Is this Saturday’s Grade I Santa Anita Derby a two-horse race between Authentic and Honor A.P.? Many no doubt are going to see it that way. But viewing a race that way sometimes can backfire.
CAUTION: There are times when neither horse wins what many perceive to be a two-horse race. One need only go back to what happened at Santa Anita last Sunday to find an example.
The vast majority of horseplayers, as reflected by the betting, considered last Sunday’s Grade II Santa Maria Stakes to be a two-horse race between Ce Ce and Hard Not to Love.
Ce Ce took a three-for-three record in 2020 into the Santa Maria, highlighted by Grade I victories in Santa Anita’s Beholder Mile and Oaklawn Park’s Apple Blossom Handicap. As expected, Ce Ce was bet down to odds-on favoritism in the Santa Maria, going off at 3-5.
Hard Not to Love had reeled off three consecutive victories before she finished second in the Beholder Mile. During her three-race winning streak, she took Santa Anita’s Grade I La Brea Stakes on Dec. 28. As expected, Hard Not to Love was the second wagering choice in the Santa Maria, going off at 5-2.
As far as the bettors were concerned, Horologist at 9-2 was the Santa Maria entrant deemed to have the best chance to beat Ce Ce and Hard Not to Love.
The remaining two Santa Maria starters received the Rodney Dangerfield treatment from horseplayers. Fighting Mad was sent away at 10-1. Kaydetre was the longest shot in the race at 33-1.
What happened? Lightly regarded Fighting Mad seized the lead at once, led past every pole, prevailed by 3 1/4 lengths and returned $22.20 for each $2 win ticket.
Yes, the popular notion that the Santa Maria was a two-horse race between Ce Ce and Hard Not to Love proved to be false.
Hard Not to Love, who exhibited obstinate behavior on the track before the Santa Maria, rallied from last to finish second. Ce Ce, close up to the top of the lane, failed to generate a kick in the final furlong and ended up third, 2 1/4 lengths behind Hard Not to Love.
What occurred in the Santa Maria serves as a stern warning that bettors should not be too quick to think of the Santa Anita Derby as a two-horse race. Nevertheless, it seems a safe bet that many horseplayers are going to look at the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby as strictly a two-horse race between Authentic and Honor A.P.
The Santa Anita Derby will be rematch between the Bob Baffert-trained Authentic and the John Sherriffs-conditioned Honor A.P. after they finished one-two in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 7.
The Santa Anita Derby originally had been scheduled for April 4. But it was postponed after the Los Angeles Country Department of Public Health told Santa Anita officials that they had to cease racing for a time due to the coronavirus pandemic. That delayed the highly anticipated rematch between Authentic and Honor A.P. until this Saturday.
When Authentic and Honor A.P. clashed in the San Felipe, the pace situation looked like it would be in Authentic’s favor. And it was.
After Authentic bobbled slightly at the start, he was allowed to set an uncontested pace while carving out moderate fractions of :22.84, :46.71, 1:11.32 and 1:36.89. His final time was 1:43.56. Authentic was credited with a career-best 98 Beyer Speed Figure.
Honor A.P. raced along in fourth during the early stages of the San Felipe while never far back. At the top of the stretch, he came on to loom menacingly. He got to within about 1 1/2 lengths of the leading Authentic. But that was as close as Honor A.P. could get to the lead. With Authentic still having plenty of gas left in his tank, he came home with good energy to win by 2 1/4 lengths.
It should be noted that Authentic did not display any goofiness when coming down the lane in the San Felipe while racing with earplugs for the first time. That was important because he had run a zig-zag course when racing greenly during the final furlong of the Grade III Sham Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan. 4. Despite the antics seen from him in the last furlong of the Sham, the Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt registered a 7 3/4-length victory.
Honor A.P. did not win the San Felipe, but I thought his performance was terrific under the circumstances.
As mentioned earlier (but it’s significant enough to mention again), Honor A.P. was at a pace disadvantage vis-a-vis Authentic in the San Felipe.
Honor A.P. also had a right to be a bit rusty in the March 7 San Felipe due to not having started since Oct. 13. Authentic raced twice between Oct. 13 and the San Felipe.
Something else to keep in mind is Honor A.P. did travel 24 feet farther than Authentic in the San Felipe, according to Trakus. That equates to Honor A.P. traveling about 2 1/2 lengths farther than Authentic. Honor A.P. lost by 2 1/4 lengths.
Not picking Authentic to win the Santa Anita Derby is very difficult for me. It’s easy to envision him succeeding again to remain undefeated in four career starts.
