Although seven horses are entered to run in the 81st running of the Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Derby on Saturday at Santa Anita Park, some will say this is either a two-horse race or a one-horse race, depending on whether fans fall into the camp of Justify, Bolt d’Oro, or both. Based on his body of work, including winning the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes last month (via a disqualification), Bolt d’Oro is certainly a very strong contender to earn the 100 Road to the Kentucky Derby points bequeathed on the winner and be one of the favorites in four weeks in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. Justify, the 4-5 morning-line favorite, is 2-for-2 to date in his career, winning by margins of greater than nine and six lengths, respectively, and in very fast times. Instilled Regard may be considered by some to be a contender as well on the strength of his win in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes in January. Then there’s last out maiden winner Core Beliefs, an unknown quantity who ran exceptionally well in his two-turn debut last month. Jimmy Chila, Orbit Rain, and Pepe Tono complete the field.
I am going to pick Core Beliefs to post the upset in the Santa Anita Derby and, at the least, to run a lot better than his odds suggest he can run. After two third-place finishes in sprints in January and February, Core Beliefs stretched out to two turns and improved tremendously, drawing off by three lengths with a 109 Equibase Speed Figure. This was on par with the 108 figure Justify earned winning a two-turn race three days later. Core Beliefs was sired by Quality Road, whose progeny have proven themselves at top levels just as the sire did. Using Stats Race Lens to get a feeling for pedigrees that have produced classic talent, it is easy to find the sons and daughters of Quality Road have won 8 of 39 stakes races for 3-year-olds on dirt over the past few years, including 2017 Kentucky Oaks winner and multiple stakes winner Abel Tasman. Although the 109 figure effort Core Beliefs put forth last month is well short of the 118 figure Bolt d’Oro earned in the San Felipe, the colt has potential to improve markedly off the effort in his second route and he will have to do just that because he needs to finish first or second to get the points required to run in the Kentucky Derby. Using his early speed as he did when victorious over the track last month and with the only other horse expected to be on or near the early lead being Justify, Core Beliefs should be in the thick of the action from start to finish.
Except for an exceptionally wide trip in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last fall when finishing third, Bolt d’Oro has made no mistakes, winning all four of his other races. In last month’s San Felipe Stakes, Bolt d’Oro showed his battle- hardened nature once again when dueling head-and-head the length of the stretch with McKinzie before losing by a head. After a steward’s inquiry, McKinzie (who will miss the Kentucky Derby) was disqualified and placed second and Bolt d’Oro was moved up to first. Being as he had been away from the races for four months prior to that, the 118 speed figure earned was exceptional. With 64 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, a spot in the starting gate in the Kentucky Derby is virtually assured, so Bolt d’Oro may only need a good effort to keep fit to move on to the big dance next month. However, in his current form, even his “B” level race may be good enough to win.
Justify has been impressive in both his races to date. He won his debut by 9 1/2 lengths and then won by 6 1/2 lengths last month in his second career start and in spite of coming out of the gate a bit tardily. Like Core Beliefs, this will be the second two-turn start for Justify and improvement off his 108 figure last out can be expected. Justify was sired by Scat Daddy, who may have three horses in the starting gate in Louisville next month if Justify finishes first or second to gain his first points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. The other two Scat Daddy colts are Flameaway and the impressive winner of the United Arab Emirates Derby last weekend, Mendelssohn. Certainly, if the hype surrounding how big, strong, and fast Justify might be is warranted, he will win the Santa Anita Derby and create a lot of buzz in the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby.
The rest of the field (with best representative Equibase Speed Figures): Instilled Regard (106), Jimmy Chila (102), Orbit Rain (99) and Pepe Tono (95).
Click here for Ellis Starr's analysis of the other key Kentucky Derby prep races this weekend.