04/06/2015 10:12AM

Road to the Derby analysis: Santa Anita Derby

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Benoit & Associates
Dortmund remained unbeaten by winning the Santa Anita Derby on Saturday.

Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Derby, 1 1/8 miles, Santa Anita, April 4, 2015
(100 Derby qualifying points for a win, 40 for second, 20 for third, 10 for fourth)

Winner: Dortmund

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Jockey: Martin Garcia

Owner: Kaleem Shah, Inc.

Beyer Speed Figure: 106

DORTMUND heads to the Kentucky Derby as the top horse who had his prep season in Southern California, a circuit that has appeared to be the strongest in terms of depth of this year’s Derby contenders. This was a good field on paper, but Dortmund dominated, making such well-regarded runners as BOLO and PROSPECT PARK look vastly inferior on the day.

Dortmund earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure in this race, and now has recorded figures of 104 or better in three straight races. He has never lost, has speed to get position, has won four straight races around two turns, owns a win at Churchill Downs last fall, and has the physical size to handle what’s ahead.

It has been fascinating to watch his development over the past four months, which has been well-chronicled in DRF's Road to the Derby section. There was some skepticism over his performance last fall in the Los Alamitos Futurity, but I outlined reasons why it was better than looked. He was battle-tested in the Robert Lewis  by the accomplished Firing Line, and bravely prevailed. After he won the San Felipe, I opined about the greater sense of maturity Dortmund was showing in his races. This is a colt I’ve been high on for months. He’s done nothing to dissuade me from the belief that he is one of the elite contenders for this year’s Derby.

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

In the Santa Anita Derby, Dortmund bobbled a bit shortly after the start; he came back missing his right-front shoe, which trainer Bob Baffert theorized happened when he bobbled. Dortmund still made the lead from his inside post, with ONE LUCKY DANE and CROSS THE LINE lapped on him into the first turn. The bizarre rating tactics employed with BAD READ SANCHEZ essentially handed the lead to Dortmund, because Dortmund was never going to be put in a bad spot by One Lucky Dane, who is also trained by Baffert.

Still, Dortmund set legitimately fast fractions of 22.46 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 46.36 seconds for a half-mile, and 1:10.57 for six furlongs while under a snug hold by jockey Martin Garcia. With less than three furlongs to go, Garcia began to niggle at Dortmund to get him to go on with it. He began to widen on his opposition. At the top of the lane, Garcia hit Dortmund left-handed a couple of times. He was a bit late with his lead change – perhaps owing to losing the shoe – and was hit once right-handed as he drew away to a 4 1/4- length victory.

One Lucky Dane earned a starting berth in the Kentucky Derby with his second-place finish, which was worth 40 points. This was only his second start off the layoff, and while he was no match for Dortmund, he ran well in his own right, finishing 2 1/4 lengths in front of everyone else.

One Lucky Dane was ridden away from the gate to secure a forward position, then stayed on Dortmund’s hip around the first turn and into the backstretch. Jockey Rafael Bejarano had to ride One Lucky Dane aggressively down the backstretch to hold his position when Cross the Line came up outside him, and midway on the turn it looked like he was going to drop out of it as the rest of the field bunched up behind Dortmund. But One Lucky Dane showed quite a bit of fight to stave off the others and get the place. He came up to Dortmund several times on the gallop out, and each time Dortmund showed his competitiveness by refusing to let One Lucky Dane go past him.

Bolo, who finished third, was purposely kept in the clear into the first turn but wound up four paths wide, though he was within hailing distance of Dortmund. Because the runners were bunched while chasing Dortmund, Bolo was forced to remain in the four path on the far turn, too. He went steadily through the lane and out-battled Prospect Park and Cross the Line for third, but was no threat to the top two. This wasn’t a bad race at all considering the compromised trip, but he’s likely going to be at his absolute best on turf; he’s already a stakes winner over that surface.

Prospect Park, who finished fourth, raced on his wrong lead the first eighth of a mile before jockey Kent Desormeaux got him to switch while at the same time dropping him into a spot between Bad Read Sanchez and Bolo, as those three were abreast chasing the other three. He didn’t appear comfortable in that spot entering the backstretch. Near the far turn, Prospect Park was inside Bolo and got shuffled back to last. He had to wait in traffic at the quarter pole, then dived inside, putting him in position to rally for second if he had it in him. He didn’t. Prospect Park did not finish with the same enthusiasm as in his runner-up effort to Dortmund in the San Felipe. He didn’t have the cleanest trip, but he didn’t fire, either. The following morning, his trainer, Clff Sise Jr., said Prospect Park had acted quiet in his stall in the hours leading up to the race, and though his temperature was normal, Sise said he suspects that “something was awry” and he was inclined to throw the race out.

Cross the Line, who finished fifth, was on his wrong lead leaving the gate but had the speed to end up outside both Dortmund and One Lucky Dane into the first turn. He remained in that spot down the backstretch and into the far turn, where at one point he advanced into second, behind Dortmund. He came under an aggressive ride midway on the far turn, was on his wrong lead until midstretch, then lost a three-way battle for third with Bolo and Prospect Park. Considering this was his first time on dirt and the first time facing horses of this caliber, this was a decent effort. If he avoids the big boys and takes advantage of his aptitude for synthetics, he’ll do just fine.

Bad Read Sanchez is named for a caddy who was blamed for misreading a putt, and it’s hard to imagine just how badly the colt’s connections misread this race. Bad Read Sanchez hadn’t run since August, and had only run in sprints, in which he was on or near the lead every time. This was an ambitious spot to bring him back, yet it was his speed that appeared be his best – perhaps only - weapon in this endeavor. Yet that was taken away as he was rated in last coming under the wire for the first time. He wound up inside Bolo and Prospect Park around the first turn, then made a decent run along the rail – following Dortmund – down the backstretch to enter contention. He came under a ride with three furlongs to go and tried to hang in there initially, but faded readily through the lane after having to avoid the heels of Prospect Park in midstretch and finished last.