03/09/2015 3:38PM

Road to the Derby analysis: San Felipe Stakes

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Dortmund relaxed nicely under Martin Garcia en route to victory in the San Felipe on Saturday.

Grade 2, $401,250 San Felipe Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Santa Anita, March 7, 2015
(50 Derby qualifying points for a win, 20 for second, 10 for third, 5 for fourth)

Winner: Dortmund
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Jockey: Martin Garcia
Owner: Kaleem Shah, Inc.
Beyer Speed Figure: 104

DORTMUND remained unbeaten with his fifth win, his third straight in a stakes race, all at 1 1/16 miles, all worth points toward a berth in the Kentucky Derby, which he has guaranteed with the 70 points he’s now accumulated.

Along the way, Dortmund has shown a greater sense of maturity. In his first couple of races, he wanted to run off, but the exacting training of Bob Baffert and jockey Martin Garcia – who works Dortmund in the mornings – has molded Dortmund into a colt who is far more responsive to his rider’s commands. That paid off here. Dortmund equaled his career-best Beyer Speed Figure while beating a strong field that highlighted the depth of the Derby contenders in Southern California. The first three finishers all earned Beyer Figures of more than 100 in this race.

Dortmund had won the Robert Lewis Stakes in his prior start, outfinishing Firing Line in a torrid dogfight. Immediately after that race, Baffert’s initial reaction was that Dortmund might have to skip the San Felipe and await the Santa Anita Derby on April 4. But Dortmund quickly bounced back from that race, no doubt due to his imposing size. A smaller colt might have needed more time, but he didn’t. That constitution will serve him well with the schedule he’ll have in upcoming months.

In the San Felipe, Dortmund broke sharply and had the lead heading into the first turn, with only the longshot SIR SAMSON lapped on him. He had his ears up, loping along. As the field neared the top of the stretch, Martin Garcia began to niggle at Dortmund, who appeared to be idling on the lead.

:: ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays

A fresh challenge from BOLO caused Garcia to get after Dortmund with a left-handed whip, and Dortmund responded to keep him at bay while never endangered by PROSPECT PARK, who rallied for second. On the gallop-out, Dortmund still looked eager to do more, his ears forward. It didn’t look like this race took as much out of him as the Lewis. He is unquestionably the favorite for the Santa Anita Derby.

Prospect Park was floated out about four paths wide around the first turn and appeared eager to go quicker than jockey Kent Desormeaux thought best. Desormeaux was able to find cover going down the backside, and Prospect Park switched off nicely, awaiting his rider’s cue. Prospect Park had to split horses in upper stretch and then was angled to the middle of the track for his final drive. He made a nice run, and though he wasn’t going to catch the winner, there is no disgrace in finishing second to Dortmund. He’ll be the second choice in the Santa Anita Derby.

An interesting sidelight heading into the Santa Anita Derby will be what Desormeaux does if Texas Red -trained and co-owned by his brother Keith - can make it back for that race. Considering their schedules in recent weeks, it looks like Prospect Park is a better Derby candidate now. If Texas Red goes to the Arkansas Derby, Kent Desormeaux would not have a Santa Anita Derby conflict.

Bolo, who finished third, was between Dortmund and Sir Samson coming under the wire the first time, but jockey Victor Espinoza eased him back to go outside Sir Samson heading around the first turn. He advanced three paths wide on the far turn to make a run at Dortmund, got within a head of him in upper stretch, but could not keep pace and surrendered second very late to Prospect Park. He had missed some training owing to rainy weather in the weeks preceding this race, so he might not have been at his absolute best. This was his first race on dirt. He may be at his best down the line on turf, but at this time of year, you have to give a 3-year-old every chance on dirt.

LORD NELSON, who was fourth, again displayed what I’ve maintained all along, that he’s far superior around one turn than two. This wasn’t a bad effort, but he’ll never get a better chance to prove himself against top-class company going two turns, for he got a gorgeous, rail-skimming trip and simply wasn’t good enough. He was about 1 1/4 lengths behind Dortmund with three furlongs to go, and lost by 5 1/4. He needs either sprints, or some of the lesser Derby preps. The newly named Pat Day Mile (formerly the Derby Trial) at Churchill Downs on Derby Day would seem a perfect spot, as well as the Woody Stephens on Belmont Day. Both are around one turn.

THE GOMPER, who finished fifth, is another who seems best sprinting; his late-running sprint form is far superior to his two-turn form. He was bothered heading into the first turn by OCHO OCHO OCHO, who was having all kinds of trouble inside, then The Gomper started tossing his head about when moving around the first turn. He got beat to a spot by PULMARACK going around the far turn, had to wait in traffic, switched out, and went evenly. The Pat Day Mile and Woody Stephens would suit him, too.

Pulmarack, who was sixth, was four paths wide around the first turn, stayed out there down the backstretch, and was again four paths wide on the final turn. He raced on his wrong lead down the stretch, obviously tired from his scenic tour. This was his first try in open company. He can make a good living against California-breds.

Seventh-place finisher PAIN AND MISERY had to avoid Ocho Ocho Ocho and The Gomper heading into the first turn, then was able to finally drop over from his outside post and saved ground while last. He was asked to go three furlongs out and could not keep up, then passed a few tired rivals in the stretch.

Ocho Ocho Ocho finished eighth after a horrible early trip. He appeared to be jostled between Lord Nelson and Dortmund at the start, became rank, ran up on the heels of Lord Nelson heading into the first turn, then tried to get out, taking The Gomper with him. He was seventh, while toward the inside, heading into the backstretch, advanced to a contending position three furlongs out, but was outrun from that point, though jockey Mike Smith hit him just once and did not beat him up when the cause appeared lost. His trainer, Jim Cassidy, said Ocho Ocho Ocho came out of the race with cuts on his legs from the bumping early in the race.

Sir Samson, who finished ninth, was sent from his wide draw to go up and attend the pace of Dortmund. He remained there until midway on the turn, when the pace quickened. He was asked to go with the leaders, but instead retreated. This was his first try around two turns. He also should go back to sprints.

KENJISSTORM, who finished last of 10, was rank while between horses in the second flight of runners going around the first turn. He remained in traffic until the far turn, where he quickly surrendered.