04/06/2014 12:23PM

Brad Free's Santa Anita handicapping notebook April 6


Saturday, April 5 review

Another speed-favoring racetrack, another graded stakes win by California Chrome.

Favored at odds-on to win the Santa Anita Derby, California Chrome romped by 5 ½ lengths in 1:47.52, and earned a 107 Beyer Figure. He left his rivals reeling.

California Chrome will enter the Kentucky Derby as one of the favorites after perfect-trip wins in back-to-back graded stakes. Earlier in the Santa Anita meet on March 8, he led gate to wire over a speed-favoring track in the Grade 2 San Felipe. Saturday in the Santa Anita Derby, he pushed a soft pace over a speed-favoring track, and won clear again.

California Chrome pressed an easy 47.02-second half-mile, a pace that was set by a maiden. Six furlongs was 1:10.81. Then he broke open the race into the lane. California Chrome drew away impressively and won under a hold. Ideal conditions, impressive win.

When he runs in the Kentucky Derby, California Chrome will face a more challenging pace scenario, in a big field likely to be filled with speed. In terms of fractions, the Santa Anita Derby was the Creampuff Derby. The Kentucky Derby will be anything but.

Everyone is happy for California Chrome’s connections, particularly well-liked trainer Art Sherman. But objective analysis of California Chrome must recognize his two recent wins were under advantageous conditions (speed bias twice, slow pace Saturday). Those conditions are not likely to be replicated in Kentucky.

California Chrome may have earned first-Saturday-in-May favoritism. Good for him. Whether he wins the roses, or whether he falls short, the splashy chestnut could be the biggest underlay of the 2014 Kentucky Derby.

Alert Bay may head to Hastings in fall

California Chrome is not the only California-bred heading to a Derby. The $200,000 Echo Eddie Stakes was won by Alert Bay, owned by Peter Redekop, a Vancouver, British Columbia businessman.

Redekop is a supporter of Hastings Park in Vancouver, and after Alert Bay won the 6 ½-furlong Echo Eddie, trainer Blaine Wright said the City Zip colt could end up at Hastings in fall for the Grade 3, $150,000 British Columbia Derby on Sept. 14.

Alert Bay, based in Northern California, was making his first on dirt. He benefited from a ground-saving trip under Tyler Baze and rallied from fifth position to win by a half-length in 1:15.61. He earned an 84 Beyer. Good win by an honest colt. He will have plenty of opportunities in statebred races the months ahead. Any surface, any distance. Stay tuned.

Oaks review

 Jockey Gary Stevens said Santa Anita Oaks winner Fashion Plate “was reminding me of Winning Colors going down the backside.” It’s a fun comparison. After all, both fillies are front-runners. Based on fractions of the two Oaks that were run 26 years apart, Fashion Plate is no Winning Colors.

 Fashion Plate made the lead in the Oaks, and slowed it down. She walked the first half in 47.38; six furlongs 1:11.12. Those are easy fractions over a fast track that favored speed. Fashion Plate finished in 1:42.97 and earned an 87 Beyer.

 By contrast, when Stevens won the 1988 Oaks on Winning Colors, the opening half was a blazing 45.80 seconds; six furlongs was 1:10, final time 1:42. Winning Colors later beat the boys in the Santa Anita and Kentucky Derbies Fashion Plate is a two-time Grade 1 winner, but at this point the only thing she has in common with Winning Colors is that she is a front-runner.

Track biased towards speed

The main track Santa Anita Derby Day was fast and speed-favoring. Every dirt winner was on or near the lead. Some went fast early and slow late; others including California Chrome went slow-early, fast late. They all had one thing in common – speed.

April is the fourth month of the long, six-month meet that is devolving into an endless parade of front-running winners. On the speed-friendly dirt track at Santa Anita, late-runners have little chance. And it’s too bad. That is the one thing that will be missed regarding synthetic surfaces – deep-closing winners on the main track.


