A contentious field of eight sophomores will line up and face the starter in Saturday's $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), the West Coast's final major prep race for the May 4 Kentucky Derby (gr. I). As expected, Farish, Goodman, Toffan and McCaffery's grade I winner Came Home was labeled the early favorite at odds of 6-5 for the 1 1/8-mile event and he will break from post position four under regular reinsman Chris McCarron. The Hall of Fame rider will be making his 19th Santa Anita Derby appearance and is looking for his fourth win.
"(Came Home) is doing very well. He's training extremely well," McCarron said. "Paco (trainer Gonzalez) did have a scare a couple weeks ago when he got cast in his stall and spiked a fever a couple days later, but fortunately it happened far enough away from the race. If it were during the past week, then there'd probably be some more concern about an incident like that. But due to the fact that he's had three works since that problem, I believe it's of no consequence. I think the colt is doing extremely well and his last three works have been great.
"This horse has shown a tremendous amount of improvement with regard to how he relaxes and his behavior and how cooperative he is, so the distance is of no concern to me."
Second choice on the morning line at 3-1 is Michael Tabor's Mayakovsky, who will be ridden for the first time by Patrick Valenzuela. The Patrick Biancone trainee, who won the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) last out, will be posting many firsts in Saturday's main event – first time racing over the track, first beyond a mile and first around two turns -- and will break from post position six.
"When (Mayakovsky) came back from injury, we decided to stick with (jockey Edgar) Prado because he had done nothing wrong with the horse," Biancone explained. "And now, Edgar had a tough choice with some other horses to get for the Derby and he chose to jump off of (my) horse. And Patrick, well, I don't need to talk about him. Everybody knows who he is, how good he is and we like him."
Next on the morning line at 9-2 is Desperado Stables' Easy Grades, who will break from the far outside and will also have a new jockey as Gary Stevens takes over for the traveling Eddie Delahoussaye. Easy Grades, a son of the recently deceased stallion Honor Grades, will be racing for the first time since finishing a game second to Came Home at long odds in the March 2 San Rafael Stakes (gr. II). He broke his maiden on the turf and might have had a career on that surface had he not shown so much promise training over the main track, according to trainer Ted H. West.
"This is my first (Santa Anita Derby), but all I can say it's very exciting," West said. "Most of our horses that have been good 3-year-olds have been good 3-year-olds later in the year. We just wanted to try him back on the dirt because he had shown so much promise in the morning. Eddie (Delahoussaye) has been riding the horse, as you know, but he's out of town and we were just very fortunate to get a rider like Gary."
The Santa Anita Derby would hardly seem normal without an entry from trainer Bob Baffert, who has saddled four winners in the past six runnings. The silver-haired conditioner took top honors in the race last year with eventual Horse of the Year Point Given and will tighten the girth on Mike Pegram's Danthebluegrassman for Saturday's event. David Flores will be back aboard the son of Pioneering, who was labeled the 10-1 fifth choice and will break from post position two. Danthebluegrassman, who won the Gold Rush Stakes and the Golden Gate Derby (gr. III) at Golden Gate Fields, finished second in the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) last out after Flores lost his whip on the final turn and used his goggles as a replacement in the stretch run.
"I've been fortunate over the years to be driving the bus, but this year I think I'm just a passenger on the bus," Baffert joked. "Dan's the kind of horse that we really don't know how good he is. We kept him up north away from all the heavyweights, so I think we're going to find out this week -- we're all going to find out -- if we can go on to the next level, so I'm like everybody else with a 'wait and see' attitude.
"This Santa Anita Derby is a very tough race and there's some nice horses in there. I think what we're going to see this week are the horses who are screaming out for more distance. The cream always rises to the top."
Surprise entries for Saturday's main event include Lusty Latin and Proud Citizen. Lusty Latin, who broke his maiden wearing a $32,000 price tag at Fairplex last summer, won the Rattlesnake Stakes at Turf Paradise before finishing third in both the Turf Paradise Derby and El Camino Real Derby. Jeff Mullins will saddle the California-bred son of El Prado for Joey and Wendy Platts. Proud Citizen hails from the D. Wayne Lukas stable and has not started since a sixth-place finish in the September 1 Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga. Robert C. Baker, David Cornstein, and William L. Mack own the Kentucky-bred son of Gone West, who broke his maiden last June at Belmont Park by a whopping 9 1/4 lengths.
The entire field for the 65th running of the Santa Anita Derby, in post position order with riders and morning line odds, will be Jack's Silver, Victor Espinoza, 15-1; Danthebluegrassman, David Flores, 6-1; Lusty Latin, Glenn Corbett, 30-1; Came Home, Chris McCarron, 6-5; U S S Tinosa, Kent Desormeaux, 6-1; Mayakovsky, Patrick Valenzuela, 3-1; Proud Citizen, Alex Solis, 15-1; and Easy Grades, Gary Stevens, 9-2.