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Johnny D’s Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass and Wood Memorial Picks

by Johnny D

April 4, 2019

Anyone get the license plate number of the truck that ran over my trifecta ticket last Saturday in the Xpressbet Florida Derby? Just before the lights went out, I thought I saw 7-8-9-4…aka Maximum Security, Bodexpress, Code of Honor and Bourbon War. That can’t be right, can it?

Oh, it be right, alright.

Maximum Security, stretching out around two turns for the first time at a mile and one-eighth to boot plus rising in class from starter allowance to Grade 1 company, made every pole a winning one by cantering through early fractions and then blistering home in the race’s fastest quarter. Guess it makes sense that in a season where just about every Road to Kentucky Derby Qualifying Point race has been won by a different horse a nearly 5-1 shot would enjoy a walk in the park to take the Triple Crown series’ most productive prep race.

Runner-up Bodexpress, a maiden…that’s right a maiden…that unseated his rider on the way to the gate at 71.50-to-1, galloped along comfortably behind the ultimate winner and easily held off third-choice Code of Honor. Bourbon War finished fourth and, like Code of Honor, was compromised by a slow pace. Favored Hidden Scroll, trapped behind Maximum Security and inside Bodexpess early, was throttled by jockey Javier Castellano in tight quarters. Once clear, though, he had nothing to offer.  

The Road to the Kentucky Derby continues in earnest Saturday with three important races—Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial and Blue Grass--worth a king’s ransom in Derby qualifying points. Each boasts a 100-40-20-10 structure to the first four finishers. Winners and runners-up should comfortably be ‘in’ the Derby lineup. Third and fourth-place finishers must add to points already in reserve or they likely are destined to watch the main event on the first Saturday in May from respective stalls. 

Below is a horse-by-horse analysis of the Blue Grass, Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby. 

Blue Grass Stakes – 10th Keeneland

1. Somelikeithotbrown (Maker/Gaffalione) - 10/1

 He’s got to improve in here and show that he can handle dirt. He’s raced on turf 4 times, synthetic twice and once over a sloppy Saratoga strip in a race that was taken off the turf. He has some speed and jockey Gafflione will need to use it early from the inside to keep the colt from eating dirt. He’s improved with each lifetime start and can’t be totally dismissed.

2. Vekoma (Weaver/Castellano) - 9/5

He’s proven the most by winning 2 of 3 races. His only loss was a third in the Fountain of Youth. Minor issues have forced connections to be conservative with this one but he’s fast enough to get the job done and has the right running style.

3. Signalman (McPeek/Hernandez) - 5/1

He’s got 2 wins out of 6 starts and was 7th in the Fountain of Youth last out—only time he’s missed hitting the board. One of his drawbacks in this race is that he has no speed and will need to go around a large field of foes. Figure him as an exotic contender at best.

4. Market King (Lukas/Court) - 20/1

He’s got speed and will be part of what appears a light early pace. After that to threaten he’ll need to do better than he ever has. Those spreading in exotics might keep him around underneath.

5. Chess Chief (Stewart/Lopez) - 30/1

He has no speed and just broke his maiden last time out. He would be a major upset surprise. He does have a notable best-of-10 :47 flat half-mile blowout at Churchill for this and his trainer is known to rock the tote board in big races.

6. Dream Maker (Casse/Geroux) - 12/1

He has 1 race out of 5 on his resume that fits reasonably well in here. That was an 8 ½-length Fair Grounds allowance race romp. He raced close to the pace, took over and sped clear. In 3 graded stakes he’s managed to beat a total of 5 foes. Has a half-mile, best-of-46 gate workout in :46! That’s certainly a positive sign for an outfit that seldom lets them run in the morning.

7. Admire (Romans/Albarado) - 15/1

He would need to run considerably faster than he ever has before to threaten in here.

8. Win Win Win (Trombetta/I. Ortiz Jr.) - 7/2

Never worse than 3rd in 5 lifetime starts, he’s run fast enough to win, win, win this race. His only try around 2 turns came last out in the Tampa Bay Derby when third as favorite to Tacitus and Outshine (both in Saturday’s Wood). He’s got to be respected.

