Danza motors to victory in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on Saturday at Oaklawn Park. (Coady Photography)
Danza entered the Grade 1, $1-million Arkansas Derby having gone nine months since his last victory. On Saturday at Oaklawn Park, he punched his ticket to the Kentucky Derby, where he will have a chance to etch his name in Thoroughbred racing’s history books.
Although Danza had not won since his career debut in July 2013 at Belmont Park, he had shown class by finishing third by a half-length in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special Stakes in August at Saratoga Race Course. But entering the Arkansas Derby off a well-beaten third, 7 ½ lengths behind the victor, in his season debut on March 1 at Gulfstream Park there was understandably little buzz about the chestnut Street Boss colt.
There were a couple of things in Danza’s favor, however, entering the Arkansas Derby. He is trained by six-time Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher and he drew an inside post that ideally would allow him to save ground and settle behind the early speed as he had done in his three previous races.
Race favorite Bayern took the lead shortly after leaving the Arkansas Derby starting gate and soon was joined by Thundergram. Danza settled in comfortably right behind the top pair in third or fourth through the first turn and along the backstretch through a half-mile in :47.71.
On the final turn, Danza waited for running room on the inside under Joe Bravo until he found a small opening inside of Bayern. Bravo asked Danza to pick up the pace and he accelerated explosively to take command at the top of the stretch.
Bayern fought back but could not match strides with the winner, who shook free to win by 4 ¾ lengths at 41.30-to-1 odds. The 100 points he picked up on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard guaranteed Danza a spot in the starting gate for the Derby, which is restricted to 20 starters.
Danza is owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners.
ARKANSAS DERBY WINNER'S CIRCLE PRESENTATION
Ride On Curlin, third in both the Southwest and Rebel Stakes, wore down Bayern late to finish second. That final drive from Ride On Curlin could prove costly for Bayern as he ranks 26th on the leaderboard and currently needs multiple defections to get into the field. Ride On Curlin, on the other hand, nailed down his starting spot for the first jewel of the Triple Crown on May 3 with the 40 points he earned for finishing second in the Arkansas Derby.
Danza is from the second crop of Grade 1-winning sprinter Street Boss. His dam (mother) is stakes-placed winner Champagne Royale, by French Deputy. Champagne Royale has produced four winners from as many starters, including Danza’s graded-stakes-winning older sibling Majestic Harbor.
Bred in Kentucky by Liberation Farm and Brandywine Farm, Danza sold for $105,000 to Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners at the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale.
For an Equibase chart, click here.