A contentious field of nine has been assembled to go nine furlongs in Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, the West Coast's major prep for the May 4 Kentucky Derby. Whoever wins the race is guaranteed a spot in the starting gate under the Twin Spires via the 100 points awarded in the new Road to the Kentucky Derby points system.
The Santa Anita Derby was captured last year by eventual Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another, and Hear the Ghost is hoping for the same result this time around. The Ghostzapper gelding surprised at nearly 6-1 in the Grade 2 San Felipe on March 9 and will be looking to prove that half-length win was no fluke on Saturday.
Hear the Ghost entered the San Felipe off a nice closing runner-up effort in the San Pedro, and utilized similar tactics for his first stakes win. The Jerry Hollendorfer pupil looked out of contention on the backstretch as Flashback and Goldencents battled it out on the front end, but kicked into gear rounding the turn. With Tiz a Minister hot on his hooves, the chestnut sailed past the early leaders to both score and vault into Kentucky Derby contention.
Hear the Ghost shipped back to his trainer's Hollywood Park base following the San Felipe and visited the Cushion Track three times since that impressive win, most recently going five furlongs in 1:02 last Saturday. Corey Nakatani was aboard last out and retains the mount.
Tiz a Minister has proven to be a versatile, and competitive, runner on dirt, turf and synthetics thus far in his 10-race career. The Paul Aguirre trainee scored in a state-bred stakes prior to the San Felipe, which was his first try past a mile, and based on that should relish the extra sixteenth of a mile in the Santa Anita Derby. While he might not have been able to catch Hear the Ghost, the Minister's Wild Cat colt just missed second by a half-length when the wire came up too quickly to pass Flashback.
Tiz a Minister loses rider Garrett Gomez to Flashback this time around and will have jockey Joe Talamo in the irons.
Flashback sought to move his record to a perfect three-for-three in the San Felipe, but appeared to be tiring after his pacesetting duel with Goldencents. Trained by Bob Baffert, the gray son of Tapit entered that race off a 6 1/4-length romp in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis in just his second career start and could be tougher this time around following that learning experience.
Baffert will also send out Super Ninety Nine and Power Broker in the Santa Anita Derby. Super Ninety Nine was fifth just three weeks ago in the Grade 2 Rebel at Oaklawn Park. The Pulpit chestnut took full advantage of a sloppy, sealed track in the Grade 3 Southwest on February 18 to dominate that race by 11 1/4 lengths, but probably needs at least a second in Saturday's contest if he hopes to the make the Kentucky Derby field.
Power Broker is returning from a more than five-month break, having last been seen running fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Prior to that, the Pulpit colt posted a 6 1/2-length win in the Grade 1 FrontRunner. Rafael Bejarano has been aboard for all of Power Broker's races thus far and stays in the saddle Saturday.
Goldencents currently sits in 15th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 29 points, but could easily be bumped farther down the list with the final major preps taking place over the next few weekends. The Into Mischief colt stamped himself as one to watch last year at Del Mar when taking his debut by 7 1/4 lengths, then ran second to juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby in the Grade 1 Champagne.
Trainer Doug O'Neill, who saddled I'll Have Another last year in both Derbys and the Preakness, bypassed on the Breeders' Cup with Goldencents, instead sending him out to a 1 3/4-length victory in the Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot in mid-November. The bay captured his sophomore bow in the Grade 3 Sham, but refused to relax in the San Felipe and found himself caught up in a speed duel with Flashback to eventually finish fourth.
A better run in the Santa Anita Derby could see Goldencents giving O'Neill another shot at Kentucky Derby glory.
Also entered in the race are Sham fifth-placer Dirty Swagg and maiden winners Summer Exclusive and Storm Fighter.