Mister Wonka

Trainer: Marty Jones

Last race: April 5, 1st

Finish: 5th by 8 3/4

Beyer: 73

This well-bred colt (Candy Ride, out of Grade 1 winner Miss Houdini) lacked speed, finished with run, and passed half the field the last furlong while bucking a speed bias. This was a fine debut by the half-brother to graded stakes winner Papa Clem.

Sammy Mandeville

Trainer: Doug O’Neill

Last race: April 5, 4th

Finish: 4th by 3 3/4

Beyer: 75

A first-time starter on the hillside course, he walked out of the gate, raced near the back, and finished with interest in a promising debut. This Rock Hard Ten colt can only improve.


Trainer: David Hofmans

Last race: April 1, 8th

Finish: 9th by 25 1/4

Beyer: 65

Notwithstanding his terrific works on dirt, this son of Rock Hard Ten wants nothing to do racing over the main track. He was non-competitive in the Santa Anita Derby. Look for a drop to a first-level allowance and a switch to turf, or a ship to a track with a synthetic surface.


Turf sprint speed

Turf does not always favor speed. But lately on the downhill, every winner was forwardly placed. The last 11 turf sprints since March 20  have been won by a horse positioned less than two lengths from the lead after the first quarter-mile.

The recent profile comes into play Sunday in race 4, the first leg of the pick six. The $32,000 claiming race, a turf sprint, includes a ton of speed – Atta Boy Pete, Great Friends Rule, He’s a Dance Star, and Big Note all run up front. It looks like a meltdown.

But recently, there has been no melt. The claiming filly Kerrilyn went 21.34 and 43.36 seconds and wired race 11 on Saturday. A first-level allowance runner, Pathway to Yes went 21.19 and 43.38 and wired the field on March 28. Speed and speed. In winning those races up front, Kerrilyn and Pathway to Yes controlled the pace.

It will be a surprise if one of the aforementioned front-runners in race 4 Sunday actually controlled the tempo. A duel is more likely. A deep closer such as Victory Joe is tempting, except for the speed-friendly profile and his year-and-one-half layoff.

He’s a Dance Star remains this handicapper’s top choice, but one horse who  may have been overlooked is Showme Yourfriends. Listed at 9-2 for his second start following a brief layoff, he should be positioned right behind the speed, and get first run. Showme Yourfriends is a must-use.

Turf route speed

There is not a quicker turf horse in California than Peace and Justice, who will try to wire the field Sunday in race 8, the $75,000 Thunder Road at a mile on turf.

Peace and Justice already scored two front-running wins this meet – a first-level allowance on Jan 5 in which he went the opening half-mile in 45.62 and six furlongs in 1:09.55. His final quarter-mile was a relatively slow 23.72 seconds, but it did not matter. He was gone.

The second win by Peace and Justice was a second-level allowance on Feb. 14 in which he blazed the opening half-mile in :44.55 and six furlongs in 1:08.05. His final quarter-mile was :24.31, but it did not matter. He was gone.

The challenge Peace and Justice faces on Sunday is position of the rails. The Jan. 5 win by Peace and Justice was with the turf rails at 15 feet. The Feb. 14 win by Peace and Justice was with the turf rails at the outermost 30-foot setting.

But Sunday, the rails are at are zero. Peace and Justice, 5-2 program favorite, is still the horse to beat and the horse to catch. But in trying to the wire the field, Peace and Justice will try to do something that is awfully tough to do – wire the field with the rails down.

There have been 17 turf races this meet at one mile, rails at zero. Only two were won by the pacesetter – Winning Prize on March 8, and Horizontalyspeakin on Jan. 26.

Spot plays

Race 1

Crusher (No. 6, 9-5) was compromised by strategy last time. He made a premature move into the far turn and ended up losing considerable ground. Claimed off the fourth-place finish by Bob Hess Jr., he switches to Martin Garcia and can win with patient handling.

Race 6

African Oil  (No. 1, 12-1) raced evenly in her U.S. debut, missing by less than four lengths. She trains like a filly who will appreciate stretching from a mile to  1 1/8 miles and. Simon Callaghan-trained imports sometimes race into condition. Price play.