Trainer Jeff Mullins became the first trainer to win three consecutive editions of the Santa Anita Derby when his 30-1 outsider Buzzards Bay registered a gutty score by a half-length over 64-1 shot General John B Saturday.
To the disappointment of most of the crowd of 38,014, even-money choice Sweet Catomine, attempting to become the first filly to win the Santa Anita Derby since Winning Colors in 1988, finished fifth, five lengths behind the winner.
Ridden by Mark Guidry, Buzzards Bay forced a hotly-contested pace while racing three wide, taking the lead at the half-mile post and digging deep to prevail while under heavy pressure from all sides through the stretch run.
"It was a rush, man, because I knew they were coming at me from both sides, and he's a fighter," Guidry said. "He dug in and every time I'd ask him he was answering. I'm just grateful to be able to be here. I like it here in California."
Fog City Stable picked up the $450,000 winning purse for Buzzards Bay's first graded stakes score.
"I'm a little out of breath," said Bill Bianco, partner in Fog City Stable with David Shimmon, after the race. "We'll go to Kentucky if everything's all right."
Bianco is a commissioner on the California Horse Racing Board.
The final time was 1:49 for the 1 1/8-mile event.
General John B, who vied for the lead throughout while racing on the inside for Jon Court, nosed Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner Wilko and Frankie Dettori for third, with Giacomo (Mike Smith) finishing fourth. The superfecta was worth $27,460.20.
Wilko stalked the pace while four wide and moved forward on the final turn and kept Sweet Catomine pinned on the inside. As Wilko inched up on the leaders through the stretch run, Sweet Catomine, with Corey Nakatani aboard, was in position but lacked any response.
"We were happy with that. Frankie (Dettori) thought he might be a race away but this ought to set him up real well for the Big Dance," Wilko's trainer, Craig Dollase, said. "If he comes back good and everything looks good with the footwork we're on our way. I was pleased with his effort. He ran a courageous race, he just came up a little short."
Trainer Roger Stein would not commit on taking the runner-up General John B to the Derby. But it was clear what Court thought.
"He ran huge," Court said. "Actually, I was surprised he got beat. He ran big, and I'm just looking forward to the next spot, the next town. I'd love to be back in the Bluegrass State. I can't wait."
Sweet Catomine, the juvenile filly champion who was coming off a three-length win in the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) and had won five races in a row, was touted as a leading candidate for the May 7 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) for trainer Julio Canani.
Owner Marty Wygod said he considered scratching Sweet Catomine earlier this week when she bled during a workout and was experiencing some foot discomfort.
"In my heart I felt not to run but yesterday we made up our mind," Wygod said. "She's not going to the (Kentucky) Oaks or the Derby. I can't say what's next for her."
"I moved her out on the far turn, started moving her outside by the time I got to the 5/16 pole she just acted like I didn't have any horse left," Nakatani said. "That's not her, I know that. Normally, you just ask her to go and she just picks it up on her own and gets in the bridle. Today, she was just flat."
Buzzards Bay's win leaves a big question mark on this year's West Coast Derby hopes.
The Florida-bred son of Marco Bay ran third in the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) March 15 at Bay Meadows in his last start. He was previously 10th in the Risen Star (gr. III) at Fair Grounds.
The 42-year-old Mullins, who was the center of controversy recently for comments he made that stemmed from a positive test on one of his horses for alkalizing agents, said Buzzards Bay bled in the El Camino and was due to rebound once the problem was controlled.
"I'll tell you what," Mullins said. "I've never had a horse come into this race this good."
Five trainers besides Mullins had won the Santa Anita Derby back-to-back prior to Saturday: Jimmy Jones (1952-53), Mesh Tenney (1955-56), Robert Wheeler (1959-60), D. Wayne Lukas (1982-83) and Bob Baffert (1998-99).
"He had a lung infection and he bled (in the El Camino Real)," Guidry said. "Jeff cleared that up. He's been as good as you could want a horse, and he loves this racetrack."
Mullins won the 2003 Santa Anita Derby with upsetter Buddy Gil and last year's edition with Castledale, another 30-1 shot.
After Customer set the early pace, completing the opening quarter mile in :23 3/5, Buzzards Bay took over the lead through fractions of :47 1/5, 1:11 1/5 and 1:36 2/5 while under pressure from General John B.
His third win in eight starts increased Buzzards Bay's earnings to $559,440.
Jay Shaw bred Buzzards Bay, who was produced by the mare Life's Lass (Seneca Jones).
He paid $62.20, $21.80, and $10.80 and combined with General John B ($40.40, $15.60) for a $502.80 exacta. Wilko was $4.20 to show.
Following Giacomo and Sweet Catomine were Don't Get Mad, Go Coyote Joe, Wannawinemall, A.P. Arrow, and the entry of Allright and Customer.
More than $4.6 million was bet on the race, the second-highest total ever. The day's overall handle was $22,660,720.