With Umberto Rispoli in the saddle, Rock Your World forged to the lead quickly from post 2. Rock Your World set all of the fractions, getting the first quarter-mile in :22.42, as Parnelli and Medina Spirit sat in second and third down the backstretch.
"The post dictated the strategy," said Sadler of his colt, who was originally drawn in post 3. "We didn't have a set strategy till they drew the race. They scratched the #1 (Roman Centurian), so all of a sudden we're now the 2. I didn't see any chance for him if the field came over on top of him."
Though Parnelli and Medina Spirit didn't let Rock Your World get too far away, Rock Your World was able to dictate the pace, completing a half-mile in :46.11.
As they approached the second turn and Medina Spirit looked like he was about to make his move, Rock Your World opened up, getting six furlongs in 1:10.64. Dream Shake had been running fourth on the rail, and both he and Medina Spirit tried to catch Rock Your World.
By then, however, Rock Your World had a couple of lengths on the field, and he simply kept widening his margin. As the colt crossed under the wire, Rispoli turned to the crowd in the grandstand and roared triumphantly.
Rock Your World stopped the timer in 1:49.17 after completing a mile in 1:36.27. He paid $12.40 to win as the 5-1 third choice.
Medina Spirit, the 9-10 favorite with John Velazquez aboard, defeated Dream Shake by 2 1/4 lengths for second, paying $2.80 and $2.20, and Dream Shake, who paid $2.80 to show and was ridden by Flavien Prat, had 4 3/4 lengths on Defunded in fourth.
To this point at Santa Anita, 3-year-olds have been racing in front of small crowds of owners only due to COVID-19 restrictions. As Rispoli brought Rock Your World back to the winner's circle, the crowd applauded and cheered.
"I got emotional seeing people here," said Sadler.
Ron McAnally, who trained Candy Ride, bred Rock Your World in Kentucky with his wife, Deborah.
Sadler debuted Rock Your World Jan. 1 in a six-furlong maiden race on the turf at Santa Anita, and the colt won by 1 3/4 lengths.
"The first one on the turf was just a matter of he was ready to go," said Kosta Hronis. "It just depended on what race would fill and be available to us. It happened to be the six on the turf. Once we did that though, he (Sadler) immediately said, 'We're going to run in the Pasadena, and if we do well we're going to run in the Santa Anita Derby here.'"
In the Feb. 27 Pasadena, at a mile on the turf, Rock Your World, ridden for the first time by Rispoli, scored by 2 1/4 lengths.
Meanwhile, among 3-year-olds on the dirt, Bob Baffert-trained Life Is Good was emerging as the favorite for the Santa Anita Derby. Undefeated in three starts, Life Is Good won the Jan. 2 Grade 3 Sham Stakes and March 6 Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes, both times defeating Medina Spirit, also trained by Baffert.
Life Is Good went to the sidelines, however, with a chip in his left hind ankle. Instead, Baffert entered Medina Spirit and Defunded in the Santa Anita Derby. In between the Sham and the San Felipe, Medina Spirit had won the Jan. 30 Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes.
Sadler explained his unusual strategy in preparing a horse for the Triple Crown trail.
"I'd been thinking, when this winter started, there's a lot of different ways to hunt," he said. "And I chose to lay in the weeds."
Talla and Hronis praised Sadler's ability to prepare the horse, and both owners said they hoped Rock Your World could go on to the Kentucky Derby to win it for their trainer.
"I don't think anybody in this industry in my mind has performed the strategy that John Sadler did to get this horse ready for this race—two times on grass and no dirt," said Talla.
Sadler and bloodstock agent David Ingordo bought Rock Your World for $650,000 in the name of Sapphire Stable at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale from the consignment of Winter Quarter Farm. Because Rock Your World was going to sell in that price range, Sadler suggested to Hronis and Talla that they become partners.