There are times when The Great Race Place, Santa Anita Park’s famed moniker, is on full display. It will be there in November, when the racetrack hosts Breeders’ Cup, the Super Bowl of horse racing.
And it will be there again on Saturday.
Santa Anita Park hosts a dynamite high-level card, featuring the best thoroughbreds and fillies in the country. They converge in several high-profile races, including the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, an official “Win and You’re In” proposition to the May 6 Kentucky Derby.
Santa Anita also showcases the world’s top jockeys.
Flavien Prat, the second-leading rider to Juan Hernandez at Santa Anita, has been cultivating his national reputation in recent years. He has been a lightning rod in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, riding Kingsbarns and Angel of Empire into victories that qualified them for the Kentucky Derby.
He figures to have a Kentucky Derby mount. We just don’t know who.
He will be aboard up and coming Geaux Rocket Ride in the Santa Anita Derby. Should Prat prevail here, that probably is who he’ll ride in Louisville on May 6.
California horse racing bettors can wager remotely through the TVG app. Additionally, they can access the action all weekend on FanDuel TV, varied simulcast outlets or by attending the events in person at the Arcadia oval.
Looking at the weekend lineup
Friday opens the weekend card with nine races and a 1 p.m. start.
Saturday features a mammoth 12-race card, starting at noon.
- Santa Anita Derby — $750,000 1 1/8 miles, dirt
- Santa Anita Oaks — $400,000, 1 1/6 miles for fillies, dirt
- Monrovia Stakes — $200,000, 6 1/2 furlongs, turf
- Charles Whittingham Stakes — $200,000, presented by FanDuel TV, 1 1/4 miles, turf
- Echo Eddie Stakes — $150,000, 6 1/2 furlongs, dirt
- Evening Jewel Stakes — $150,000, 6 1/2 furlongs, dirt
Sunday has a noon start and nine races.
Here’s a look at the two big races on Saturday.
Santa Anita Derby
The Santa Anita Derby not only features top-echelon horses, but significant angles of consideration.
Practical Move was much the best in the San Felipe and will likely be the substantial favorite.
But lightly raced Geaux Rocket Ride ran a strong second and Skinner was a fast-charging third.
They all return to the Santa Anita Derby and must stretch out to 1 1/8 miles. Would that give Skinner, who made a wide move in the San Felipe, enough operating room to make a difference? How will Geaux Rocket Ride respond to the seasoning gleaned from the San Felipe?
Or will Practical Move make this race look as dominant as the last?
Another wild card involves National Treasure. He would likely have been the favorite in the San Felipe, but he was scratched on race day with a foot injury. His return makes a talented four-pack seeking top honors.
Other variables concern Oneinvermillion and Low Expectations. Each was considered possible to win the easier Sunland Derby and gain entry into the Kentucky Derby. But Wild on Ice threw a 35-to-1 upset card at them, forcing ownership to change plans.
Now they have to come West and face some of the top Kentucky Derby hopefuls in order to qualify.
Practical Move, Geaux Rocket Ride, National Treasure and Skinner make a formidable top echelon. Bettors will likely put them in exacta and trifecta boxes.
And until someone beats Practical Move, he’s probably going to be the choice of the gamblers.
Santa Anita Oaks
Here’s a look at the field for the Santa Anita Oaks.
Won her debut at 6 furlongs at Santa Anita. A monstrous step up, but if she beats half the field, it would be considered a decent payday for the owners.
Fifth time was the charm in breaking her maiden. Takes big step up now.
Maiden special weights victory was a good one at 6 1/2 furlongs in debut. Another question about whether a second-time starter is good enough to win a race of this caliber. Time to find out.
Beaten handily by Clearly Unhinged in her pro debut at 6 1/2 furlongs. Cut back to 6 furlongs and won her next effort. Faces new distance and an old foe.
Or is it Yowza.? Has a brilliant 4-for-4 start to her career and a two-turn victory in the Santa Ysabel Stakes.
Does not have to handle the stretch to a new distance and the added turn like most of her opponents here. Had to fight off a valiant bid by Tell Me Nolies and may have to again.
Improved from sixth to a victory in a pair of maiden races. The uptick and the fact those races were at 1 mile will give optimism to her connections
Versatility, something her connections will like. Has little to lose here, as most of her races have been on the turf. She won the $100,000 China Doll on turf with a smooth, front-running ride.
This may not be the best fit, but connections may believe her lengthy experience against some lightly raced opposition can provide an edge.
And Tell Me Nolies
The truth is, she’s a good horse. Has run over her head in Breeders’ Cup competition and won earlier stakes races. Running strongly at the end of the Santa Ysabel and should have something to say again.
Don’t Get Pickled
A good third in the Sunland Park Oaks prompted connections to ship her here against tougher opposition to see if she’s a top-flight horse.
We’ll soon know.
Faiza and Tell Me Nolies have faced the best opposition and will be heavily played. They are an exacta box for me. After that, it’s a matter of determining which of the lightly raced rivals is ready for a definitive performance leap.
You know some horse will do it. But which one?
Good luck solving the riddle and cash some tickets on this one.
A lot of chalk so far at Santa Anita
We didn’t see the fireworks last weekend. No life-changing paydays.
That’s because short-priced horses have been on a steady run the past couple of weeks. In many cases, that’s been the result of smaller fields than earlier in the meet. In some cases, it’s the public catching on with hot barns and jockey combinations.
But every element of the game appeals to someone. A good number of bettors prefer slamming a short-priced horse with a leveraged bankroll rather than spread the money and stab at the exotics.
Pick 5 players like the short-priced options too. It reduces the price of the investment (as well as the payout) and keeps them in the hunt for a Pick 5 score.