9. Sir Winston (Casse/Leparoux) - 15/1

He’s been steadily improving in 7 career starts but will need to step up his game another significant level to have a big say in this. He has no speed and hasn’t hit the board in 3 starts over fast dirt surfaces.

10. Lucky Lee (Jo. Servis/Landeros) - 20/1

He dominated foes at Parx in 2 races around 2 turns. However, he had no answer for the question in the Withers at Aqueduct. Those races at Parx at 2 are fast enough to threaten a bit in here, but with just 1 disappointing start this season it’s difficult to judge exactly where he’s at.

11. So Alive (Pletcher/Saez) - 15/1

In a Triple Crown race prep race, dismiss any horse trained by Todd Pletcher at your own peril. On paper this guy needs to move forward significantly to threaten in here. However, Pletcher has a knack for getting horses to fire their best right now. This son of Super Saver has won 2 of 4 races and is 1-for-1 at Keeneland where he broke maiden in the mud. Expect the best of this guy’s young career Saturday. Will that be good enough to win? Not unless he fires and a few others don’t.

12. Parsimony (O'Neill/Gutierrez) - 20/1

This colt visits from California by way of Arkansas where he ran poorly in Game Winner’s Rebel division. After 8 starts, he is still a maiden and would shock with a win here.

13. Moonster (Romans/McKee) - 30/1

With 1 win in 8 starts and 2 other in-the-money finishes wrapped around an assortment of poor races he be a major surprise. Note a :46 4/6 best-of-15 blowout at Churchill.

14. Aquadini (Stewart/Lanerie) - 30/1

He’s got a very difficult post position that will require jockey Lanerie to hustle from the break to get as close to the rail as possible by the first turn. Good news is that this colt has some early speed and ought to be able to assume decent position early. How much will that effort take out of him? There’s the rub. He will need to show another dimension because he hasn’t quite been fast enough ever before. 

One to Beat: 2. Vekoma

Greatest Threat: 8. Win Win Win

Next Likely: 3. Signalman, 4. Market King, 11. So Alive

For Exotics Lovers Only: 1. Somelikeithotbrown, 6. Dream Maker 14. Aquadini


Wood Memorial – 10th Aqueduct

1. Tax (Gargan/Alvarado) - 9/2

This son of Arch has never been off the board in 4 starts and ought to get a beneficial trip in here. He’s been off since a game victory in the 1 1/8-mile Withers at Aqueduct in February. He was claimed for $50,000 out of a maiden victory. He must improve off of his last race but his final 2-year-old effort fits. He’s a question mark and not that attractive at 9-2.

2. Tacitus (Mott/Ortiz) - 5/2

Parlayed a November maiden win into a Tampa Bay Derby victory. That was his first race with Lasix and a big forward move off his previous 2 races. He probably will need to do a bit better in here. He has little speed and will need some pace help. At 5-2 he’s a ‘fade’ for me based on the expectation that he already fired a big shot when first time Lasix.

3. Hoffa's Union (Casse/Davis) - 6/1

He romped first out in a maiden race at Laurel by more than 15 lengths. He’s had time since that race in February and will need to improve for a new trainer that scores 16% after a trainer change. I’d need more than 6-1 to invest in him.

4. Haikal (McLaughlin/Maragh) - 7/2

Can’t knock this one’s outstanding record of 3 wins in 4 starts with a close runner-up effort. It will be interesting to see how this one stretches out to 1 1/8 miles around 2 turns and if he can continue with his closing charge. He comes from off the pace so he needs some help up front. As I said, can’t knock this one.

5. Final Jeopardy (Ja. Servis/Franco) - 8/1

The answer is: Gary and Mary West. And the Final Jeopardy question is: Who might have up to 3 runners in the 2019 Kentucky Derby? Owners of 2-year-old champ Game Winner (entered Saturday in the Santa Anita Derby), the Wests added Florida Derby winner Maximum Security to their Kentucky Derby starting lineup. Will this Street Sense colt join them on the first Saturday in May? It would not be a stretch to see this one run well in the Wood. He won the second of three starts last out in a Gulfstream allowance race and should be in a good spot stalking the early pace.

