By Gene Kershner
The Derby trail turns to the Great Race Place on Saturday afternoon with the 76th running of the $1 million Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. A talented field of eight horses will square off in the nationally televised race (NBC Sports Network, 5:30 p.m. ET) with 170 Kentucky Derby qualifying points at stake. The winner will take away 100 points, the second place finisher will earn 40 and the third (20) and fourth (10) place finishers will generate lesser amounts.
Three colts have been at the forefront of the California 3-year-old racing scene and they will tee off against each other for the first time. California Chrome (6-5) is the morning line favorite and the San Felipe winner is the one to beat. He currently sits in 12th place in the Derby standings with 50 points.
Hoppertunity (3-1, 55 points), the Rebel winner at Oaklawn Park, comes back to California to get in his last prep before the Derby. Mike Smith who was in the irons for the big win at Oaklawn gets the nod at Santa Anita from trainer Bob Baffert.
The horse that has the most at stake is Candy Boy (9-5, 10 points), who needs to finish first or second to secure a Derby berth. The Robert B. Lewis winner has been idle since early February and faces the pressure to perform on Saturday afternoon.
Here's a look at the field and our thoughts….ML odds, trainer and jockey in parenthesis.
1-Rprettyboyfloyd (20-1, Breuer, Bejarano). The son of Bluegrass Cat has yet to break his maiden in five career races and steps up to face the big boys. He's finished second in four of the five races and a beaten third in the Grade 2 San Vicente. Adds blinkers and a top jockey, but not sure it's enough against these monsters.
2-Friendswith K Mill (20-1, O'Neill, Baze). Flashy Bull colt also steps up into graded stakes company after winning a maiden claimer two back. Enough said. Pass.
3-Hoppertunity (3-1, Smith, Baffert). This well-traveled colt is about to run his third Derby trail race at a third different track. His impressive win in the Rebel catapulted him into the Derby, so this race is just a tightener. Connections are lethal together, but not sure this is the target. Contender.
4-Big Tire (20-1, Glatt, Maldanado). Hi name makes me think of 2008 Tampa Bay Derby winner, the late Big Truck, but this is a son of Candy Ride who broke his maiden last out for trainer Mark Glatt. Another horse making a big step up, but actually has the pedigree to go long as Giant's Causeway is his damsire. Worth a shot underneath in the exotics.
5-California Chrome (6-5, Sherman, Espinoza). A definitive win here could vault this son of Lucky Pulpit into the favorite's role at Churchill Downs. Ran a huge one winning by over 7 lengths in the San Felipe. He's been working sharply for trainer Art Sherman and is the one to beat tomorrow afternoon.
6-Candy Boy (9-5, Sadler, Stevens). The Lewis winner is desperate for points and this is likely his last chance to earn valuable points. He drew outside of California Chrome, so he'll be able to sit a stalking trip. Has the Hall of Famer in the saddle sports some solid workouts since his last race. Looks fit to pull the mild upset.
7-Schoolofhardrocks (10-1, Holmans, Talamo). Has some positives on his past performances in the workout area and running second off the layoff, second-time Lasix, but the lightly raced son of Rock Hard Ten appears to be overmatched in here. Would consider only in the superfecta slot.
8-Dublin Up (30-1, Miller, Desormeaux). Longest price in the field is in over his head in this race. Still a maiden who has yet to crack an exacta in four career races. Looking elsewhere.
Post Time Outlook: 1 -Candy Boy; 2-California Chrome and 3-Hoppertunity
Long shot: Big Tire
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.