Santa Anita Derby History
Inaugurated in 1935 shortly after its host track’s opening, the Santa Anita Derby (G1) has for more than eight decades served as the West Coast’s premier Kentucky Derby (G1) prep. Contested over 1 1⁄8 miles, it offers Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying points of 100-40-20-10 to the top four finishers.
The first significant era in Santa Anita Derby history was the 1950s, when the race produced the Kentucky Derby winner three times in a four-year span with Hill Gail (1952), Determine (1954), and Swaps (1955). Other notable winners that decade included the Your Host, who sired five-time Horse of the Year Kelso; the famed stretch runner Silky Sullivan; and the filly Silver Spoon.
In the intervening six decades, the Santa Anita Derby has gone on to win the Kentucky Derby eight times. That group includes Triple Crown winners, Affirmed (1978) and Justify (2018), Hall of Fame runners Majestic Prince (1969) and Sunday Silence (1989), the filly Winning Colors (1988), and recent stars I’ll Have Another (2012) and California Chrome (2014).
The winner’s honor roll also includes various other Preakness (G1) and/or Belmont (G1) winners: Candy Spots, Codex, Snow Chief, A.P. Indy, Point Given, and Exaggerator.
Trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Gary Stevens hold the record for most Santa Anita Derby victories in their respective categories with nine wins apiece. However, Baffert’s first two Kentucky Derby winners – Silver Charm (1997) and Real Quiet (1998) – both finished second in the Santa Anita feature.
Indeed, a number of other champions fell short of victory in the Santa Anita Derby but went on to distinguished careers. The filly Horse of the Year Busher (1945) ran second in a renewal delayed until late June due to the end of World War II. Round Table, 1958 Horse of the Year and a three-time grass champion, was another who settled for a minor award in the race.
Ferdinand ran third in the 1986 Santa Anita Derby but bounced back a month later to wear the roses under the late Bill Shoemaker, an eight-time Santa Anita Derby winner who was the world’s winningest rider for nearly 30 years.