The Kentucky Derby trail returns to California this weekend with the San Felipe and heads up the gulf coast in Florida for the Tampa Bay Derby.
Both races will offer the top four finishers Derby qualifying points totaling 50-20-10-5 as we enter the third weekend of the Championship Series of races.
Some talented colts will be seeking valuable points, with the winner of both races basically earning a gate in Louisville on the First Saturday in May. The two races will be run at 1 1/16 miles on the dirt.
A small field of seven will run in the $400,000 Grade 2 San Felipe at Santa Anita Park. That field includes three serious threats to capturing top honors. The San Felipe is Race 5 and post time is 5:00 p.m. ET.
4-Mastery (6-5) is your morning line favorite and trainer Bob Baffert has been high on this Candy Ride colt. Undefeated in three career races, he destroyed the field in the Los Alamitos Futurity in December, his last start. The $425K Keeneland September purchase by Cheyenne Stable looks the part and has veteran Hall of Famer Mike Smith in the irons.
The favorite will be challenged by the John Shirreffs-trained 5-Gormley (9-5) who has won 3-of-4 starts, his lone defeat coming in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. On that day at Santa Anita, he bobbled at the start, was caught wide and never was a factor in the race. He rebounded in January with a win in the Grade 3 Sham on a sloppy track going a mile.
Doug O’Neill sends out the Ghostzapper colt 6-Iliad (5-2), who hopes his mile-and-a-sixteenth jaunt around the Santa Anita strip is no odyssey. The Kaleem Shah-owned colt was impressive winning the 7-furlong San Vicente last month and stretches out to two turns for the first time.
It looks to be tough to beat Mastery in this one, but we’ll look for the upset by the O’Neill charge, but the top three should outshine the rest of this field.
Post Time Outlook (San Felipe): 1 - Iliad, 2 – Mastery, 3 – Gormley
With Sam F. Davis winner McCraken pointing toward the Blue Grass at Keeneland, the Tampa Bay Derby is wide open with a number of colts likely to cross the wire first. The signature event on Tampa Bay Downs calendar will go off as race 11 at 5:27 p.m. ET on Saturday.
Davis runner-up 5-Tapwrit (3-1) inherits the favorite role for trainer Todd Pletcher, who currently only has one colt in the Top 20 on the points list. He finished the Davis strong behind McCraken and looms as the horse to beat on Saturday. The Tapit colt, a $1.2 million purchase at the August Fasig-Tipton sale in 2015, will have the talented Jose Ortiz in the irons again at Tampa.
Jose’s brother Irad will ride 6-Beasley (9-2), who scratched out of last weekend’s Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream and shipped up to Tampa. The Mark Hennig trainee, finished an impressive second behind next out winner Battalion Runner in an optional claimer at Gulfstream at the distance. The son of Shackleford, the 2011 Preakness winner, should handle the two turns and sports a number of impressive workouts on his morning tab.
One colt working lights out is the Ontario-bred 8-State of Honor (4-1), who couldn’t hold on in the Davis after leading through the first half-mile and finished third. Eligible for the Queen’s Plate later this summer, the Tampa Derby will be his ninth career race. He’s only won one of those nine races, so it’s hard to get totally on board the To Honor and Serve colt.
George Arnold sends out 9-Wild Shot (5-1), who has improved in each of his last three races. The fourth place finisher in the local prep, he showed he can handle the quirky Tampa surface and could move forward again in the Derby.
Looking for a longshot? Look no further than 3-Basha (12-1), a son of Uncle Mo, the sire who was a force during last year’s Derby trail. Out of a Lemon Drop Kid mare, this sophomore should be able to run all day. He could be the diamond in the rough at Tampa.
Post Time Outlook (Tampa Bay Derby): 1 – Beasley, 2 – Tapwrit, 3 – Basha, 4 – Wild Shot
Hall of Fame Nominees
Wednesday the National Museum of Racing announced the ballot for the 2017 Hall of Fame class. The finalists are: jockeys Robby Albarado, Javier Castellano, Victor Espinoza Garrett Gomez and Craig Perret; trainers Mark Casse, John Shirreffs and David Whiteley; and the racehorses Gio Ponti, Goldikova and Kona Gold.
Albarado, Castellano, Casse, Shirreffs, Gio Ponti and Goldikova are first-time finalists. Hall of Fame voters, including yours truly, may select as many candidates as they believe are worthy of induction to the Hall of Fame. A maximum of four candidates with the highest vote totals — provided they receive majority approval (50.1 percent) of the voting panel — will be elected to the Hall of Fame. The results of the voting will be announced on Monday, April 24 and the induction ceremony will be held at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion in Saratoga Springs on Friday, Aug. 4.
The Big Cap
Santa Anita will host the Santa Anita Handicap on Saturday, the field dessimated by horses defecting to Dubai, including the world’s top-ranked racehorse, Arrogate and Louisiana-based Gun Runner.
The top horses running in the Big Cap are 1-Midnight Storm (8-5) and 3-Shaman Ghost (2-1), who ran second to Arrogate in the Pegasus. On paper it doesn’t appear that there’s a lot of speed in the race, and that Midnight Storm is the lone speed and could easily win it on the front end.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.