If PREMIER PEGASUS (Fusaichi Pegasus) is to make good on his 8-5 morning-line favoritism among 11 entrants in Saturday's $1 million Santa Anita Derby (G1), the show would truly belong to 68-year-old Myung Kwon Cho. The Korean immigrant, who races a small stable of six horses, would become the first person to solely own, train and have bred the winner in 74 runnings of this major stepping stone to the May 7 Kentucky Derby (G1).
Cho -- best known to date for a horse that never won -- would burst upon the national scene much like Premier Pegasus did with his stunning 7 3/4-length victory in the San Felipe (G2) on March 12, his final prep for the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby. A victory would supplant Nationalore as Cho's most memorable runner. The paradoxical Nationalore became racing's all-time richest maiden. He earned $318,227 in 26 winless starts before being fatally injured in a spill at Hollywood Park in 2000.
Premier Pegasus has won four-of-five career starts. After capturing his career bow at Del Mar last July, he recorded easy wins in the Jack Goodman S. and Hollywood Prevue S. (G3) at Hollywood Park. The dark bay colt opened 2011 with a third in the February 20 San Vicente (G2), finishing behind The Factor (War Front) and Sway Away (Afleet Alex). Cho removed the blinkers that he had worn in every start for his two-turn debut in the San Felipe.
"We took the blinkers off because we were thinking it would make him relax a little bit more," Cho said afterward.
The plan worked perfectly as Premier Pegasus rated in midpack before striking. Premier Pegasus will retain the services of Alonso Quinonez, a 27-year-old native of Sinaloa, Mexico, who quietly joined the local riding colony in 2007. Quinonez snapped a 72-race winless skid in the San Felipe.
By virtue of his San Felipe win, Premier Pegasus is one of three Santa Anita Derby entrants that could qualify for the Preakness 5.5 bonus. The others are ANTHONY'S CROSS (Indian Charlie), winner of the Robert B. Lewis (G2) on February 12, and SILVER MEDALLION (Badge of Silver), who exits a victory in the February 12 El Camino Real Derby (G3) at Golden Gate Fields.
One of Thoroughbred racing's most recognizable figures, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, will send out JAYCITO (Victory Gallop), the 4-1 second choice on the morning line. Baffert has won the Santa Anita Derby a record five times.
Jaycito, who captured Oak Tree's Norfolk S. (G1) last October while in the care of trainer Mike Mitchell, will be making his second start for Baffert following a distant second to Premier Pegasus in the San Felipe.
"I was leery about running him back here because horses with his (closing) style weren't doing that well until recently," said Baffert, who had been considering Saturday's Wood Memorial (G1) at Aqueduct as an option for Jaycito. "But shipping could take something out of him, we won't have to face (unbeaten Kentucky Derby favorite) Uncle Mo, and the weather is good here.
"Plus, I think he's got a good chance to win the race," Baffert added. "Our main concern is to have him ready for the next one. This should set him up perfect for the Kentucky Derby."
Martin Garcia, aboard in the San Felipe, has the return call on Jaycito. Baffert will also start maiden winner MIDNIGHT INTERLUDE (War Chant), who figures primarily as a pace factor.
Silver Medallion is the 9-2 third choice on Santa Anita oddsmaker Jon White's morning line. Winner of the grassy Eddie Logan S. two back, the Steve Asmussen pupil recorded a 1 1/2-length score in the El Camino Real Derby over Golden Gate Fields' Tapeta and will make his first start on a dirt track Saturday. Garrett Gomez, who was last up for the Eddie Logan, will be back in the saddle.
"If he runs like he trains, I think he'll like the dirt," said Scott Blasi, the Asmussen assistant who oversees the trainer's Santa Anita operation.
Anthony's Cross, who gamely won the 1 1/8-mile Lewis by a nose over subsequently sidelined Riveting Reason (Fusaichi Pegasus) after adding blinkers, is the fourth choice on the morning line at odds of 6-1. The Eoin Harty trainee will be accompanied by Santa Anita's leading rider, Joel Rosario.
Grade 1 winner COMMA TO THE TOP (Bwana Charlie), who concluded his juvenile campaign with five straight victories, will look to regain his winning ways following a pair of fourths in the San Felipe and El Camino Real Derby. BENCH POINTS (Benchmark) offered a solid rally for third when making his graded bow in the San Felipe and will look to make a late impact Saturday for conditioner Tim Yakteen.
The remaining contestants are San Pedro S. victor INDIAN WINTER (Indian Charlie), who was elevated to second via disqualification in the Turf Paradise Derby most recently; stakes debuter MR. COMMONS (Artie Schiller), a maiden special weight and allowance winner in his last two starts for John Shirreffs; San Felipe fifth-placer QUAIL HILL (Candy Ride [Arg]); and OFFLEE WILD BOYS (Offlee Wild), who faces a massive class hike following a pair of entry-level allowance wins at Golden Gate Fields.