There might as well have been a stop sign on the hindquarters of Kaleem Shah's Dortmund April 4, because no colt was going to pass the massive son of Big Brown in the $1 million Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO).
Drawing the inside post for the first time in his career, the undefeated Bob Baffert trainee recovered quickly from a bobbled start, led by a neck during his first trip through the stretch in the 1 1/8-mile race, and never allowed a rival by in a 4 1/4-length gate-to-wire victory in front of a crowd of 38,647 at Santa Anita Park.
Guided by Martin Garcia, who has been aboard for all six of the colt's wins, Dortmund gradually extended his lead through fractions of :22.46 for the first quarter, :46.36 for the half, and 1:10.57 after six furlongs, then allowed no advancement on his advantage in the final turn and pulled away in the stretch. The 3-5 favorite covered the distance in 1:48.73 over a fast dirt track, with stablemate One Lucky Dane second and Bolo 2 1/4 lengths back third.
"This is my first win in the Santa Anita Derby," Garcia said. "There are a lot of firsts with him for me. He's really comfortable. The main thing for me today was to break well and put him in a good position."
Although he's showed more than enough talent in three previous Triple Crown preps—the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I), Robert B. Lewis (gr. III), and San Felipe (gr. II)—the Santa Anita Derby win was by far Dortmund's largest margin of victory since entering stakes competition.
"Even though he's won all his races, he's still learning," Garcia said. "He can play around a bit, but when someone comes to him, or I ask him to go, he becomes push-button and he just takes off."
Dortmund also has a win over Churchill Downs' dirt track (in an allowance/optional claiming event Nov. 29) and has a direct connection to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) in his bloodlines. The last undefeated colt to win the Run for the Roses was Dortmund's sire, Big Brown.
"It's good to see this horse just really developing the way he has from his first start," said Baffert, who also noted the colt lost his front right shoe at the start of the race. "I just love the way he ran today… We bought him, he looked like a really good horse, but he was just a big horse and sometimes they don't turn out."
The winner paid $3.20, $2.40, and $2.10. One Lucky Dane delivered $4.80 and $2.80. Bolo brought in $3.00 to show.
Bred in Kentucky by Emile Gerlinde Fojan from the Tale of the Cat mare Our Josephnia, Dortmund improved his record to 6-0-0 from six career starts and increased his career earnings to just less than $1.3 million.
Although he was already assured a spot in the Kentucky Derby gate with his prior victories, the 100 points Dortmund acquired with the Santa Anita Derby win puts him in second place in the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" standings, a single point behind International Star.
"Just to have a horse in the Santa Anita Derby is a thrill, but to run this well and win it is unbelievable," Shah said. "Ever since the San Felipe, this has been like March Madness for me. To be going to the Kentucky Derby with an undefeated horse like this, and to be compared to horses like Seattle Slew and Smarty Jones is just amazing."
Baffert also trains One Lucky Dane, who entered the Santa Anita Derby off an impressive mile allowance/optional claiming win. The second-place finish puts the Lookin At Lucky colt owned by Michael Lund Petersen in 16th place (40 points) in the Kentucky Derby standings.
"He's a good horse," Baffert said. "He showed that last time. This distance is not going to be a problem for him. He'll go to the (Kentucky) Derby. He qualified in Bob Baffert's eyes. I don't need 40 points. They need to qualify in my eyes."