04/04/2013 2:53PM

Byron King: Super Ninety Nine looks poised to rebound in Santa Anita Derby

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Barbara D. Livingston
Super Ninety Nine disappointed in the Rebel Stakes but offers value in the Santa Anita Derby at 6-1 on the morning line.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Bettors accustomed to watching a lot of races often can spot winners as the horses are traveling in the early to middle portion of their races. Their jockeys are relatively motionless, and the horses are moving smoothly without encouragement.

Super Ninety Nine fit the opposite profile in last month’s Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn, never looking like a winner. Hustled early to gain position by jockey Rafael Bejarano, he was again called upon at several stages in the race to try to keep pace with advancing rivals.

He looked beaten long before the field hit the stretch, and he caved in down the stretch, finishing fifth, 8 1/4 lengths behind the victorious Will Take Charge.

Entered back in Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby, this time with Martin Garcia in the saddle, he can’t afford another flop if he is to challenge in the race, much less earn enough points for a starting berth in the Kentucky Derby.

Dismissed at 6-1 on the morning line, Saturday seems like a good time to forgive that last-race performance, which trainer Bob Baffert quipped was the equivalent of bowling a “gutter ball.”

[SANTA ANITA DERBY: Get PPs, watch Saturday's full card live]

This is a colt who threw in a clunker once before – a distant fourth in an allowance race at Santa Anita on Dec. 28 – but rebounded a race later to win a one-mile allowance in fast time at Santa Anita, followed by an 11 1/4-length score in the Southwest Stakes in the slop.

It is also a positive signal that Baffert keeps him in California to race in the Santa Anita Derby. He knows the colt likely needs to run first or second to make the Kentucky Derby, and considering that Baffert is running two other horses in the race, Power Broker and probable favorite Flashback, starting Super Ninety Nine would appear to reflect an unwavering belief in the colt.

Beyond that, Super Ninety Nine doesn’t have to repeat all the shipping he endured by going back and forth to Oaklawn, as he did twice before. He is simply being led from his own stall to a track on which he already is a winner.

With some of the shine off Super Ninety Nine, he is the value play of the Santa Anita Derby.

Private Ensign worth the risk in Ashland

Not to be overlooked Saturday is the Ashland at Keeneland, which drew a full field of 14, plus a couple of also-eligibles. The race is very competitive and is a challenge to handicap, with horses converging there from all over the country, some with turf form, others with synthetic form, and still others shifting to the Polytrack from dirt.

I’ll try one such dirt-to-Polytrack shifter: Private Ensign, who, after winning a pair of dirt races at Gulfstream Park this winter, just ran an even third behind Live Lively and Dreaming of Julia in the Grade 2 Davona Dale on Feb. 23.

Rather than face those fillies again in the Gulfstream Park Oaks, trainer Dale Romans and owner Siena Farms opted to try the Ashland, knowing they wouldn’t be matched against such elite 3-year-old fillies.

Granted, the synthetic surface at Keeneland is the great unknown for Private Ensign, adding uncertainty to backing her, but at 6-1 on the morning line, she seems worth the risk.

Plus, she’s well drawn in post 3, with a short run to the first turn. From there, she ought to be able to secure a favorable midpack stalking trip while likely saving ground early. Others drawn toward the outside are unlikely to be as fortunate.

Sahara Sky gets nod in Carter

Lastly, the Carter on the Wood Memorial undercard also looms as an intriguing race, with trainer Jerry Hollendorfer confidently shipping Sahara Sky across the country to run at Aqueduct when he could have just kept him at Santa Anita to race in the Grade 2 Potrero Grande.

For a horse who is 2 for 2 at Santa Anita this meet, this is the higher-risk/higher-reward move – one that, if successful, would make Sahara Sky a Grade 1 winner.

The move makes sense in that the race is soft by Grade 1 standards and is led by the talented but largely inexperienced Discreet Dancer, who has never raced outside Gulfstream Park in six starts.

Unlike Discreet Dancer, who is the flashy entrant in the race with a 5-for-6 record, Sahara Sky is cut from a different mold. He won only allowance races last year and really didn’t hit his stride until earlier this year.

But his current form has held up well, with Comma to the Top, third behind him in the San Carlos, shipping to Aqueduct last month to win the Tom Fool.

As the second wagering choice in the Carter, Sahara Sky is an appealing alternative to the favored Discreet Dancer.