Bob," Smith said to Baffert after the race. "What I like so much about him is there's sooo much room to improve. He was well, well within himself today."
Baffert confirmed that War Academy will contest a major prep in hopes of earning Kentucky Derby points.
"I'm going to run him in a big prep, he'll hit one of the big preps," Baffert said. "I don't know where yet, but it'll be a hundred (qualifying) points whatever it is. We're goin' for the bonus round…Mike's always been real high on this horse."
Manando, who stopped badly as the 2-1 favorite in the Grade3 El Camino Real Derby, last out, finished second by 3 3/4 lengths from Brokered. Kid Dreams and One Form Cat rounded out the order under the wire, and Dirty Swagg was scratched.
War Academy, who paid $3.80, $2.20 and $2.10, has now bankrolled $70,800 from his 3-2-0-0 line. A debut maiden winner going 6 1/2 furlongs on November 9 at Hollywood Park, the dark bay colt raced fairly evenly when fourth in the San Vicente, beaten 2 1/2 lengths by stablemate Shakin It Up.
Bred by Doug Branham in Kentucky, War Academy went to his current connections for $450,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. He is the second registered foal from the multiple stakes-placed A.P. Indy mare Cabbage Key.