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).
A California-bred son of Lucky Pulpit, California Chrome improved significantly after recording a pair of unplaced efforts last fall. He started his current three-race win streak with a 6 1/4-length romp in the restricted seven-furlong King Glorious in late December, netting his first triple-digit BRIS Speed rating (101), and followed with a superb 5 1/2-length tally in the 1 1/16-mile California Cup Derby on January 25. The chestnut returned to open competition in the San Felipe and set all the pace, widening his advantage in awe-inspiring fashion entering the stretch drive.
He netted a field-best 102 Speed rating for the easy 7 1/4-length victory.
"When (owners Steve Coburn and Perry Martin) first sent me the horse, they said 'Here's your Derby horse,'" Sherman said. "He's always been a great looking horse, but it really seemed like the 'light bulb' went on for him in the Cal Cup (Derby). He's much more focused now and he loves to train. It's pretty exciting."
Coburn and Martin are in position to reap a sizable windfall for the leading Kentucky Derby contender, but have resisted temptation.
"They turned down $6 million for the horse," Sherman said. "We can't wait to run!"
California Chrome, who can lead or sit just off the pace, appears to own a tactical advantage on Saturday and could wind up showing the way again with regular rider Victor Espinoza. He drilled four furlongs in a bullet :46 2/5 in preparation last Saturday at his Los Alamitos base, galloping out six panels in 1:13 2/5.
"He looked sharp and he galloped out strong," Sherman said after the work. "All systems are go. His work was super, I was very impressed. I'll get him over there (Santa Anita), school him in the gate, go through the paddock and then we'll be ready to go...I know there's always a question until they've done it, but I really think this horse will go a mile and a quarter, no problem. He's doing everything right and we're looking forward to running him in the Santa Anita Derby."
California Chrome has been installed as the 6-5 favorite on the morning line.
Candy Boy, the 9-5 early second choice, broke his maiden by an 8 1/4-length margin three starts back and the Candy Ride colt concluded his sophomore season with a commendable second to champion Shared Belief in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity. Trainer John Sadler brought him back this year in the 1 1/16-mile Lewis and Candy Boy kicked for home in a strong manner, winning by a comfortable half-length as he continued to gallop out strongly after the finish line. Jockey Gary Stevens came away extremely impressed with the effort.
"For a big horse he has a lot of acceleration and confidence on the turn," Stevens said. "He's not a typical Candy Ride, he sits higher than others and he continues to grow. The further the better for him."
Candy Boy, who was flattered when Lewis runner-up Chitu came back to post a convincing win in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby, will return from a 56-day freshening in the Santa Anita Derby.
Hoppertunity brings improving form into the 1 1/8-mile event for Bob Baffert, shrugging off a non-threatening fourth in the Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds to capture the Rebel three weeks later. He out-finished the likely Arkansas Derby favorite, Tapiture, last time and will retain the services of Mike Smith. He comes next on the morning line at 5-1.
Candy Boy and Hoppertunity both possess some tactical speed and figure to be up close, stalking likely pacesetter California Chrome during the early stages.
Schoolofhardrocks figured to need the race when finishing fourth in the San Felipe -- his first start since a debut win at Del Mar -- and is eligible to improve off the comebacker. The David Hofmans-trained colt is listed at 10-1 with Joe Talamo.
A quartet of expected longshots -- Rprettyboyflloyd, Friendswith K Mill, Big Tire and Dublin Up -- round out the field.