But I think there also is a distinct possibility that Authentic might not have it all his own way on the front end this time. Shooters Shoot appears to possess the kind of early zip to be a thorn in the side of Authentic in the early going.
Shooters Shoot might duke it out with Authentic in the early stages of the San Felipe. Or Shooters Shoot might even go right to the front and establish an early lead of one length or more, which would force Authentic to try to do something he’s never done before. In all three of Authentic’s wins, the farthest he has been off the lead is a half-length. Can Authentic win a race if he is more than a half-length off the pace?
It appears to me that Shooters Shoot is a big key to this race with respect to Authentic. Because if Shooters Shoot does not either go immediately to the front or vie with Authentic early, it probably will be a big help to Authentic in that he might be able to be in control of the Santa Anita Derby from the outset, much like the San Felipe.
There also is a chance that Authentic is just so darn good that he will succeed this Saturday no matter what pace scenario materializes.
But if it turns out that Authentic does not get it all his own way on the front end early this time, it does seem to increase the possibility that he won’t win, especially since he also is being asked to go 1 1/8 miles. This will be the farthest Authentic has ever raced.
I think Honor A.P. might get a beautiful trip Saturday, sitting just behind Authentic and Shooters Shoot early. And my gut is telling me that when it gets down to crunch time in the final furlong, the long-striding Honor A.P. just might turn the tables on Authentic.
When push comes to shove in terms of deciding who to pick to win a race, sometimes it’s a good idea to go with one’s gut. Consequently, I am going with Honor A.P. to win Saturday.
Below are my selections for the Santa Anita Derby:
1. Honor A.P.
3. Shooters Shoot
Will Shooters Shoot be the Fighting Mad of the Santa Anita Derby and upset the Big Two? It’s not impossible.
Shooters Shoot’s April 11 victory in a one-mile allowance/optional claiming contest at Oaklawn Park was quite impressive. He battled tooth-and-nail for the lead with a tough foe in Blackberry Wine for every single step of that race. Despite being involved in such a prolonged duel, Shooters Shoot won by a neck after stepping the first half-mile in a scorching :45 and change.
Shooters Shoot also has run well at Santa Anita. He finished second in Charlaton’s splashy 5 3/4-length debut victory in a six-furlong maiden special weight race at Santa Anita on Feb. 16. Shooters Shoot then won a one-mile maiden special weight race with authority by 3 1/4 lengths at Santa Anita on March 15 prior to his trip to Arkansas.
Rushie comes into the Santa Anita Derby having won two of his last three starts, all at Santa Anita. His only defeat in that sequence came when he ran second in Charlatan’s scintillating 10 1/4-length allowance/optional claiming win at one mile on March 14.
Baffert also is running Azul Coast in the Santa Anita Derby. Azul Coast returns to the dirt after winning the El Camino Real Derby on synthetic footing Feb. 15 at Golden Gate Fields. He’s won two of three. His lone defeat came when he finished second, well behind Authentic, in the Sham. Keep in mind Azul Coast was not a huge price in the Sham. He was sent off at just 2-1 that day, while Authentic was favored at 6-5.
Anneau d’Or narrowly lost both the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita last Nov. 1 and Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity on Dec. 7. He needs to get back into good form after being soundly beaten in both starts this year.
In his 2020 debut, Anneau d’Or wound up ninth in a division of the Grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots on Feb. 15. He then finished fifth, 9 1/2 lengths behind the victorious Charlatan, in the first division of the Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on May 2.
Will the Anneau d’Or of the Breeders’ Cup and Los Al Futurity show up Saturday? If he does, he will be a tough customer. But if the Anneau d’Or we have seen so far this year shows up Saturday, a victory by him would seem almost impossible.
MY BELMONT STAKES TOP 10: A NEW NO. 1
The shocking announcement last Thursday that Nadal had been retired from racing after suffering a condylar fracture in his left front leg following a four-furlong workout in :48.80 has necessitated a change at the top of my Belmont Stakes Top 10. Charlatan is the new No. 1.
According to Baffert, the 1 1/8-mile Belmont Stakes and seven-furlong Woody Stephens Stakes, a pair of Grade I events at Belmont Park on June 20, are both under consideration for Charlatan’s next start.
Charlatan worked five furlongs in 1:00.80 on Monday at Santa Anita, a move Baffert characterized as “more of a maintenance work, just cruising,” Jonathan Lintner reported for horseracingnation.com.
“I think his next work will decide,” Baffert said in terms of choosing either the Belmont or the Woody Stephens.
