Viewing Saturday's Kentucky Derby prep races through the eyes of recent history makes it tempting to question why many think the favorite on May 3 will be one of these two race winners.
When I'll Have Another won the roses in 2012, he became the first Santa Anita Derby winner to take the opening leg of the Triple Crown since Sunday Silence in 1989.
The streak of Kentucky Derby futility for Wood Memorial winners hasn't quite reached that level, but Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 was the last horse to notch the Wood-Derby double.
But this year's Grade I Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park and Grade I Wood Memorial at Aqueduct have gathered the best contenders on their respective coasts, with California Chrome and Candy Boy facing off in the former and potential freak Social Inclusion heading the 11-horse Wood Memorial lineup.
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California Chrome may have begun the year in the backdrop of other West Coast contenders but his 71/4-length win in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes — his third straight triumph — on March 8 has put him in control of those ranks. In discussing the race, co-owner Steven Coburn kept saying "when we win the Santa Anita Derby" adding "I honestly don't think you've seen the top of this horse."
"I think people did wake up and smell the roses, no pun intended, when he won the San Felipe Stakes the way he did," Coburn said. "California-breds have always been the underdog when it comes to the Thoroughbred industry ... well this underdog is kind of a good underdog."
Social Inclusion has some of the lightest credentials of any Derby hopeful but will carry more hype than anyone if he runs off the screen in the Wood Memorial. The son of Pioneerof the Nile has won his two career starts by a combined 171/2 lengths, including a 10-length victory over Grade II Remsen winner Honor Code, but is facing a pair of bone-tough New York breds in unbeaten Samraat and his rival Uncle Sigh.
"I think the field is the best field we've assembled in the 3-year-old preps," said Gary Contessa, trainer of Uncle Sigh. "You know what, this business proves me wrong every single day, but personally, I truly believe your Derby favorite and perhaps your Derby winner could come out of this race on Saturday; one of these two races on Saturday."
The Derby Dozen
1. California Chrome: Have to love the confidence coming from his camp as Coburn said this week "I've seen as the distance gets longer, his winning (margins) gets longer." Jockey Victor Espinoza says California Chrome can rate or go to the front as he pleases and his last work, a bullet 4-furlong move in :46.40, suggests he may not exactly regress as some expect heading into the Santa Anita Derby.
2. Candy Boy: Is in virtually the same position Cairo Prince was last week as he has only 10 qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby and needs at least a top-three finish in the Santa Anita Derby. On paper, that shouldn't be an issue in the eight-horse field, and trainer John Sadler has maintained that this horse gets better as the distances increase.
3. Constitution: The level of professionalism he showed in winning the Grade I Florida Derby in his third career start justifies the hype sure to follow him until May. His old rank ways tried to flare up as he initially fought with Javier Castellano around the first turn but — as WinStar Farm President Elliott Walden predicted before the race — he got his head together and managed to outfight a dogged competitor in Wildcat Red. If only he had juvenile foundation, then we wouldn't have to keep bringing up that no horse without 2-year-old form has taken the Kentucky Derby since 1882.
4. Tapiture: Worked 5 furlongs in a bullet 1:00.80 at Oaklawn Park on Monday in what was his first move since running second in the Grade II Rebel Stakes. Will have the services of Joel Rosario, who replaces Ricardo Santana Jr. in the Arkansas Derby.
5. Wildcat Red: Sprinter's pedigree or no sprinter's pedigree, this horse doesn't possess an ounce of quit. Kudos to trainer Jose Garoffalo for the way he built up stamina in the son of D'Wildcat. He was only a neck away from adding the Florida Derby to his list of victories. He is unlikely to get such a favorable pace on the front end in the Kentucky Derby, but chances are they're going to have to go through him at the head of the lane.
6. Samraat: Wood Memorial morning-line favorite Social Inclusion has the billing but Samraat owns the substance at this point. The unbeaten Withers and Gotham Stakes winner has the luxury of being in good shape on Kentucky Derby points, so leaving something in the tank might be the goal Saturday. "Our objective is to run our 'A' race without leaving everything on the table, which is greedy, but then, everyone is in the same boat," trainer Rick Violette said.
7. Hoppertunity: As long as he isn't totally up the track, don't get too worried if he doesn't prevail in the Santa Anita Derby. With no 2-year-old form and only four career starts, the Grade II Rebel Stakes winner needs as much foundation as he can get leading into May 3.
8. General a Rod: Chased the pace in the Florida Derby before weakening to third. Didn't really lose much luster in that outing, though, and assistant trainer Elesar Chavez said post-race that "a couple changes" were on tap for him leading up to the Kentucky Derby. "I talked to Mike (trainer Maker) and told him the horse came back really good, but he needed a little bit more teaching of how to pass the other horses," Chavez said.
9. Intense Holiday: Had a funky moment coming off the turn for home in the Louisiana Derby where he veered in and almost hit the rail, losing some momentum. His reluctance to switch leads in the stretch is somewhat surprising from a maturity standpoint as it was his eighth career start. He did hold for second, and this division is too wide open to write off a horse over one awkward moment in the stretch.
10. Cairo Prince: The disappointment was as palpable from trainer Kiaran McLaughlin after the colt's fourth-place finish in the Florida Derby as his confidence was going in. Maybe the eight weeks off between races got to him, maybe he wasn't quite at the level we deemed him just yet. Watch out if the points allow him to get into the Derby as he likely got some needed tightening out of that effort.
11. Ring Weekend: Lost in the high-profile Santa Anita Derby-Wood Memorial shuffle will be this one's outing in the ungraded Calder Derby on Saturday. Grade III winner Cleburne is making his season debut in the Calder Derby but the race should double as a maintenance outing for Tampa Bay Derby winner Ring Weekend. "I'm very pleased with him, he worked over there on Friday and I think he handled the track really well," trainer Graham Motion said.
12. Vicar's in Trouble: Not convinced he wants to go 11/4 miles but bounced back huge after his Risen Star third to wire the field in the Louisiana Derby. Adding to the impressive nature of that win was the fact he didn't have an ideal lead-up to the race, having popped an abscess following the Risen Star which cost him a few days of training.
THE NEXT DOZEN
Chitu, Social Inclusion, Uncle Sigh, We Miss Artie, Bobby's Kitten, Midnight Hawk, Ride On Curlin, Strong Mandate, Commanding Curve, Vinceremos, Conquest Titan, Albano.