Santa Anita’s on-track crowd of 56,810 was the biggest for the Santa Anita Derby since 1984.
Jockey Mike Smith, who rode Giacomo to victory in the Run in the Roses for Tiago's connections, was aboard the bay colt for the first time. The son of Pleasant Tap--Set Them Free (Stop the Music) had only one prior victory in three starts, that coming via disqualification, and was sent off at odds of 29-1.
Racing ninth in the field of 10 after a half-mile, Tiago kept plugging into the stretch. He was angled off the rail mid-stretch then came back to the inside to surge past King of the Roxy, who had inched away in deep stretch but could not hold off the winner in the final sixteenth. Tiago won by a half-length.
"He ran a picture-perfect race. He finished today like Giacomo did in the Kentucky Derby," Smith said. "I thought there would be plenty of pace and that they'd come back to us and they did. I did want to be sure to keep him focused, keep him moving forward. I tell you, at the one-eighth pole, he hit another gear."
Trained by John Shirreffs for owners/breeders Jerry and Ann Moss, Tiago raced without blinkers for the first time Saturday following a seventh-place finish in the Robert B. Lewis (gr. II) March 3. After collecting $450,000 in graded earnings, he must be considered a contender for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) to be run on May 5.
"We've never seen Tiago at his best in the prior races, so we really didn't know what to expect," Shirreffs said. "We were just taking a shot, taking a chance and hoping the horse would do something great. Obviously, he did. Strategy goes out the window when the gate opens, so whatever happens, happens."
Tiago, winning for the second time in four starts, covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:49 2/5 and paid $60.60, $23.80 and $10.
A fast pace was set by Sam P., who ran an opening quarter mile of :23 while pressed by Black Seventeen, who took over to set half-mile and three-quarter splits of :46 4/5 and 1:11 2/5. Liquidity took a narrow lead in the stretch until passed by King of the Roxy, who ran wide on both turns before gaining the advantage mid-stretch.
King of the Roxy, ridden by Richard Migliore, and Sam P., with Ramon Dominguez aboard, are both trained by Todd Pletcher. Sam P. finished 2 3/4 lengths behind the runner-up.
"Both horses I thought ran very well," said Michael McCarthy, an assistant to Pletcher. "Obviously, it was a tough beat, but that's the way it goes.
"I think he (King of the Roxy) put to rest distance limitations by the way he ran today. Sam P. ran very well. Obviously, with the blinkers he was a little more keen than we would have liked to see. I don't know that he was rank by any means, but obviously, that was something new for him, but they both ran well."
King of the Roxy paid 6.40 and $3.20. Sam P. returned $3.20.
Liquidity, the 2-1 favorite who was coming off a sixth-place showing in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II), held the lead until the final turn before finishing fourth.
"We got out-kicked at the end," Liquidity trainer Doug O'Neill said. "He's a funny horse. He's been galloping out great. It's a weird one."
Bwana Bull was next, followed Medici Code, Court the King, Black Seventeen, Boutrous and Level Red.