A decision regarding the Belmont also is pending for Maxfield. Winner of the Grade III Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs on May 23 in his 2020 debut, he has an unblemished record in three career starts for trainer Brendan Walsh.
Indications are that Maxfield will make his next start in either the Belmont or Keeneland’s Grade I Blue Grass Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on July 11.
Tiz the Law, who is definite for the Belmont, worked four furlongs in :48.20 at the Palm Meadows training center last Sunday. He then departed Florida on Monday for New York.
Trained by Barclay Tagg, Tiz the Law has won four of five lifetime starts. He’s four for four when racing on a fast track. He is two for two in 2020.
Tiz the Law won Gulfstream Park’s Grade III Holy Bull Stakes by three lengths on Feb. 1 in his first race this year. That was followed by a 4 1/4-length triumph in the Grade I Florida Derby at Gulfstream on March 28.
Here is my Belmont Stakes Top 10:
2. Tiz the Law
4. Sole Volante
5. Dr. Post
8. Max Player
9. Gouverneur Morris
10. Farmington Road
HIGHLY REGARDED CEZANNE DEBUTS SATURDAY
Cezanne, the $3.8 million auction purchase by Coolmore and partners at a Florida sale last year, kicks off his racing career at Santa Anita this Saturday. Baffert has said the Kentucky-bred Curlin colt has the potential to possibly have a strong second half of the year a la Arrogate in 2016 and West Coast in 2017.
From June 5 through Nov. 5 in 2016, Arrogate won five in a row. When making his stakes debut in the Grade I Travers Stakes on Aug. 27, he won by a sizable margin and broke Saratoga’s track record for 1 1/4 miles in what I called a Secretariat-like performance.
After the Travers, Arrogate uncorked a furious late rally to win the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita by overtaking no less than the older California Chrome. Arrogate was voted a 2016 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male. California Chrome, for his body of work, was voted 2016 Horse of the Year. California Chrome also was the 2014 Horse of the Year.
Starting on May 20 in 2017, West Coast put together a five-race winning streak before finishing third behind Gun Runner and Collected in the Grade I BC Classic at Del Mar. Thanks largely to Grade I victories in the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing, West Coast was voted a 2017 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male.
A glimpse of Cezanne’s huge potential came in his bullet five-furlong workout in :59.00 from the gate on May 14 at Santa Anita. This work can be seen on XBTV. Here is a link: https://www.xbtv.com/video/bob-baffert/cezanne-outside-and-tapitution-worked-5-furlongs-at-santa-anita-park-on-may-14th-2020/
Cezanne on May 14 worked in company with Tapitution, a 3-year-old unraced Tapit colt who fetched a final bid of $350,000 at public auction last year.
“Super” was the word XBTV’s Millie Ball used to described Cezanne’s May 14 workout.
“He’s definitely the goods,” Ball said May 17 on Mike William’s radio program Thoroughbred Los Angeles. Ball noted that concerning the May 14 work by Cezanne, it was the first time “Baffert said to go ahead and let him run. And Cezanne came back [after the work] and he couldn’t even have blown a candle out. I was very impressed.”
Cezanne then recorded a five-furlong workout from the gate in :59.40 on May 23 at Santa Anita. That was followed by another bullet drill, four furlongs in :47.60 last Saturday at Santa Anita, a workout that also can be viewed on XBTV. Here is a link to last Saturday’s workout: https://www.xbtv.com/video/bob-baffert/cezanne-outside-and-dodger-worked-4-furlongs-at-santa-anita-park-on-may-30th-2020/
Last Saturday, Cezanne’s workmate was Dodger. Cezanne began the work about one length behind, then finished about one length in front. Dodger, who was timed in :48.00 for four furlongs, finished fifth in a maiden special weight race at Los Alamitos last year on Sept. 6 in his only start to date. Dodger’s sire, Bayern, won the 2014 BC Classic at Santa Anita for Baffert.
ARROGATE EUTHANIZED TUESDAY
Sadly and stunningly, Arrogate was euthanized Tuesday in Kentucky after a battle to save him following an illness that began last week, Juddmonte Farms announced on its website.
“Arrogate had a very successful breeding season this year until last week when his breeding was suspended due to an initially suspected sore neck,” the item on the website stated. “Later in the week he fell to the ground in his stall and efforts to get him back up proved unsuccessful. He was transported to the Hagyard Clinic under the care of Dr. Bob Hunt and Dr. Nathan Slovis with Dr. Steve Reed representing the insurance company.
“They worked tirelessly with the staff from the Hagyard Clinic, eliminating all the obvious causes and performing all available tests, including spinal tap evaluation, X-ray, ultrasound, CT scan and many blood tests.
