Rock Your World Poised to Make Big Impact in Kentucky Derby

Jockey Umberto Rispoli celebrates at the finish line as Rock Your World wins the Santa Anita Derby by 4 ¼ lengths on April 3. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Making the Grade, which will run through the 2021 Triple Crown races, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could make an impact on the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey), and pedigree.

This week we take a closer look at Rock Your World, winner of the $700,000 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby on April 3 at Santa Anita Park.

Whether or not Rock Your World’s talent would translate to dirt was the main question for the colt entering the $700,000 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby. He was 2-for-2 on grass entering California’s signature prep for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, and a 4 ¼-length runaway win in the Santa Anita Derby provided an emphatic answer to the surface question. Rock Your World emerged as a serious threat to win the Kentucky Derby.

rock your world

Dark Bay or Brown Colt

Sire (Father): Candy Ride

Dam (Mother): Charm the Maker, by Empire Maker

Trainer: John Sadler

Owners: Hronis Racing and Talla Racing

Breeders: Ron McAnally and Deborah McAnally (Ky.)

Ability: A $650,000 purchase at the 2019 Keeneland September yearling sale, Rock Your World made his career debut Jan. 1, 2021, in a three-quarter-mile sprint on the grass at Santa Anita Park. He defeated 11 other runners that day, pressing a blistering opening quarter-mile in :21.71 before surging to the front on the turn on his way to a 1 ¾-length victory.

Eight weeks later, the Candy Ride colt was tested against stakes competition for the first time while stretching out to one mile in the Pasadena Stakes on the grass at Santa Anita. He settled a little more comfortably behind the pace in his second race – he looked like he was very eager to take the lead in his debut – while racing in second through a half-mile in :46.72. He advanced on the turn when given his cue but was a bit erratic changing leads in the stretch, as has been the case in each of his races. When straightened, he leveled off powerfully and surged away from the opposition to win by 2 ¼ lengths.

Rock Your World’s first two races painted the picture of a fast 3-year-old colt. He earned a 94 Equibase Speed Figure for his debut and a 98 for the Pasadena Stakes victory, while his BrisNet speed ratings were 92-91.

Trainer John Sadler told Daily Racing Form that starting Rock Your World on the grass and transitioning to the main track had always been on the agenda: “I started him on turf because it’s easier, there’s less stress. It’s a nice way to start a horse out. After that, stretching him out in the Pasadena made more sense than running in the San Felipe, going up against Life Is Good. We always thought he’d be a route horse. The distance should be great for him.”

Rock Your World was considered a wild card in the Santa Anita Derby: a talented, fast 3-year-old on grass making his first start on dirt.

Starting from an inside post, Rock Your World quickly seized command while saving ground entering the first turn and led through a fast opening quarter-mile in :22.42. Parnelli and 9-10 favorite Medina Spirit applied early pressure, but once in front Rock Your World settled into a nice rhythm and looked very comfortable. Jockey Umberto Rispoli allowed him to pick up the pace a bit entering the far turn and he pulled away with little effort, looking every bit a winner at that juncture in the race.

Medina Spirit and Dream Shake made a run at Rock Your World at the top of the stretch and cut into the lead when the pacesetter again had some trouble switching leads, but once he did, Rock Your World surged away to an easy victory. The final eighth of a mile in 12.90 seconds looks significantly better when considering the victor also set that swift early pace.

Rock Your World earned a new career-top Equibase Speed Figure (103), BrisNet speed rating (102), and Beyer Speed Figure (100), with the Beyer number improving 18 points from an 82 in the Pasadena.

At this point, you cannot look at Rock Your World as anything close to a finished product. He’s only raced three times and he’s been pretty green in the stretch of all three. He’s also made only one start on the main track and, in setting the pace, didn’t have dirt kicked back in his face, something he probably will encounter for the first time in a 20-horse Kentucky Derby field with many contenders keen to set the pace.

What he has accomplished to date, however, is extremely impressive, and there is a chance he could take another big step forward in his second start on dirt in the Kentucky Derby.

Of course, a 20-horse field also presents a scenario where any immaturity issues could be the difference between victory and an off-the-board finish, particularly if Rock Your World gets shuffled back early. I suppose that makes Rock Your World a bit of a wild card for the Kentucky Derby – as he was entering the Santa Anita Derby – although we now know the talent is elite on dirt and he has the raw tools to win May 1 at Churchill Downs.

