Updated on 09/18/2011 1:46AM

Road to Derby often begins out West


ARCADIA, Calif. - The Rose Bowl is played and the Rose Parade is held a few miles away from here, in Pasadena. The road to the roses, however, comes right through Santa Anita.

Five times in the past 10 years, the winner of the Kentucky Derby has spent the winter racing at Santa Anita. Not since 1989, however, has the Kentucky Derby winner also won the Santa Anita Derby. So while California might be the place to prep for the Derby, history shows that the best 3-year-old in the West in April might not be so on the first Saturday in May.

That's because the depth chart frequently runs long. And so it may again this winter. Santa Anita, which opens Tuesday, is well-stocked with promising horses about to turn 3 and begin their quest for the Run for the Roses. Not only have the usual training suspects, such as Bob Baffert, been rounded up, but there are several newcomers jumping in.

Bill Currin has his sights set on the May 5 Derby with Stormello, whose victories in the Hollywood Futurity and the Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting have put him atop the local group.

Doug O'Neill, whose Derby quest with Stevie Wonderboy was short-circuited this past spring, is back with Great Hunter, who was third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile after capturing the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. O'Neill also has Hollywood Futurity runner-up Liquidity.

John Sadler, coming off the best year of his career, has so many well-regarded prospects that he seems a cinch to break into the fraternity of trainers with Derby contenders.

And Todd Pletcher, who finished second in the Derby and Belmont Stakes this year with Bluegrass Cat, has sent several youngsters west with assistant Michael McCarthy, in whose name those horses will run while Pletcher sits out a 45-day suspension.

Pletcher's contingent, which is training at Hollywood Park, includes Circular Quay, who won the Hopeful Stakes and was second in the BC Juvenile. He, however, is not expected to run here this meet. After training in California, Circular Quay is scheduled to head to Fair Grounds for the Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 10, Pletcher said.

Pletcher is hoping the colts Ravel and Grapelli progress this winter. Both won 1 1/16-mile maiden races at Hollywood Park on Dec. 3. Ravel is aiming for the Grade 3, $100,000 Sham Stakes on Feb. 3, while Grapelli may go in an allowance race in early January, Pletcher said.

The Sham, like the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 7, is at 1 1/8 miles. The first graded stakes of the meet for 3-year-olds is the Grade 2, $150,000 San Rafael Stakes at one mile on Jan. 13. Those who have been idle, or have yet to go two turns, can prep in the Grade 2, $150,000 San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs on Feb. 11.

From there, there are a pair of Grade 2, 1o1/16-mile races - two weeks apart - that serve as gateways to the Santa Anita Derby. First up on March 3 is the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, formerly the Santa Catalina. Another option is the $250,000 San Felipe Stakes on March 17.

Last year, Brother Derek won the San Rafael, Santa Catalina, and Santa Anita Derby before finishing in a dead heat for fourth in the Kentucky Derby.

Stormello, who like Brother Derek last year has won the Norfolk and Hollywood Futurity, already has two graded stakes wins around two turns, which puts him a step above the competition right now.

Baffert, has won the Santa Anita Derby four times and the Kentucky Derby three times, has Hollywood Juvenile winner E Z Warrior nearing a comeback. He worked six furlongs in 1:11.60 on Thursday at Hollywood Park. The maiden Silver Light has been training sharply in recent weeks for Baffert and should run soon.

O'Neill said Great Hunter is getting a break and will not race again until the Lewis. The Lewis, according to trainer Patrick Biancone, will also be the 3-year-old debut for Belgravia, who suffered his first loss in the Hollywood Futurity.

"Whether he was a winner or a loser, that was the plan," Biancone said.

Biancone also has What a Tale, who was second to unbeaten Tiz Wonderful in the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs. He is scheduled to race next in the San Vicente, Biancone said. Biancone also likes the Fusaichi Pegasus colt Time Squared, who should make his debut the first week of the meet.

Sadler's best prospects might be Noble Court, who blitzed maidens on Dec. 9 at Hollywood, and Exhale, who was second in a fast debut at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting Oct. 21.

Others to follow this winter include recent Hollywood Park winners Boutrous (trained by Craig Dollase), Desert Code (David Hofmans), Ididn'tdoanything (Mike Mitchell), Margenot (Mike Machowsky), and Le Grand Trois, who should return by the end of February for Bobby Frankel.

Horse Greeley, the Del Mar Futurity winner, is only jogging after needing time off for ankle surgery following the Norfolk.

"He's coming along real nice, but we're not going to press to make things happen," said his trainer, Richard Mandella.

Among the fillies, Romance Is Diane is the local leader following her victory in the Hollywood Starlet. Mitchell, her trainer, said she would make her next start in the Grade 1, $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes on Feb. 10, then come back in the Grade 1, $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks on March 11.

Down, who was an unlucky third in the Starlet, "might have one prep before the Kentucky Oaks," said Frankel, her trainer.

Sadler has the speedy Jump On In, who returns in an allowance race on Thursday, and Seaside Affair, who was a fast maiden winner at Hollywood in her first start for him.

Dan Hendricks, who won last year's Santa Anita Derby with Brother Derek, might have a Santa Anita Oaks contender in Sekira, who twice at Hollywood and is scheduled to race next in the Grade 2, $150,000 Santa Ynez Stakes at seven furlongs on Jan. 15.

Another to follow is Leave a Message, a recent Hollywood Park maiden winner for Gary Mandella.