“Unfortunately, Arrogate was still unable to stand after four exhausting days for him. His will to fight, so valuable to him on the racetrack, became a challenge in his care. When serious secondary health issues set in, the decision was made to put him to sleep.”
Arrogate, the richest North American racehorse in history, earned $17,422,600 on the track.
I noted earlier that I felt that Arrogate’s Travers was a Secretariat-like performance. When he streaked home to win the Travers by 13 1/2 lengths and broke a longstanding track record, I could not help but harken back to Secretariat’s victory in the 1973 Kentucky Derby.There were these similarities.
Secretariat’s final time was 1:59 and change. So was Arrogate’s.
Secretariat broke the track record. So did Arrogate.
Secretariat ran his final quarter-mile in :23 and change. So did Arrogate.
Secretariat defeated 12 foes. So did Arrogate.
In the Kentucky Derby, Secretariat broke a track record that had stood for nine years. In the Travers, Arrogate broke a track record that had stood for 37 years.
The early pace set by Arrogate in the Travers was quicker than that set by Shecky Greene in the 1973 Kentucky Derby. Yet Arrogate still was able to run his final quarter in the Travers in a sensational :23 4/5.
Arrogate’s final time in fifths of 1:59 1/5 shaved four-fifths of a second off the track record set by General Assembly (a son of Secretariat) when he splashed his way to a 15-length victory in the 1979 Travers on a sloppy track.
Unlike Arrogate, General Assembly’s record of 2:00 might have been aided somewhat by the condition of the track.
“Saratoga, like the New York downstate tracks, gets extremely fast when first soaked, for it has a good bottom,” William H. Rudy wrote in his 1979 Travers recap for The Blood-Horse magazine. “Nevertheless, the winner’s time of 2:00 was remarkable.”
One can get a sense of just how fantastic Arrogate’s Travers performance was by comparing his individual splits to those by Secretariat in the 1973 Kentucky Derby.
First quarter: Secretariat :25 1/5, Arrogate :23 1/5. Arrogate ran the first quarter approximately 10 lengths faster.
First half: Secretariat :49 1/5, Arrogate :46 4/5. Arrogate ran the first half approximately 12 lengths faster.
Final time: Secretariat 1:59 2/5, Arrogate 1:59 1/5. Arrogate completed the 1 1/4 miles approximately one length faster.
There is still another reason Arrogate’s Travers performance probably was better than Secretariat’s in the Kentucky Derby. Secretariat had much more experience.
When Secretariat ran in the Kentucky Derby, he was making his 13th career start and 10th start in a stakes race. When Arrogate ran in the Travers, he was making only his fifth career start and -- remarkably -- his first start in a stakes race.
Serving as further evidence of just how spectacular Arrogate’s Travers performance was, he was assigned a 122 Beyer, the second-highest figure of the entire year, topped only by Frosted’s 123 when he won the Grade I Met Mile by 14 1/4 lengths at Belmont Park on June 11.
The Beyer Speed Figures listed in the American Racing Manual for the Travers go back to 1990. Arrogate’s 122 is the highest ever recorded by a Travers winner. Indeed, it is the highest by quite a bit.
The best Beyer by a Travers winner prior to 2016 had been Point Given’s 117 in 2001. Point Given, also trained by Baffert, was the 2001 Horse of the Year.
Taking into account Arrogate’s winning margin of 13 1/2 lengths, final time of 1:59 1/5, final quarter-mile clocking of :23 4/5 and the lack of any prior stakes experience, I ranked his victory in the Travers as the top 2016 performance by a Thoroughbred in the United States.
In Arrogate’s next start after the BC Classic, he won the Grade I, $12 million Pegasus World Cup by nearly five lengths in 1:46.83 to break Gulfstream’s track record for 1 1/8 miles.
After the Pegasus, Arrogate won the Group I Dubai World Cup on March 25 in a performance for the ages.
“Dead last early after a tardy start that then was exacerbated by being bumped a number of times in the opening strides like a piñata while being squeezed back, Arrogate amazingly still won last Saturday’s Group I Dubai World Cup,” I wrote.
“Not only did Arrogate win, but after he had put away Gun Runner to open a clear lead in the final furlong, the Unbridled’s Song colt actually just strolled home to a ridiculously easy 2 1/4-length victory for owner Juddmonte Farms and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. In addition to Arrogate’s horrendous start, which would have spelled doom for most horses, he had a wide trip. If all that weren’t enough adversity for one race, it looked like Mubtaahij came out and bumped Arrogate at the top of the straight.
