04/05/2012 3:06PM

Hovdey: Winning team seeks Santa Anita Derby payday

Shigeki Kikkawa
Longview Drive will have jockey Russell Baze aboard again for the Santa Anita Derby.

It is not necessary to be in the Hall of Fame, or at least well on your way, for a trainer or jockey to win the Santa Anita Derby. It only seems like it.

In the 50 runnings of the Santa Anita Derby since Hall of Famer W.J. “Buddy” Hirsch saddled Royal Attack to beat Admiral’s Voyage in the 1962 running of the event, 36 Santa Anita Derbies have been won by a Hall of Fame jockey, while 19 versions were taken by Hall of Fame trainers, including six by Bob Baffert and four by D. Wayne Lukas.

[MORE FROM HOVDEY: One man's five favorite Santa Anita Derbies]

Of course, if a plaque on a wall was all it took to get the job done, Longview Drive already would be parked in the winner’s circle in the company of Jerry Hollendorfer and Russell Baze, both comfortably enshrined at the National Museum of Racing in Saratoga Springs. As it is, the chestnut colt with the racy pedigree will need to run his best race and then some to win the West’s most cherished race for 3-year-olds.

Beginning last June, in a pair of maiden races at Golden Gate, Baze was Longview Drive’s guy through his first four starts, including three wins, before the colt slipped his Northern California moors. Since then, under different riders, there was a so-so third in the Delta Jackpot in Louisiana, a considerably better third at Santa Anita in the Sham Stakes, and then a disappointing sixth as the tepid choice in Castaway’s division of the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

“It looked like the kind of track where it was hard to make up ground that day,” Hollendorfer said of the Oaklawn adventure.

His answer made sense, but this was the same Longview Drive who was on the lead in the Sham, hitting the half in 45 and change and then giving way grudgingly in the final yards. In the Southwest, the colt was deep in the pack after a half in 48 seconds. Hollendorfer blamed the trainer for the strategy imparted to Martin Garcia that day.

“I probably didn’t do the right thing,” he said. “I should’ve probably had him lay up closer in Arkansas.”

Still, teaching a young horse to ration his natural speed with longer races in mind isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“I don’t know,” Hollendorfer replied, allowing himself a sardonic laugh. “I’m not sure we’re capable of getting those lessons across when we want to. But eventually we do.”

Hollendorfer spent $175,000 for owner Steve Beneto of Sacramento to get Longview Drive as a yearling. This would seem to be a bargain, in terms of potential, for a full brother to Pyro, winner of the 2008 Louisiana Derby and 2009 Forego Stakes. Pyro, a son of Pulpit out of a Wild Again mare, currently stands stud at Darley’s Japanese operation.

“We had some good feelings about him when we bought him,” Hollendorfer said of Longview Drive. “Then he was telling me he was ready to start out early. He’s a medium-sized horse but very substantial, with a good stride on him. Right now he’s got a very good-looking coat and doing real good that way.”

Hollendorfer also trains Rousing Sermon, who returned home earlier this week after his third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby last Sunday. His $270,000 in qualified Kentucky Derby earnings finds him 17th on the list to make the final field of 20. Longview Drive, on the other hand, enters the Santa Anita Derby with $102,834 in qualified earnings, deep on the list, which means he will probably need to win the $450,000 first prize to be assured of a ticket to Louisville. Second money of $150,000 probably won’t be enough to penetrate the top 20.

“We hope to get in a position to have to decide whether we want to run in the Kentucky Derby with either colt,” Hollendorfer said. “There’s a lot of important races coming up, and I’m sure the money-winning order will change.”

The Hall of Fame team is leaving nothing to chance. Baze, who had not been aboard Longview Drive since last fall, flew down to Hollywood Park on Wednesday to work the colt a half-mile in preparation for the Derby. The result was a coolly efficient 49 and a tick, which did not tell Baze much more than he knew already.

“We’ve kind of been separated long enough now where he’s probably changed a lot from when I rode him,” Baze noted. “But having watched his races since then, he maybe hasn’t gone as far forward as I thought he would have by now. So I’m hoping we can get him back on track and maturing the way I thought he would.”

Baze entered the racing week at his Golden Gate Fields home base with 11,543 wins, including the five he won last Sunday.

“Well, you know, it’s been slow,” he deadpanned.

Give him a break – he’s only 53. The Baze total, which more closely resembles a Dow Jones average, does not include a Santa Anita Derby, or for that matter a Kentucky Derby (he has ridden in only two), a Preakness or Belmont Stakes. If such omissions bother Baze he hides it well.

“Hope springs eternal,” Baze said as he prepared to ride Thursday’s Golden Gate card. “You’d love to win one of those any time in a career. Hopefully, I’ll have a few more chances. But you’ve got to go into a race like this just like any other horse race. You’ve got a plan, you hope you’ve got enough horse to win it, and then things have got to go your way. But this horse, if he fires his race, I think you’ll see a pretty good performance from him.”