04/05/2012 2:49PM

Crist: Wood, Santa Anita Derby overdue to produce something positive in Kentucky Derby


Whoever wins Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby and Wood Memorial will immediately join the ranks of favorites for the Kentucky Derby on May 5, if they aren’t there already. They will also, however, be joining a list of horses that for two decades now has amassed an astounding record of disappointment and defeat at Churchill Downs.

In the 23 years since Santa Anita Derby winner Sunday Silence and Wood winner Easy Goer ran one-two in the Derby, the winners of those two races have combined to go 1 for 34 in the Kentucky Derby. A $2 win bet on each would have cost $68 and returned $6.60, the Derby mutuel on 2000 Wood winner Fusaichi Pegasus.

[COLUMN COMPANION: Santa Anita Derby and Wood Memorial history]

Each of the last 13 Santa Anita Derby winners has run in the Kentucky Derby and their record is 13-0-1-0 – the only 1-2-3 finish among them was Pioneerof the Nile’s distant second to Mine That Bird in the slop in 2009. The last two winners, Sidney’s Candy in 2010 and Midnight Interlude in 2011, ran 16th and 17th at Churchill Downs. At least those 13 all made it to the Derby starting gate: The last three Wood winners – I Want Revenge in 2009, Eskendereya in 2010, and Toby’s Corner in 2011 – all were sidelined with injuries by Derby Day.

Have these 22 years of repeated failure marked a permanent shift in where we should look to find Derby winners, or merely been a run of bad luck and a statistical anomaly? My tepid vote goes to the latter theory, while acknowledging that the vastly expanded schedule of Derby preps has certainly widened the possibilities for where winners have their final preps.

The 2012 Wood, with a $1 million purse sponsored by Aqueduct’s new roommate, the Resorts World Casino New York City, drew a modest field of eight. The headliners and morning-line favorites are 8-5 Gemologist, who is 4 for 4 but has run in just one stakes, winning the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club last fall, and 2-1 Alpha, who is unraced since winning the Count Fleet in January and the repositioned Grade 3 Withers in February. They are the only graded stakes winners in a field of eight.

The Santa Anita Derby looks a bit tougher with a field of 10, including Grade 1 winners Creative Cause and Liaison and Grade 2 winner I’ll Have Another. Creative Cause, third and just a length behind Hansen and Union Rags in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last fall, is one of the few 3-year-olds this year to have taken a big step forward as a sophomore already, raising his game by several lengths to win a fast San Felipe on March 10. A definitive victory Saturday could make him the pro-tem Derby favorite after Union Rags’s third-place finish in the Florida Derby a week ago.

The best horse race of the day could come half an hour after the Wood in a six-horse, seven-furlong race: the Grade 1 Carter, which drew the 4-year-olds Caleb’s Posse, Emcee, and Shackleford, and the 5-year-olds Calibrachoa, Jackson Bend, and Tahitian Warrior. It’s so talented (a combined 25 triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in their past performances) and competitive a field that Shackleford, last year’s Preakness winner and Breeders’ Cup Mile runner-up, is the outsider on the morning line at 8-1.

It’s an excellent group of sprinter-milers, and they should put on quite a show both Saturday and then next month in the Met Mile at Belmont.

Critic stands by initial judgment

Last Saturday’s column in this space about The New York Times’s front-page “Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys” March 24 article included a reference to criticism of the piece’s methodology by Jeff Scott of The Saratogian. Scott had theorized that the Times’s statistics regarding breakdown “incidents” at Saratoga had included horses leaving the course in steeplechase races; the Times later said it had not included such races in its survey.

“The Times used only flat races.” Scott wrote in a follow-up column last week. “However, I stand by my opinion that a rating system for comparing tracks that gives equal weight to, for example, fatal breakdowns, bleeding incidents, and horses that are vanned off – without providing the number of incidences of each, and without somehow allowing for the fact that horses are vanned off for a variety of reasons, some of which are a lot less serious than others -- can produce misleading results.”