“Arrogate’s sensational Dubai World Cup performance was one that will long be remembered.”
After the Dubai World Cup, an ecstatic Baffert said: “When he missed the break, I gave him no chance at all. I thought that was it. I was so mad at myself. I thought I shouldn’t have brought him [to Dubai]. But that’s the greatest horse I’ve ever seen run. That’s unbelievable. I mean, I can’t believe he won! That is a great horse, right there…When he turned for home, I said, ‘If he wins, this is the greatest horse that we’ve seen since Secretariat.’ Unbelievable.”
Arrogate never was voted Horse of the Year. But the truth is that mainly was because he was a victim of the calendar.
For a 10-month period from early June 2016 to late March 2017, Arrogate was an unbeatable beast.
It could be said that Arrogate was the Horse of the Second Half of the Year in 2016 and Horse of the First Half of the Year in 2017.
In Arrogate’s BloodHorse obituary written by Eric Mitchell, Baffert said he “will never have another horse put together four magical races” like Arrogate’s victories in the Travers, BC Classic, Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup.
Garrett O’Rourke, general manager for Juddmonte’s American operation, said on the Juddmonte website: “Those four amazing races established him as one of the great racehorses of our time, breaking two track records, taking down champion California Chrome in a battle for the ages, and then running by Gun Runner in an otherworldly performance in Dubai.”
On my list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th and 21st Centuries to have raced in North America, Arrogate ranks No. 35, just behind two-time Horse of the Year Curlin.
Arrogate undoubtedly would have ranked higher if he had not lost the final three starts of his career after the Dubai World Cup.
From my list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th and 21st Centuries, below is the list of the Top 35:
1. Man o’ War
5. Spectacular Bid
6. Native Dancer
7. Dr. Fager
8. Seattle Slew*
9. Count Fleet*
13. Phar Lap
15. American Pharoah*
18. Round Table
20. War Admiral*
21. Tom Fool
23. John Henry
30. Sunday Silence
33. Easy Goer
*Triple Crown winner.
TWO FORMER DRF BOSSES PASS AWAY
Phil Fitterer and Wayne Monroe, two bosses that I had during my 20-plus years with the Daily Racing Form, both recently passed away.
Fitterer died on May 27 following a short battle with cancer, according to his DRF obituary.
When I began working for the DRF in 1974 at Playfair Race Course in Spokane, Wash., Clio Hogan was the general manager of the DRF office in Seattle. Fittterer was Hogan’s assistant. After Hogan retired, Fitterer took over the general manager duties, a position he held until he retired in 2004.
I wrote furlongs of copy for the Seattle edition of the DRF from 1974 to 1980, much of which was edited by Fitterer. He loved racing and college basketball.
Monroe died on May 18 following a lengthy illness.
When I was a writer for the DRF at Southern California tracks from 1981 to 1986, Monroe was one of the editors I reported to at the DRF office in Los Angeles. Don Fleming was the chief turf editor. Jay Hovdey (yes, that Jay Hovdey) was the turf editor. Monroe was the associate turf editor.
In those years, Monroe also frequently was the official scorer for home games played by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
When I left the DRF after the 1993 Del Mar meet to embark on a television career at Santa Anita, Monroe was the only DRF person to call me to say he was sorry that I was leaving for Santa Anita. It was a classy gesture that I will never forget.
TIZ THE LAW NOW TOPS POLL AFTER NADAL’S RETIREMENT
While Midnight Bisou maintained the No. 1 position in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll, Nadal dropped out of the top spot in the NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll following the announcement that he has been retired. Nadal dropped to No. 7.
Taking over at No. 1 is Tiz the Law, who received 27 first-place votes. There were two first-place votes for Authentic. Charlatan and King Guillermo each received one first-place vote. That single first-place vote for Charlatan was mine.
Below is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 354 Midnight Bisou (27)
2. 283 Mucho Gusto
3. 264 By My Standards (2)
4. 161 Zulu Alpha
5. 137 Tom’s d’Etat (1)
6. 116 Maximum Security (5)
7. 104 Monomoy Girl
8. 83 Raging Bull
9. 69 Ce Ce
10. 56 Mr Freeze
Note: Tiz the Law received two first-place votes in the Top Thoroughbred Poll. With 32 points, he ranked 14th in that poll.
Below is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 349 Tiz the Law (27)
2. 286 Charlatan (1)
3. 275 Authentic (2)
4. 270 Maxfield
5. 166 King Guillermo (1)
6. 145 Honor A.P.
7. 140 Nadal (5)
8. 103 Sole Volante
9. 86 Ete Indien
10. 60 Basin