Updated on 09/16/2011 7:05AM

Derby preps fill weekend

Biancone (right) entered Mayakovsky in Saturday's Santa Anita Derby against Came Home. Repent and Johannesburg are set to run elsewhere.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Even with Siphonic going to the sidelines and Fonz's going to Illinois, Saturday's $750,000 Santa Anita Derby is shaping up as an intriguing race, with a potential early pace battle between Mayakovsky and Came Home, and the likelihood that several stretch runners, such as Easy Grades, will find the race's 1 1/8 miles an ideal distance.

Patrick Biancone, the trainer of Mayakovsky, had been leaning toward staying here at Santa Anita and running in the Santa Anita Derby, and he committed to the race over the weekend after conferring with the colt's owner, Michael Tabor, and Tabor's racing manager, Demi O'Byrne. Biancone said Patrick Valenzuela would have the mount on the race's expected front-runner.

The Santa Anita Derby is one of four important races for Kentucky Derby prospects this weekend. At Sportsman's Park, Louisiana Derby winner Repent will face Hollywood Futurity runner-up Fonz's in the $500,000 Illinois Derby. At Gulfstream Park, Tampa Bay Derby winner Equality heads the $250,000 Aventura Stakes. And at Lingfield in Great Britain, all eyes will be on the unbeaten champion Johannesburg, who is running in an allowance race called the Foster's Trial in his first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

The addition of Gotham Stakes winner Mayakovsky to the Santa Anita Derby field makes the race far more interesting, as Came Home would have been an overwhelming favorite had Mayakovsky returned to New York for the April 13 Wood Memorial. Came Home beat Mayakovsky in last summer's Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. Mayakovsky has never raced beyond a mile, or around two turns.

"There were many factors," Biancone said Monday morning about keeping Mayakovsky at Santa Anita, where he has trained but never raced. "One factor is that Michael Tabor has Nokoma in New York for the Wood. Why not stay here and save a trip? He can just walk down the road for the race here. He also recovered well from his last race, so now he will have four weeks to the Kentucky Derby, in case he handles the extra furlong this week. Hopefully he will handle the extra furlong this time, then another furlong again in the Kentucky Derby."

Biancone said that Tabor, who also is a co-owner of Johannesburg, would be at Santa Anita for Saturday's race.

Easy Grades, who finished second to Came Home in the one-mile San Rafael last month, is picking up supporters with every passing day, and continued his impressive series of works with a five-furlong drill in 59.60 seconds Monday at Santa Anita. He was ridden in the work, and will be ridden in the race, by Gary Stevens, who has won the Santa Anita Derby eight times in the last 14 years.

"He was quite a bit behind everybody before the San Rafael, but he's catching up," said Ted H. West, who trains Easy Grades. "I can't say I'm glad Mayakovsky is in the race, because he's a good horse, but maybe that'll put a little more pressure on Came Home."

Easy Grades was one of three Santa Anita Derby runners to work five furlongs Monday. Danthebluegrassman zipped the distance in 58.60 seconds, the best time of 49 at the distance, and Lusty Latin was timed in 59.20 seconds.

The Santa Anita Derby field is expected to include Came Home (Chris McCarron riding), Danthebluegrassman (David Flores), Easy Grades (Stevens), Jack's Silver (Victor Espinoza), Lusty Latin (Glenn Corbett), Mayakovsky (Valenzuela), Tracemark, U S S Tinosa (Kent Desormeaux), and possibly Royal Gem.

Danthebluegrassman worked much better on Monday than he did last week, when rating tactics were attempted. This time, he sat off the flank of speedy workmate Requesto, then moved past Requesto while Requesto was geared down late.

"I feel a lot better about his work this week than last week. He fell apart last week," said Bob Baffert, who trains Danthebluegrassman.

Lusty Latin, who closed from 10th and last to finish third in Golden Gate's El Camino Real Derby on March 9, worked just moments after Danthebluegrassman, and was ridden aggressively by Corbett.

"I thought he worked awesome. That was the best work he's had since we've had him," said trainer Jeff Mullins, who claimed Lusty Latin for $62,500 on Nov. 29. Mullins said Lusty Latin has trained well since having surgery in February to remove what he called a "retained testicle."

U S S Tinosa worked a half-mile in 48.80 seconds on Sunday at Golden Gate Fields. Jack's Silver, a maiden, worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 at Santa Anita on Sunday.

Both Came Home and Mayakovsky were scheduled for workouts on Tuesday morning at Santa Anita. Valenzuela was scheduled to work Mayakovsky. Valenzuela replaces Edgar Prado, who has commitments at Oaklawn Park on Saturday. Valenzuela will be riding in the Santa Anita Derby for the first time since Fly'n J. Bryan finished last in 1994. Valenzuela won the Santa Anita with Codex in 1980 and Sunday Silence in 1989.

"Patrick Valenzuela, for me, has a few things on his side," Biancone said. "He's got experience in these kind of races. Second, I really admire and respect his talent." Valenzuela is currently sixth in the jockey standings at Santa Anita with 27 winners. "This is awesome," Valenzuela said of acquiring the mount. "He's a big, black, good-looking colt. He's got a great stride on him. He takes two strides to everyone else's three."

Fonz's is going to the Illinois Derby because David LaCroix, the trainer and co-owner of Fonz's, believes his horse does not care for Santa Anita's surface. LaCroix said Alfredo Juarez Jr., the second-leading rider at Sportsman's, would have the mount.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen