Trainer Julio Canani says The Pamplemousse doesn't need the lead to win the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) April 4. After a couple of interesting developments when entries were taken, that theory could be put to the test.
For his much-anticipated showdown with the more accomplished Pioneerof the Nile for West Coast 3-year-old supremacy, high octane The Pamplemousse drew the far outside post in a field of 10 for the 1 1/8-mile Pro-Ride test. And to complicate matters, Ahmed Zayat, owner of Pioneerof the Nile, has also entered the sprinter Z Day, who figures to be firing out of the gate from post 2 as a rabbit. Formerly with Rick Dutrow Jr. in Florida, Z Day was recently transferred to Mike Mitchell's barn.
In spite of the unlucky draw, The Pamplemousse, runaway winner of the nine-furlong Sham Stakes (gr. III) Feb. 28, remains the 9-5 favorite on Jeff Tufts' track morning line. San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) victor Pioneerof the Nile, breaking from post 4, is slightly higher at odds of 2-1. In a contrast of styles, the Bob Baffert-trained Pioneerof the Nile does his best running in the homestretch.
The other major contender, Chocolate Candy, is starting from the rail. One colt that was entered, the Todd Pletcher-trained Take the Points, is likely to scratch in order to run in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland April 11.
The Santa Anita Derby headlines an 11-race program that includes three grade II stakes. It goes as the sixth event on the card at 2:36 p.m. (PDT).
During a pre-draw teleconference March 31, the Peruvian Canani, who refers to The Pamplemousse as "The Mouse," said: "This horse, he doesn't need to be on the lead. If he's on the lead, he gets it. But we don't ask this horse for nothing; he does it on his own." To which Baffert responded: "As a rule, trainers -- when we have a speed horse -- we always say that. You never know."
"I don't listen to nothing that people say," added Canani, whose only previous Santa Anita Derby starter was the filly Sweet Catomine, who finished a controversial fifth as the even-money choice in 2005.
"This horse is amazing," Canani exclaimed. "He's huge. He's 100% racehorse. He does everything on his own. People think with his breeding he can't go that far. His sire (Kafwain ) was a seven-eighths horse. But he proved himself. He raced a mile and an eighth and won by six lengths. He's just a natural."
Baffert, who nicknamed the excitable Canani "Kramer" (for the Seinfeld character), acknowledged that the meeting with The Pamplemousse has "everybody on pins and needles right now," but he is trying to block it out.
"I just worry about my own horse and focus on him," Baffert said. "I look at this as a prep. But my horse can not look better. He's coming into this race great. We've really tightened the screws down. He's ready to go."
The Pamplemousse, which means "grapefruit" in French, won the one-mile San Rafael Stakes (gr. III) in front-running style early in the Santa Anita meet. He brings a three-race winning streak into the fray since being extended to two-turn distances after beginning his career with two defeats in sprints. He has earned $209,280.
Alex Solis, whose son Alex Jr., is part of the partnership that owns the gray colt, is the jockey. Bienstock and Winner Stable, Jeff Strauss, Tom Lenner and Skyline Stables are also part of an ownership group that paid $150,000 for The Pamplemousse at the 2008 Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. March select sale of 2-year-olds in training. The colt has turned in a pair of bullet works since the Sham win, most recently burning three furlongs in :34 4/5 on March 31.
Pioneerof the Nile is also on a three-race streak that includes victories in the 1 1/16-mile Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita and the CashCall Futurity (gr. I) at Hollywood Park before Christmas. Fifth in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), Zayat's dark bay homebred son of Empire Maker has won four of seven starts and $784,200. Pioneerof the Nile, who will be ridden by Garrett Gomez, has been working superbly as well, clocking six furlongs at Santa Anita in a bullet 1:11 2/5 March 25. He followed that with a :47 3/5 four-furlong drill on March 31.
While The Pamplemousse and Pioneerof the Nile are the marquee contenders, Dan Ward, assistant to Jerry Hollendorfer, likes the chances of Chocolate Candy. “We’ll be overlooked,” said Ward, who handles the string at Santa Anita for Hollendorfer, perennial training king in the Bay Area. Chocolate Candy, a bay son of Candy Ride , races for the Sid and Jenny Craig Trust.
“I can’t worry about the other horses in the race,” the soft-spoken Ward said. “I just worry about us.”
Chocolate Candy has a 4-1-1 record from eight starts, including victories in the California Derby Jan. 17 and the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) Feb. 14, both races at Golden Gate Fields. He has earned $382,500.
Take The Points, second to The Pamplemousse in the Sham in his stakes debut, would be a serious contender but is unlikely to start. Pletcher said earlier that the son of Even the Score would only run if one of the major contenders withdrew.
Others worthy of consideration are WinStar Farm's Mr. Hot Stuff, a full brother to 2008 Santa Anita Derby winner Colonel John who ran third in the Sham in his stakes debut, and Feisty Suances, a stubborn runner-up to Pioneerof the Nile by just 1 1/4 lengths in the San Felipe. Eoin Harty, who won last weekend's Emirates Airline Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) with Well Armed, trains the maiden winner Mr. Hot Stuff while Darrell Vienna is the conditioner for the Red Baron's Barn California homebred bred Feisty Suances, an allowance winner.
Gallant Son, who ran seventh in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, comes into the Santa Anita Derby off a one-mile turf win in the Pasadena Stakes March 15. Trained by Frank Lucarelli, Gallant Son will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano.
Z Day broke his maiden on the Aqueduct inner track Dec. 27 going six furlongs and most recently was second Feb. 14 in a first level allowance at Gulfstream Park at 6 1/2 furlongs, the farthest he has run to date.
$750,000 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I, Race 6, 2:36 p.m. PDT), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey, ML Odds
1. Chocolate Candy (KY), Joel Rosario, 6/1
2. Z Day (KY), Aaron T. Gryder, 15/1
3. Unbridled Roman (CA), Tyler Baze, 30/1
4. Pioneerof the Nile (KY), Garrett K. Gomez, 2/1
5. Mr. Hot Stuff (KY), Corey S. Nakatani, 8/1
6. Feisty Suances (CA), Victor Espinoza, 15/1
7. Take the Points (KY), Christopher P. DeCarlo, 10/1
8. Cape Truth (KY), Michael C. Baze, 30/1
9. Gallant Son (KY), Rafael Bejarano, 15/1
10. The Pamplemousse (KY), Alex O. Solis, 9/5
Each carries 122 pounds.