Flashback and Hear the Ghost, the two favorites for this year's $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) April 6, drew the inside post positions in a field of nine 3-year-olds.
Linemaker Jon White installed Flashback as the 9-5 choice after post positions were drawn April 3. One of three in the field from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, the gray son of Tapit is on the rail. Romping winner of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) in February, Flashback comes into the Santa Anita Derby off a runner-up finish in the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) March 9 after engaging in a torrid pace duel.
The Santa Anita Derby is the ninth on an 11-race program Saturday with a 4 p.m. PDT scheduled post. Alson on the card are the $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) at 1 1/16 miles for 3-year-old fillies, the $150,000 Potrero Grande (gr. II) for sprinters going 6 1/2 furlongs, and the $150,000 Providencia Stakes (gr. IIIT) for 3-year-old fillies at nine furlongs on turf. For Steve Cauthen and Laffit Pincay Jr.'s look back at the Santa Anita Derby that propelled Affirmed to Triple Crown victory, click here.
Garrett Gomez will be aboard Gary and Mary West's Flashback in the 1 1/8-mile test. The race is worth 170 points toward qualifying for a spot in the May 4 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), with 100 to the winner, 40 to the runner-up, 20 to third, and 10 to fourth.
Hear the Ghost, who rallied impressively to defeat Flashback by half a length in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe, is listed at 5-2 on the early line. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, another Hall of Fame conditioner, the gelded son of Ghostzapper drew post 2 and will be ridden by Corey Nakatani. Hollendorfer and Halo Farms own Hear the Ghost.
The pace meltdown that ensued in the San Felipe when Flashback zipped to the front on the outside rounding the clubhouse turn, engaging Goldencents, may not be in evidence this time around. Trainer Doug o"Neill says he has been working hard with Sham Stakes (gr. III) winner Goldencents to rate in morning workouts, recognizing that his charge got the worst of it when fading to fourth following a :55.95 half-mile and six furlongs in 1:09.94.
Goldencents, who drew post 5 for the Santa Anita Derby, is 6-1 on the morning line with Keven Krigger to ride once again. The Into Mischief colt races for the owner partnership of Rick Pitino's RAP Racing, W.C. Racing, and Dave Kenney.
Also representing the Baffert barn are Power Broker (5-1), to be ridden from post 3 by Rafael Bejarano, and Super Ninety Nine (6-1), who leaves gate 6 with Martin Garcia in the irons. Baffert has won six previous runnings of the Santa Anita Derby, more than any other trainer.
Tiz A Minister, a close third in the San Felipe for trainer Paul Aguirre, is pegged at 6-1 with Joe Talamo aboard. Summer Exclusive (20-1), Storm Fighter (20-1), and Dirty Swagg (50-1) complete the lineup.
The San Felipe victory earned Hear the Ghost 50 points on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leader board, virtually assuring him of a slot in this year's Run for the Roses. Flashback, with 30 points, and Goldencents, with 29, both need to pick up some points to keep their Derby aspirations intact. Tiz A Minister and Southwest Stakes (gr. III) winner Super Ninety Nine, both with 10 points, need to finish first or second gain a likely spot. The rest will probably require a victory.
If Goldencents doesn't go with him, Flashback should dictate the pace from the inside, with only the inexperienced Summer Exclusive likely to challenge. Summer Exclusive has had just one start, dueling on the front end in a maiden special weight at 6 1/2 furlongs March 2. The Exclusive Quality colt prevailed by one length for trainer Peter Miller after opening a big lead in the stretch.
In spite of his loss in the San Felipe, Flashback is likely to emerge as the favorite based on the game way he fought back against Hear the Ghost in spite of running the hot early fractions. A $250,000 purchase in the 2010 Keeneland November sale, the full brother to grade I winner Zazu has not been sent off at longer than even money in his three previous starts.
Following a 3 1/2-length win in his maiden debut going seven furlongs at Betfair Hollywood Park Dec. 8, he dominated three opponents in the 1 1/16-mile Lewis at 1-2 odds by 6 1/4 lengths.
Stalker Hear the Ghost had the perfect setup in the San Felipe, Nakatani saying he was "grinning from ear to ear" as the race unfolded. It was just the third start for the chestnut who is out of the Coronado's Quest mare Rehear. Like Flashback, he broke his maiden handily in his debut last December at Hollywood, before running second in the six-furlong San Pedro Stakes Jan. 21.
Goldencents took his first step backward in the San Felipe after a juvenile campaign that included a runaway maiden debut at Del Mar, a runner-up finish in the Foxwoods Champagne Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park, and a victory in the rich Delta Downs Jackpot (gr. III). In the one-mile Sham Jan. 5, the bay colt delivered a 1 1/2-length triumph over four opponents. He was off for more than two months before returning in the San Felipe.
Baffert's two other entrants, Super Ninety Nine and Power Broker, deserve strong consideration as well.
Super Ninety Nine, owned by Tanna Corp., produced an overwhelming 11 1/4-length tally in the Southwest Stakes over a sloppy Oaklawn Park strip Feb. 18. But the bandwagon emptied quickly when the son Pulpit gave way in Oaklawn's Rebel Stakes (gr. II) a month later, running fifth after pressing the pace into the stretch as the 6-5 pick. He has returned home to post a couple of dandy half-mile moves, including a bullet :47 1/5 April 2.
Off since his disappointing fifth-place finish in last fall's Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) Power Broker looks to rebound for the Wests. The Pulpit colt has a solid foundation heading into his seasonal debut, posting eight drills over the Santa Anita track since Feb. 14. Power Broker was an impressive 6 1/2-length victor in the FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I) over the track prior to the BC Juvenile, his only win to date.
Tiz a Minister also deserves a long look after he rallied from last, nearly 20 lengths off the pace, to miss by just one length in the San Felipe. The California-bred son of Ministers Wild Cat won a restricted stakes prior to that for Aguirre and S.A.Y. Racing. Talamo takes the call, replacing Gomez.
Impressive March 2 maiden winner Storm Fighter tries winners for the first time for trainer Bruce Headley and Golden Eagle Farm. Dirty Swagg, a son of Street Hero racing for Myung Kwon Cho, makes his first appearance since being distanced in the Sham three months ago.
$750,000 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I, Race 9 4 p.m.), 3YOs, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Flashback (KY), G Gomez, B Baffert, 9/5
2. Hear the Ghost (KY), C Nakatani, J Hollendorfer, 5/2
3. Power Broker (KY), R Bejarano, B Baffert, 5/1
4. Tiz A Minister (CA), J Talamo, P Aguirre, 6/1
5. Goldencents (KY), K Krigger, D O'Neill, 6/1
6. Super Ninety Nine (KY), B Baffert, M Garcia, 6/1
7. Summer Exclusive (FL), E Maldonado, P Miller, 20/1
8. Storm Fighter (CA), G Stevens, B Headley, 20/1
9. Dirty Swagg (KY), T Baze, M K Cho, 50/1
All carry 122 pounds.