As April arrives and the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve preps dwindle down to a precious few, handicappers will get their final chances to hone their skills before the all-important final exam on May 4, aka the Kentucky Derby.
The Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct, the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park form Saturday’s trifecta and each race has an angle or two that can help point the way to racing’s most welcomed commodity, a winner.
Let’s start with the Wood Memorial. Interestingly, though it’s New York’s definitive Derby prep, the road to victory at the Big A often starts in Florida.
Looking at the last 11 editions of the Wood Memorial, each of the last seven winners and eight of the last 11 made their previous start in Florida, with three of them coming out of the Tampa Bay Derby.
The other key angle involves trainer Todd Pletcher, who owns five victories in the Wood, and trains Outshine and Overdeliver this year.
The Blue Grass takes place on the opening weekend at Keeneland, so it’s surely a shipper’s race. Yet a key element is that the race used to be contested on a synthetic surface and in recent years only the last four runnings took place on dirt.
Looking at those four races, three of them were won by horses from Florida, a stat that bodes well for Vekoma, Signalman, Dream Maker, Admire, Win Win Win, Sir Winston, and So Alive in the field of 14.
Who broke that mold? That would be Irap, a Californian who finished fourth in the Sunland Derby before shipping east.
Speaking of California, it should come as no surprise that horses who prepped in California have been unbeatable in the last 11 runnings of the Santa Anita Derby. But that number could be in trouble this year. Due to the temporary cessation of racing at Santa Anita, the San Felipe Stakes was canceled, forcing horsemen to find a different prep race for their horses. That’s what happened to 2-year-old champ Game Winner, who traveled to Oaklawn for the Rebel Stakes and now is back at his home base of Santa Anita, raising the possibility of an asterisk for the all-California streak if Game Winner wins.
Besides Game Winner, Instagrand also exited California for a while, running in the Gotham at Aqueduct, but is now back home in California running in the Santa Anita Derby.
As for another powerful angle in the Santa Anita Derby, it’s not hard to figure out. The trainer with the hot hand over the last 11 years?
Of course, it’s Bob Baffert. The two-time Triple Crown winner has won the race four times in the past 10 years and he will send both Game Winner and Roadster in Saturday’s race – and, yes, Roadster last raced in California, which should provide a valuable lesson about the Triple Crown in this year or any other.
If there’s an angle that points the way to one of Bob Baffert’s horses, follow it.