On Track With Johnny D: Runhappy Santa Anita Derby and Pick 4 Analysis

Saturday is Derby Day. Ok, not that one. This derby will be in Arcadia, Ca, at Santa Anita instead of at Churchill Downs, in Louisville, KY. We’ve got to wait a bit longer for that showdown. At this point, as bat-excrement crazy as 2020 has been, we’ll settle for handicapping and wagering on any derby we can get our sanitized hands on.

Besides, it’s not as if this Grade 1, $400k, mile and one-eighth west coast derby version sponsored by Runhappy is empty this year. Topping the starting lineup is Authentic, a speedy, unbeaten colt from Bob Baffert’s barn, and Honor A. P. a promising dude from the John Shirreffs quarantine. You remember John, he coached Giacomo to win the Kentucky Derby and Zenyatta to queen-like status as a racing legend, among others. While Authentic’s accomplishments have had tongues wagging, Honor A. P. is wrapped in chatter about what the future might hold. The former has won all three of his starts in nearly wire-to-wire fashion. The latter has one win and two second-place finishes–one by two and one-quarter lengths to Authentic last out in the San Felipe Stakes.

The rest of the cast, as usual, is composed of back-up players. Talented, but not marquee worthy. Because Authentic and Honor A. P. will attract most of the wagering attention and appear best, it might be difficult to make a killing while wagering on the race. Thankfully, the Santa Anita Derby is race eight in a challenging 11-race card and part of a sequence of events that form assorted pick N wagers—the Derby is Leg A of the Late Pick 4, leg B of the Pick 5 and Leg C of the Rainbow Pick 6. Among those hills is where horseplayers likely will mine for gold.

Below is a horse-by-horse analysis of the Santa Anita Derby and one man’s opinion on how the late Pick 4 might unfold Saturday at Santa Anita:

Santa Anita Late Pick 4– Saturday, June 6

Leg A–Race 8—Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby

1. Friar’s Road McCarthy/Franco
After three tries—at six and one-half furlongs, a mile, and one mile and one-eighth—this son of Quality Road remains winless. It’s not like he hasn’t been close—second twice in both 2020 starts, including a runner-up effort to #3 Shooters Shoot. Trainer Mike McCarthy is having a strong year and doesn’t fire many ‘practice rounds.’ This guy’s future is bright but he seems in a bit over his head. Top jock Flavien Prat, understandably, moves from this guy to McCarthy stablemate #2 Rushie.

2. Rushie McCarthy/Prat
Second of two starters from the sharp Mike McCarthy stable, this son of Liam’s Map has two wins in four starts—a maiden-mile tally at Santa Anita and a first-level mile and one-sixteenth allowance win at Oaklawn Park. He has a touch of early speed, and probably will stalk leaders while riding the rail under cagey jockey Flavien Prat. Baffert’s top Belmont Stakes hopeful and #7 Authentic stablemate Charlatan dusted Rushie by 10 ¼ lengths in the latter’s only loss at three. Rushie has improving Beyer Speed Figures in four starts, always a great sign for a 3-year-old. He’s no toss from exotics consideration but needs a big jump to win this.

3. Shooters Shoot Eurton/Cedillo
Shooters Shoot has had the distinction of chasing #7 Authentic home on a previous occasion. This son of Competitive Edge lost to #7 Authentic by five and three-quarters lengths going six furlongs. Winless in his first four starts, the fifth journey proved the charm as Shooters Shoot hit the bullseye in a maiden mile race over a ‘good’ Santa Anita surface. Apparently, he enjoyed the experience because he also won his next start going a mile at Oaklawn Park in a first level allowance race. Both wins came while close to the lead. Red-hot jockey Abel Cedillo is a capable ‘speed’ rider. Those factors suggest that this colt will force the early issue. If so, expect that early effort to take a toll in the stretch.

4. Anneau d’Or Wright/Espinoza
This son of Medaglia d’Oro has been a major disappointment this season. Following a first-out romp in a Golden Gate maiden turf race, he finished second by a head in the Gr. 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita and second by a neck in the Gr. 2 Los Alamitos Futurity. We couldn’t wait to see what further development might mean to Anneau d’Or. Unfortunately, we’re still waiting. As even-money favorite, he beat just two home in the GR. 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds and then pretty much split the field in the Gr. 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn. There’s little reason to assume trainer Blaine Wright finally has turned the ship around. This colt probably soon will return to the turf where he looked like a monster in his only start over that surface.