6. Overdeliver (Pletcher/Carmouche) - 20/1

It’s difficult to ignore any Todd Pletcher runner in a Triple Crown prep race. However, this colt seems to have a lot on his plate in here. He’s going 2 turns for the first time with merely a maiden victory under his belt. Expect jockey Kendrick Caramouche to send him to the front—a move the jockey has perfected. How fast he’ll have to go early will tell the story. There’s other speed in here, but none of those are trained by Pletcher.

7. Not That Brady (Rodriguez/Gutierrez) - 20/1

He caught a torrid pace and was all but eased in the Gotham last out. He figures part of the early pace picture again and is drawn alongside speedy Overdeliver. He’ll take them as far as he can.

8. Grumps Little Tots (Ja. Servis/Lezcano) - 30/1

This is the ‘other’ Jason Servis in here, so be careful. He romped last out in a maiden race going a mile at Aqueduct. That race was in February, so he’s had time since then. Expect him to sit just off the pace in a great spot. He may be a real sleeper at a huge price.

9. Math Wizard (Joseph/Cancel) - 30/1

With just 2 wins in 7 starts Math Wizard won a maiden $16k and a $25k claimer in back-to-back fashion. This spot seems out of reach.

10. Outshine (Pletcher/Velazquez) - 6/1

This is trainer Todd Pletcher’s more fancied runner. After blinkers were added he won an allowance race at Gulfstream and then was second behind Tacitus in the Tampa Bay Derby. He really seems a horse that’s gotten better at 3. Expect a solid effort from him. 6-1 is a great price.

11. Joevia (Sacco/Juarez) - 30/1

Stuck in the far outside post position this guy has got to immediately go from the gate with jockey Nik Juarez. He sat in second all the way around last out in the Private Terms at Laurel. This is a deeper bunch. He has a best-of-37 :48 blowout for this race. He would need to move forward to contend.

One to Beat: 10 Outshine

Should Run Well: 8 Grumps Little Tots, 4 Haikal

Don’t Ignore: 1 Tax, 5 Final Jeopardy

Go Against: 2 Tacitus


Santa Anita Derby – 8th Santa Anita

1. Roadster (Baffert/Smith) - 5/2

This son of Quality Control drew well for this. Expect him to flee the gate briskly, save ground and do his best to upset barn-mate Game Winner. He has a best-of-19, 6-furlong 1:12 3/5 work for this. He finished third behind Game Winner in the 7-furlong Del Mar Futurity the only time they met. There is other speed in here but if Roadster breaks well, he’s going to be a handful to run down.

2. More Ice (Hollendorfer/Franco) - 30/1

Expect this guy to be at the back of the pack early. He doesn’t seem to have the ability to close enough ground to threaten for the win. He has finished third three times before and will pick up a few stragglers in the lane but probably not enough to hit the board.

3. Nolo Contesto (Sadler/Talamo) - 6/1

Last out this ridgeling chased Roadster home in an allowance race at Santa Anita. He broke a bit slowly in that effort and a good start might help him turn the tables on that foe. That pair should control matters early.

4. Synthesis (Papaprodromouo/Bejarano) - 30/1

This ridgeling makes his first start for trainer George Papaprodromou after making 9 with Keith Desormeaux. On paper it looks like he’ll need more than a trainer change to threaten.

5. Instagrand (Hollendorfer/Prat) - 3/1

Ran a big race at Aqueduct in the Gotham last out. He was unbeaten at 2, winning both starts by at least 10 lengths. In August his owner decided to put the colt away until his 3-year-old season. He certainly has ability. Big question is how he’ll react to a huge effort in New York plus shipping back and forth. He has speed and has worked bullets at Los Alamitos for this. 

6. Game Winner (Baffert/Rosario) - 4/5

The 2-year-old champ suffered defeat for the first time by a nose last out in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn. He ran well that afternoon and adds that solid race to a superb resume. He’s the most accomplished colt in the nation, no doubt. His grinding style becomes most effective as the distances increase. He’s worked well for this including a best-of-11 1:13 2/5 at Santa Anita on April 1.

One to Beat: 6. Game Winner

One That Might Do It: 1. Roadster

Race On!