Running style: Rock Your World’s high cruising speed has allowed him to gain good tactical position early in each of his three starts, including setting the pace in the Santa Anita Derby. I was very encouraged by the fact that he set a very fast pace and still finished strong in the Santa Anita Derby, which gives me confidence he can handle the extra eighth of a mile on Kentucky Derby day.

In re-watching the Pasadena Stakes, he showed the ability to relax behind horses and wait for his cue to go, which I think might be the best plan for the Kentucky Derby as there are plenty of horses who figure to be vying for the lead. I think he’s versatile enough to press and pounce and just go to the front if other runners try to slow it down, and if Rock Your World is leading in the stretch he will be very tough to catch. This running style has been very effective in recent Kentucky Derby history. The horse who crossed the finish line first in each of the last seven editions of the Derby was third or better after the opening quarter-mile, including Maximum Security, who was disqualified in 2019.

Revelry in the winner’s circle. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Connections: The partnership of Hronis Racing and Michael Talla’s Talla Racing co-own Santa Anita Derby winner Rock Your World.

Hronis Racing is the stable of brothers Kosta and Pete Hronis, best known as the owners of champions Accelerate and Stellar Wind. Other Grade 1 winner races by Hronis Racing include Higher Power, Hard Aces, Iotapa, Lady of Shamrock, Gift Box, Cistron, Talco, and Combatant.

Kosta Hronis is president of Hronis Inc. while Pete Hronis is senior vice president of sales and marketing for the company, which grows and distributes grapes and citrus fruit.

Talla made his fortune in the high-end fitness industry as co-founder and chairman of The Sports Club Co. In addition to Rock Your World, Talla has raced 2010 Santa Anita Oaks winner Crisp, Grade 1 winner Mona de Momma, and graded stakes winner More Chocolate.

Trainer John Sadler has won more than 2,500 races since taking out his license in 1978, including 338 stakes races, 173 graded stakes, and 40 Grade 1 races through April 5. He won the Breeders’ Cup Classic for Hronis Racing in 2018 with champion Accelerate. Sadler’s best finish with four previous starters in the Kentucky Derby was sixth with Corby in 1993.

Umberto Rispoli has ridden Rock Your World in his two stakes races. He was a champion jockey in his native Italy before coming to the U.S. and moving to Southern California in 2020. Rispoli picked up his first his first graded stakes win in June 2020 when he rode Red King to victory in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap. The Santa Anita Derby was his first Grade 1 victory.

Pedigree: Rock Your World is from the 13th crop of Candy Ride, who was unbeaten in six career starts and set a 1 ¼-mile track record of 1:59.11 at Del Mar when winning the 2003 Pacific Classic Stakes.

Candy Ride’s best runners often share his elite combination of high-cruising speed and stamina, with standouts such as 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner and champions Shared Belief and Game Winner. Candy Ride has sired 106 stakes winners and 53 group or graded stakes winners through April 5.

Each of Rock Your World’s first three dams (mother, maternal grandmother, maternal great-grandmother) was a multiple stakes winner. His dam (mother), Charm the Maker, by 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, won stakes at one mile and 1 1/16 miles on the main track and ran second in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet Stakes at 1 1/16 miles. Charm the Maker is a half-sister (same dam, different sire) to Liam the Charmer, a Grade 2 winner at 1 ¼ miles on the turf.

Grandam (maternal grandmother), Charm the Giant, by Giant’s Causeway, was a graded stakes winner at one mile on the grass and a stakes winner at 1 1/16 miles, also on turf. Third dam (maternal great-grandmother), Olympic Charmer, by Olympio, was a Grade 2 winner at 1 1/16 miles on dirt.

Charm the Maker, Charm the Giant, and Olympic Charmer were all trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Ron McAnally, and were owned and bred by Ron and his wife Debbie. The McAnallys bred Rock Your World in Kentucky.

With an abundance of class and stamina, it’s easy to see why Rock Your World had plenty of fuel in the tank when he rolled into the stretch with the lead in the Santa Anita Derby. It’s also pretty clear that he could be an elite competitor on the grass in the future. But for this exercise, Rock Your World has multiple elements that make him an intriguing Kentucky Derby contender: elite talent, room for improvement, tactical speed, a terrific trainer, and a fantastic pedigree. It would be no surprise if he gets his picture taken wearing a garland of roses May 1 at Churchill Downs.

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!