Creative Cause , one of the leading contenders for this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), drew the rail as the heavy 6-5 favorite for the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) April 7.
Ten 3-year-olds are entered in the 1 1/8-mile event at Santa Anita Park, the West Coast's leading prep race for next month's "Run for the Roses." The Santa Anita Derby is set for a 2:30 p.m. PDT post.
Other prominent entrants in this year's Santa Anita Derby are Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) winner I'll Have Another and CashCall Futurity (gr. I) victor Liaison. The rapidly developing colt Holy Candy was entered, but trainer John Sadler said he may scratch the son of Candy Ride in favor of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) April 14 at Keeneland.
San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) winner Creative Cause, making his eighth start, will race without blinkers for the first time. Trainer Mike Harrington said he has been pleased with the way the Giant's Causeway colt has been working in the mornings without the hood. The gray colt breezed a half-mile in :48 2/5 April 3.
"His workout was good," Harrington said. "He's training nicely without them, so we're going to run without blinkers. In his races, he gets to wandering around the stretch. He's never been really focused down the stretch, except for the Norfolk Stakes (gr. I). Even the Breeders' Cup, he started wandering around. We wanted to find out (if no blinkers) would make a difference, and not wait until the Kentucky Derby to try it."
Joel Rosario, who took over on Creative Cause last fall, retains the mount.
Heinz Steinmann's Creative Cause, with three graded wins (including the Norfolk) and three more graded placings (including the grade I Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile), is in an enviable position. He doesn't need to win the Santa Anita Derby to make the starting gate May 5 at Churchill Downs.
Harrington can't help looking ahead a little, knowing he's also a little under the radar with Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Hansen and runner-up Union Rags getting most of the national attention.
"People focus on the first two; they forget about us, but we only got beat a length," he said. "We didn't have the best trip. I have no idea what was going on with the racetrack that day. No excuses; we just got outrun by two good horses that day.
"The Breeders' Cup experience was very important. The Kentucky Derby is a circus. Any horse could get a little hot, get excited. But I was very pleased by how he handled the Breeders' Cup. He should handle (the Derby crowd) as good as any of them."
Trainer Bob Baffert, recovering from a heart attack suffered March 26 in Dubai, has entered three in the Santa Anita Derby, though only CashCall Futurity (gr. I) winner Liaison could be considered among his major Derby hopefuls. The other two are Paynter, a debut maiden winner Feb. 18 at Santa Anita, and Blueskiesnrainbows.
"He's got to slow down a little bit,'' said Arnold Zetcher, who owns Liaison with his wife. "We're going to try to make sure that he does make a few changes, his diet and a few other things. I think for the most part he'll still be Bob."
Liaison has yet to find his best form in two starts this year following his neck win in the last December's CashCall Futurity. In the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 4, he was fading in the stretch when he clipped heels and lost rider Rafael Bajarano. In the San Felipe, he was one-paced while finish fourth, 5 1/2 lengths behind Creative Cause.
"With more distance we think he's going to be stronger. We've said that forever," said Zetcher of Liaison, who is 8-1 on the morning line.
Zayat Stables' Paynter debuted at 5 1/2 furlongs with a 4 1/4-length victory over three opponents. He has put together a strong series of drills at Betfair Hollywood Park since, most recently working seven furlongs in 1:25 1/5 April 1. Blueskiesnrainbows, owned by Bad Boy Racing and Whizway Farms, split an optional claiming field of five going one mile Feb. 9 when he was 12 1/4 lengths behind his stablemate Fed Biz.
Baffert is a five-time winner of the Santa Anita Derby, including last year with Zetcher's Midnight Interlude.
I'll Have Another has not been out since his impressive 2 3/4-length triumph in the 1 1/16-mile Lewis Feb. 4. Trainer Doug O'Neill has kept the Reddam Racing-owned son of Flower Alley sharp with a consistent series of workouts from seven furlongs to a mile. I'll Have Another, 5-2 on the morning line, needs to run first or second to be assured of a starting spot in the Kentucky Derby.
Warren B. Williamson's Midnight Transfer (10-1) continues to impress in the mornings, most recently turning in a bullet six furlongs in 1:11 4/5 at Santa Anita March 30. He figures to improve off is third-place finish in the San Felipe, in which he was three lengths behind Creative Cause in his first try around two turns for trainer Carla Gaines. MIke Smith will be aboard the son of Hard Spun for the first time.
Craig Family Stables' homebred Holy Candy (8-1) broke his maiden March 23 at one mile impressively by 3 1/2 lengths but Sadler is considering giving the gray/roan colt an extra week before running him back.
Longview Drive will be reunited with Russell Baze following a sixth-place finish in a division of the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) Feb. 20; Senor Rain won an optional claiming race March 16; and maiden Brother Francis, who was third in the CashCall Futurity, complete the field.
$750,000 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I, Race 6, 2:30 p.m.), 3YOs, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Creative Cause (KY), J Rosario, M Harrington, 6/5
2. Liaison (KY), R Bejarano, B Baffert, 8/1
3. Holy Candy (KY), A Quinonez, J W Sadler, 8/1
4. I'll Have Another (KY), M Gutierrez, D F O'Neill, 5/2
5. Longview Drive (KY), R A Baze, J Hollendorfer, 12/1
6. Paynter (KY), M Garcia, B Baffert, 12/1
7. Senor Rain (IN), E Flores, P Miller, 15/1
8. Midnight Transfer (KY), M E Smith, C Gaines, 10/1
9. Blueskiesnrainbows (VA), J Talamo, B Baffert, 20/1
10. Brother Francis (KY), G K Gomez, J M Cassidy, 20/1
All carry 122 pounds.
Blinkers Off: Creative Cause, Blueskiesnrainbows