5. Azul Coast Baffert/Rispoli
Here’s a prime example of a Baffert barn bench warmer who’d be in a starting lineup anywhere else. The son of Super Saver is a stakes winner and was runner-up in the Gr. 3 Sham by seven and three-quarter lengths to stablemate #7 Authentic. Can he turn the tables on that foe now? Probably not. He’s not as fast as others in here, but he did win the El Camino Real Stakes at Golden Gate over a synthetic surface last out.

6. Honor A. P. Shirreffs/Smith
Here, as they say, is the meat of the lineup. Purchased as a yearling for a whopping $850k, Honor A. P.—by Honor Code out of Hollywood Story–has experienced plenty of hype. First out, he closed well to finish second to the quick Ginobili going six furlongs at Del Mar in August. Next, he dominated a field of maidens to win by more than five lengths going one mile at Santa Anita. His 2020 training schedule, which was pointing him toward the Gr. 3 Sham Stakes in January, was interrupted by a minor issue and connections were forced to wait until March to see his 3-year-old debut. That came in the Gr. 2 San Felipe when second-best to #7 Authentic. This long-striding grinder now has that race under his belt and has trained forwardly since—three seven-eighths breezes and a bullet :59 1/5 five-furlong dash—so he should be ready to fire his best shot. He’ll probably need a bit of pace help to turn the tables on #7 Authentic and clearly is the one with the best chance to pull off the upset.

7. Authentic Baffert/Van Dyke
Authentic is by Into Mischief. His dam is named Flawless. So far, that would be an accurate description of this colt’s early career. In three starts, at two tracks, over distances from five and one-half furlongs to a mile and one-sixteenth, he’s whipped 16 foes by a combined total of 11 ½ lengths. He’s got speed to lead or contend early, but he’s not unmanageable, and he keeps going to the finish. He did display a tendency to drift in while winning the Gr. 3 Sham, but that was corrected in the Gr. 2 San Felipe. Drawn outside in this field, patient jockey Drayden Van Dyke ought to be able to comfortably assess the early pace situation. If he needs to ask for speed, Authentic will have it. If the jockey prefers to sit just of an initial speedball, Authentic should oblige. So, how in the world can Authentic lose this race? Two things could stand in his way: distance and development—his and #6 Honor A.P.’s. A mile and one-eighth should not be an issue for this colt. However, it may not be his favorite trip either. We don’t know that answer. Also, we can’t be certain how much #6 Honor A. P. has developed since the last time they met. So far, neither of these colts has taken a backward step, according to Daily Racing Form’s Beyer Speed Figures. When it comes to such numbers, every horse has a ceiling. Will one of these two bump against theirs Saturday? A minor note: Authentic has a 17-day gap in his recorded workout pattern between a bullet six furlongs in 1:11 on May 7 and his next work at the same distance in 1:12 on May 24. May be a minor point, but Baffert horses almost never have 17-day gaps between workouts.

Leg B—Race 9—Cinema
This stakes race appears as if it will be a Jeff Mullins-trained main dish with a side of John Sadler.

Mullins sends out probable favorite #7 Hariboux, off victory in the Pasadena Stakes at one mile over the Santa Anita green, and #3 K P All Systems Go, a winner of his last two, a maiden and first-level allowance both on turf at Santa Anita. The former was at a mile and one-eighth and the latter at a mile.

Trainer John Sadler saddles improving #1 Heywoods Beach with top jock Flavien Prat. He broke maiden last out and was second by a neck at this distance the time before that. He’ll need to improve but he’s got the rail and should enjoy a favorable trip.

Leg C—Race 10—Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup
This is a reincarnation, of sorts, of one of the sport’s most prestigious events: The Hollywood Gold Cup. Seabiscuit won the first running in 1938 and was followed by Citation, Swaps, Round Table, Native Diver, Exceller, Affirmed, Ferdinand, Best Pal, Cigar, Skip Away, Real Quiet and Lava Man, to name a few. One of this writer’s favorite races is the 1979 Hollywood Gold Cup when Affirmed and Sirlad battled hoof-to-hoof for a mile and one-quarter in 1:58 2/4—just 1/5 off the track and world record. That afternoon, the Laz Barrera-conditioned Affirmed packed 132 pounds, spotting 12 to the Charlie Whittingham-trained Sirlad and became the sport’s all-time money-earner with over $2 million in purses.

