Will the Saint Go Marching Into the Winner's Circle--or Back to the Barn?

By Dick Downey

The question in the 67th Santa Anita Derby, with Lion Heart going to Lexington to run in the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes instead of here, is who will go to the lead.

Lucky Pulpit's trainer, Clifford Sise, Jr., stated publicly after drawing post 2 that his charge would go there. He's done that exactly once in eight career starts, when he broke his maiden in a 5 1/2 furlong turf race back in July, and he has pressed the pace a few times. Before the San Rafael, Sise was trying to teach the colt how to stay back, and he did, but he also started gasping for air after one-half mile and finished eighth. So we'll take Sise at his word.

Quinton's Gold Rush is a candidate to go to the front early off his placement close to fast fractions in the last two of his three lifetime races, and Rock Hard Ten looks like a candidate to do the same here in his third career start.

And so there should be some pace to run at in this 1 1/8 mile race, a distance none of these have ever attempted.

We see ST AVERIL coming from off that pace to win. The risk with him is that he went too fast, in the opinion of his trainer, Rafael Becerra, when he worked five furlongs in :58 2/5 six days before the race--Becerra got him in :58--and too much early speed on his part could put him on the lead and take him out of his game plan at relatively low odds. He is obviously talented, and he has the pedigree to run all day. But another one has to get out there more quickly than him, and he must reserve some fuel for the stretch in order to run his best race on Saturday. All in all, we think he's the best on Saturday.

In a recent Bloodhorse.com article, we floated a theory that the Kentucky Derby could actually wind up with a short field this year--by Derby standards--and in so doing, we dismissed CASTLEDALE. We didn't see him going forward off his last start.

Later that morning, he fired a second consecutive bullet work, turf-to-dirt. Although he showed little in the one-mile, Grade II San Rafael in his last start, it was his first dirt effort and his first race since a very game win in the Grade III Generous Stakes over three months prior, when he ran a mile in 1:35 2/5. Off those facts, we now believe CASTLEDALE stands to improve here more than any horse in the field, and he's our second choice to come from off the pace. Check the board to see if he comes down off that 20-1 morning line for trainer Jeff Mullins, who's winning at a 24% rate at the meet.

WIMBLEDON has gone to the lead in just one of six starts, and we expect him to stay with that pattern here, but just in case his high dosage of 5.00 hurts his chances as the races get longer, we don't pick him on top. But don't be surprised if Bob Baffert gets him home; after all, his Real Quiet also had a dosage index that said he couldn't win the Kentucky Derby in 1998, and WIMBLEDON won a Grade II in his last effort. The final thought on WIMBLEDON is that Baffert is bound to only want a good effort here--not a top effort. The plan would be to get a top effort in the Kentucky Derby on May 1.

Imperialism is a confirmed closer, although at how much distance he can close remains an unanswered question. HIs sire, Langfuhr, was best at six furlongs and won the Met Mile in a time of 1:33, and so this race will tell us whether he can outrun that particular heritage. We think he won't, but we thought that when he stretched out to a mile in the San Rafael, and we were wrong. But he has two extra furlongs to run on Saturday, and those can be two mighty long furlongs.

We are staying off of the two low-odds horses we think will be winging it early, Rock Hard Ten and Quinton's Gold Rush. The only reservation here is that this may turn out to be a rider's race. If either Corey Nakatani or David Flores can get one of these two into an early, moderately-paced lead, then the Saint could march straight back to the barn instead of into the winner's circle.

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