Ian Fick More than 1 year ago
Thank you Mr. Crist. DRF has and always will be the premier authoruty in thoroughbred racing. You and the rest or your staff have done an admirable job of maintaining your advantage and quality of editorials supremacy over any other thorughbred publication available - anywhere. Your articles and insight are first class, and My favorite handicappers are Mike Watchmaker and Mike Beer. best to you all and keep up the good work sir!
Jordan More than 1 year ago
Winners of the Wood and SA Derby have not had much recent success at Churchill, but also-rans from both races have fared better. Most recently, Giacomo ran 4th in the 05' SA Derby but then won the Kentucky Derby. In 2003, the Wood not only produced Derby runner-up, Empire Maker, but the winner, Funny Cide, as well. Monarchos ran 2nd in the Wood in 01' before rebounding with a fast score at Churchill. Those 2 with FuPeg gave the Wood(field) 3 Kentucky Derbys in 4 years from 00'-03'. Interestingly, in the 3 years preceding that stretch, the Santa Anita Derby featured the Kentucky Derby winner every year. Silver Charm(97') and Real Quiet(98') turned solid 2nds in the SA Derby into wins at Churchill, and Charismatic(99') vaulted from a 4th in the SA Derby to win the Lexington and then the Kentucky Derby. Amazingly, all 3 of these SA Derby also-rans additionally won the Preakness and then placed in the Belmont when going for the Crown. Looking at the larger Triple Crown series from 1990-2011, the Santa Anita Derby produced the winner of at least one of the three races in 92'(AP Indy-Belmont), 94'(Tabasco Cat-Preakness, Belmont), 95'(Timber Country-Preakness), 97'(Silver Charm-Derby, Preakness), 98'(Real Quiet-Derby, Preakness), 99'(Charismatic-Derby, Preakness), and 01'(Point Given-Preakness, Belmont). So, in the 12 years from 90'-01', a SA Derby participant won at least one Triple Crown race in 7 of those years for a total of 12 Triple Crown race wins. In the 10 years since, the SA Derby has produced only Giacomo(05' Derby) and Lookin at Lucky(10' Preakness), and neither one of those two were winners of the SA Derby.
Tom Elliott More than 1 year ago
the greatest of them all, Secretariat, was an also ran in the Wood
Don Passidomo More than 1 year ago
Steve, really not clear on what your selections are, but for "The Wood", I believe you see "Gemologist" showing his true colors with a big win, and head on to the KD undefeated, and in peak form...as far as what horse will come in second behind him there are 7 choices...key him on top with all, or if you want a little extra security, key him with all in exacta box..he will be my main key in all races in pick 3+ races and doubles...will have to be an really unusual situation for him not to win...I love him and have been high on him since he beat me in his grade-2 win at CD in Nov...in that race, and every race since he has equaled if not exceeded all other KD prospects in times and has been battle tested as well, he is a champ, and hope you will be writing about him after this race as he prepares for KD gate...and who knows after that. Don
Gabriel Laden More than 1 year ago
why not just make one big win bet on Gemologist if that's your only real opinion? otherwise you're just diluting your winnings, if you do get the exacta or win some exotic bet. because, everybody's going to have Gemologist and the payouts aren't going to be so much in that case. good luck, either way.
Vincent Condeni More than 1 year ago
Hi Steven, Thanks for your astute analysis of Saturday's KD remaining preps. A week from tomorrow, 14 April, Keeneland will present the most significant KD prep, the $750,00 Blue Grass Sakes, at 1 and 1/8 miles around two turns. This race will draw a stellar field of Derby candidates. It's being run at an ideal time, 3 weeks from the KD on 5 May. The Blue Grass winner will attract many sharp handicappers and probably go off at 8 to 1 or maybe 10 tom 1. Therefore, my long range forecast is to focus on Union Rags as my "Key Box Horse" in all exotic wagers with the Blue Grass winner and two other Horses to be determined on Derby Day! Trying to select the Derby winner 5 weeks out is a dangerous and unwise strategy and must be avoided. In short, I plan to use Union Rags, the Blue Grass Winner and two other Strong Closers, to be determined, in all Exotic Wagers on t the KD race! Comments are always appreciated.
Bellwether4U More than 1 year ago
a true dirt race track will serve em well on their way to churchill...
Curtis V Slewster More than 1 year ago
Steven, Re:The NYT's article....... Again you have proved to be the voice of reason. Those authors seem to have an agenda, which leads to the saying, "Figures don't lie, but liars sure can figure.."..Thanx for setting the record straight..Good job...as per usual I might add.. Curt V.
kingsailor2 More than 1 year ago
Why more winners don't come out of CA? Maybe it also has to do with climate, humidity, shipping, fact Derby day comes up sloppy so many times. Thank you for the update on the NYT. I just thought of an April Fool's on them . . . if you and Mr. Beyer contacted them and told them that you had it on good authority that we all decided to (a) not race horses until they were 5 years old, (b) with no horse shoes or whips; and (c) monkeys instead of jockeys for safety reasons. I honestly think they would fall for it they are so determinedly ignorant and misinformed.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Careful, man... PETA would squeal about riding the monkeys.
stevejPS More than 1 year ago
With Santa Anita finally back on dirt, I think youre right. It may well be time for Santa Anita to once again be relevant in the Derby. The most disturbing thing about the Wood is the frequency of breakdowns of the winners. Could that statistic be track specific? We'll see