There aren’t any runners like Affirmed or even Sirlad in this edition and the race no longer is a handicap—all starters ages four and up pack 126 pounds. Under the conditions of the race, all starters get two pounds off that for not winning a Grade 1 Stake at a mile or over since December 6, 2019. Some get an additional two-pound break for not winning a Grade 1 or Grade 2 race at a mile or over since June 6, 2019. And, of course, this Hollywood Gold Cup won’t be held at Hollywood Park–Track of the Lakes and Flowers. A brand-new football stadium, 2020 home to the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers, now occupies that real estate.

#1 Parsimony had a busy 3-year-old season with just one win in 16 starts. Finally, he broke through in his second start this season—with a stakes win at Meydan going a mile and one-quarter. That makes him 2-for-22 with 7 seconds. If he’s finally seen the light, he could be an upsetter.

#2 Midcourt is a reliable sort (5 wins in 10 starts) that likes Santa Anita (3-for-7). His only try at the mile and one-quarter distance resulted in a close third in the Santa Anita Handicap. He’s got some pace, so he might be on the lead or close to it throughout. Blinkers come off for trainer John Shirreffs and Victor Espinoza returns in the irons.

#3 Higher Power has been on vacation since a dismal performance in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream in January. He won the Pacific Classic going at this distance last August, so that’s a plus. Regular rider Flavien Prat returns in the irons. While his Pacific Classic victory was a bit of a surprise (9.60-1), he also managed a well-beaten third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at a similar number. At his best, he’s the one to beat. Respect.

#4 Brown Storm is an interesting outsider. After setting the early pace, he was fourth in the Santa Anita Handicap, his first US dirt race following three turf tries since his arrival from native Chile. He did win several times on dirt and turf at this distance. Red hot Abel Cedillo is aboard for sharp trainer McCarthy and Brown Storm’s Beyer Speed Figures have improved with each US start. He’s really going to have to improve, though, to handle these.

#5 Improbable comes off a decent performance in the Oaklawn Mile where he blew a two-length stretch lead to the hot Tom’s d’Etat. Improbable often runs well, but he never really has lived up to 2-year-old promise when he reeled off three consecutive wins to begin his career. He’s a cut below the best in the nation, but he’s a 4-year-old and hails from the Baffert barn. What else do you need to know?

Leg D—Race 11
This is a tricky race and the suggestion is to go deep as possible.
#2 Wishful was close at this level a few times last summer. The 5-year-old mare’s most recent effort wasn’t special, as she finished fifth as favorite. Top jock Prat switched his tack to #3 Li’l Grazen. Wishful is just 2 for 17 lifetime but six of those defeats came over turf.

#3 Li’l Grazen has made just one start since winning a state-bred allowance race over a ‘good’ track at Santa Anita in January of ’19. That effort was in March when she finished seventh as a lukewarm favorite. She’s won just 3 of 25 races and was claimed for $16k in December of 2018. Top jock Prat rides for 23% trainer Peter Miller. When these guys hook up their batting an outstanding 24% out of 49 mounts. This one should be used defensively based on connections alone.

#4 Silk From Heaven isn’t completely out of the question. She’s a 4-year-old with a couple of races that fit. She doesn’t have a particular style, though, and it’s difficult to figure out how she can win this race.

#6 Time for Ebby is a 7-year-old mare that’s 1-for-her last 17. These also-rans are difficult to use in multi-race wagers. Her Thoro-Graph speed figs fit well, but she just doesn’t win very often.

#7 Homehome gets some class relief in here. She’s been facing fellow 3-year-old fillies in turf and dirt stakes races and is 2-for-7 lifetime. Both wins came when she dipped below the stakes ranks—a state-bred straight maiden win first time out and a state-bred allowance/optional $50k claimer. The former was at this track and trip and the latter came at five and one-half on turf. She has to be included in any race 11 action.

#9 Dim Lights comes out of the same recent race at #7 Homehome, but they had very different experiences. Dim Lights has speed and isn’t afraid to use it. Hot jock Abel Cedillo takes over in the saddle and he will send this filly from a cozy outside post. Last out, she sizzled early, forcing a :21 2/5 :45 early pace. That cooked her goose and she faded to eighth. If that race didn’t completely fry her, she could be dangerous this time going a bit more comfortably on the lead.

$.50 Pick 4 Ticket ($50)
6, 7
3, 7
1, 2, 3, 4, 5
2, 3, 4, 7, 9

Take care of each other. Race On!

On Track With Johnny D: Runhappy Santa Anita Derby and Pick 4 Analysis

On Track with Johnny D |