John Clay

John Clay: Derby might deliver a wild West finish

Creative Cause and jockey Joel Rosario won the San Felipe Stakes March 10 at Santa Anita Park before notching a second in the Santa Anita Derby a month later. He'll be in the eighth post Saturday.
Creative Cause and jockey Joel Rosario won the San Felipe Stakes March 10 at Santa Anita Park before notching a second in the Santa Anita Derby a month later. He'll be in the eighth post Saturday. ASSOCIATED PRESS

LOUISVILLE — Something may have escaped your attention this week.

There are California horses in the Kentucky Derby.

You may not have been aware that this 138th running of the Kentucky Derby will include Thoroughbreds who prepared in what was once the prep of choice for any horse that wished to wear the garland of roses on the first Saturday in May.

It has been 23 years since a horse won the Santa Anita Derby and then followed with a win in the Kentucky Derby. Sunday Silence was the last to pull the double. That was 1989.

Giacomo won the 2005 Derby after running in the Santa Anita Derby. But no one would confuse Giacomo with a super horse. He was a 50-1 shot. He won one more race after that.

Of the last 13 Santa Anita Derby winners, only Pioneerof the Nile (second in 2009) hit the board.

I'll Have Another could change that. Creative Cause could, too. I'll Have Another won the Santa Anita Derby. Creative Cause's trainer thinks he should have won.

"He only got beat a head-bob," 71-year-old trainer Mike "Doc" Harrington groused this week outside his barn at Churchill. "If the head-bob had been different he'd have won and it would be a different scenario. It amazes me that a horse can get beat that far and they just forget about him."

Truth is, most have forgotten about both. Neither I'll Have Another nor Creative Cause figures to be among the favorites when the betting commences this weekend.

"I think it's probably the Beyer numbers," Doug O'Neill, I'll Have Another's trainer, said Wednesday, alluding to his horse's best speed figure of 96. "Even though they have been pretty impressive, they haven't thrown up those 100-plus Beyers like a couple of the horses have."

Still, both trainers believe their horses are sitting in nice, if inconspicuous, spots.

Owned by 80-year-old Heinz Steinmann, Creative Cause ran third in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, despite being "annihilated" by the large field, according to Harrington.

He came back to win the San Felipe before his second-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby. He has hit the board in all eight career races. It's the first Derby for Harrington, who jokes that this will probably be his last.

"Everything is about the now horse," Harrington said of his Creative Cause being overlooked. "He's one of those horses that kind of flies under the radar. I hope it stays that way."

With the son of Giant's Causeway being a stalker, Harrington is hoping for a fast pace, especially with speed burner Trinniberg in the field.

"If he wants to drag Bodemeister and Hansen with him, that would be good, too," joked Harrington. "Take one on each side of him."

"(Creative Cause) is a nice colt, he just tries every time," O'Neill said. "He's an honest horse, and Doc Harrington has done a great job with him. I think our two colts are very similar."

Harrington returns the compliment.

"The thing about (I'll Have Another) is he's getting better," said the trainer. "Doug has in my estimation used a novel approach, but maybe it's going to pay off."

After a sixth-place finish in the Saratoga Special last year, O'Neill gave the Paul Reddam-owned colt five months off before he won the Robert B. Lewis. He took two more months off before winning the Santa Anita Derby.

Perhaps for that reason, O'Neill has trained his entry harder for this Derby than he did back in 2007 when he finished 13th with Great Hunter and 14th with Liquidity.

"We've kept our strong gallops going," said the trainer. "Last time I was here, I think I maybe nursed them a little bit more. So we've continued to do what got us here."

Even if not many have paid much attention to the Californians being here.

"I hope we're under the radar," Harrington said. "I certainly hope so."

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