It's the Golden State vs. the Bluegrass State Saturday.
California Chrome, bred in California, takes on seven rivals, all bred in Kentucky, in the Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Derby, the West's major steppingstone to the 140th Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs on May 3.
The first round of major prep races is in the books, with Constitution proving to be a gutsy winner in the Florida Derby and Vicar's in Trouble leading wire to wire in the Louisiana Derby.
By Gary West, special to KentuckyDerby.com
Is this the year that the oldest Derby shibboleth goes down? To win the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, a horse must have raced as a 2-year-old, the conditioning and foundation of that juvenile campaign being essential to spring-time success. Right?
California Chrome, a spectacular winner of the Grade 2 San Felipe on March 8, will look to carry his form forward when he lines up against seven rivals in Saturday's Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Derby. The Art Sherman-trained colt has a lot going for him but will be facing a couple of dangerous challengers in Candy Boy and Hoppertunity, who exit respective wins in the Grade 2 Bob Lewis and Grade 2 Rebel Stakes.
The Santa Anita Derby offers a total of 170 points to the top four finishers (100-40-20-10) as part of the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series. It will air on NBCSN from 5:30 to 7 p.m. (EDT).
Despite the relentless winter, Grade 1-winning filly Sweet Reason never missed a single scheduled breeze at Belmont Park, according to trainer Leah Gyarmati.
Following a successful return to the races on March 7 after four months on the sidelines, the daughter of Street Sense is now ready to begin what Gyarmati hopes will be a major campaign, starting Saturday with the 119th running of the Grade 2, $300,000 Gazelle for three-year-old fillies at Aqueduct.
Saturday's Grade 1, $1 million TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial shapes up to be a tremendous race. Samraat and Uncle Sigh, who exit a pair of thrilling battles in the Grade 3 Gotham and Grade 3 Withers, are the most accomplished members of the 11-horse field, and there is an exciting new face in the form of the unbeaten Social Inclusion, who will make his stakes debut following a pair of runaway wins at Gulfstream Park.
Saturday's Grade 1, $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks will see one filly trying to validate her past Grade 1 triumph and another looking for a return to the form that saw her win last November's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. The race is also the ticket for one filly to earn a guaranteed berth in the Kentucky Oaks starting gate as part of the Road to the Kentucky Oaks series, offering up 100 points to the winner.
A baker's dozen of sophomore fillies has been entered to go 1 1/16 miles over Keeneland's Polytrack on Saturday in the Grade 1, $500,000 Ashland. The race is part of Churchill Downs' Road to the Kentucky Oaks series, and will award points to the top four on a 100-40-20-10 scale toward a starting berth in the May 2 Oaks.
Sugar Shock, Euphrosyne, Please Explain and Kiss Moon crossed the wire in that order on March 8 in Oaklawn Park's Honeybee, and on Saturday the quartet will line back up against one another in the Grade 3, $400,000 Fantasy going 1 1/16 miles. The race is worth 100 points to the winner as part of the Road to the Kentucky Oaks series.
Unbeaten Social Inclusion arrived at Aqueduct at approximately 3 a.m. (EDT) on Monday after departing Gulfstream Park by van on Sunday, according to a tweet from owner Ron Sanchez.
Promising three-year-old Tonalist will miss Saturday's Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct after coming down with a lung infection, the Christophe Clement stable confirmed via Twitter on Monday.
A full gate of 14 runners is looking like a strong possibility for the 90th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass on April 12, the centerpiece of the 15-day Keeneland Spring Meet that opens Friday.
Saturday's $250,000 Calder Derby is not a points-scoring race on the road to the Kentucky Derby, but the 1 1/8-mile test has attracted a pair of notable entrants in Ring Weekend and Cleburne.
It's been nearly 60 years since Art Sherman had a horseman's interest in the Kentucky Derby. He was 18 in 1955 when he accompanied the great Swaps and his trainer Mesh Tenney to Churchill Downs to prepare the colt for his victory in the Run for the Roses 59 years ago.
Sugar Shock, who was disqualified from first and placed second in the Honeybee, moved one step closer to possible redemption in the Grade 3, $400,000 Fantasy on April 5 by breezing five furlongs over Oaklawn Park's fast dirt Sunday in 1:02 1/5 under regular rider Channing Hill.
Constitution emerged from his gutsy victory in Saturday's Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park in good order, trainer Todd Pletcher reported.
"He came out of (the Florida Derby) really well. He returned home to Palm Meadows this morning and seemed to be in good shape," Pletcher said Sunday afternoon while being honored as the leading trainer Gulfstream's Champions Meet for the 11th consecutive year.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin was extremely disappointed by Cairo Prince's fourth-place performance in Saturday's Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, but he couldn't have been more satisfied with the beaten favorite's condition at Palm Meadows Sunday morning.
Since the debut of Churchill Downs Racetrack’s Kentucky Derby Future Wager (“KDFW”) in 1999, the overall betting choice in the year’s final future betting pool has in most years inherited the role of the most-likely favorite for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) at the Louisville track on the first Saturday in May.
But that will not be the case in 2014.
Vicar's In Trouble broke his maiden by 13 lengths at Fair Grounds in December and recorded a 6 3/4-length decision in the Lecomte one month later, but couldn't make it three in a row in the Risen Star last out on February 22 when finishing behind Intense Holiday and Albano as the near 5-2 favorite.
The lightly-raced Constitution will head to the May 3 Kentucky Derby undefeated after posting a game victory in the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.