04/11/2017 12:55PM

Road to the Derby: Santa Anita Derby analysis

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Gormley wins the Santa Anita Derby under Victor Espinoza, with Battle of Midway second and Gormley's stablemate Royal Mo third.

Grade 1, $1,002,415 Santa Anita Derby; 1 1/8 miles; Santa Anita; April 8, 2017
(100 Derby qualifying points for a win, 40 for second, 20 for third, 10 for fourth)

Winner: Gormley, by Malibu Moon
Trainer: John Shirreffs
Jockey: Victor Espinoza
Owner: Jerry and Ann Moss
Beyer Speed Figure: 88

GORMLEY, who disappointed when fourth in the San Felipe in his prior start, showed the tenacity that carried him to victory earlier this year in the Sham with a win in the West Coast’s biggest race for 3-year-olds. The race drew a bulky field of 13 after regional – if not national – leader Mastery went to the sidelines.

The victory was the fourth in six starts for Gormley, who is now a three-time stakes winner and a two-time Grade 1 winner. The knock on this race, though, is that the fig came up very soft. The first five finishers were within 2 1/2 lengths of one another, and the final three furlongs took 40.24 seconds, resulting in a final time of 1:51.16 for 1 1/8 miles over a track on which the 3-year-old filly Paradise Woods ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.53 just one hour earlier.

The first three out of this race are intended starters in the Kentucky Derby on May 6. They are from a region that has had outsized success in the Derby and Triple Crown this decade, but they will have to run faster on Derby Day to prevail. Shirreffs – who also trains third-place finisher ROYAL MO – showed with Giacomo in 2005 that he knows how to have a 3-year-old progress in the spring and peak on the big day.

In this race, Gormley broke sharply, was rated just behind the early leaders, bumped with ILIAD heading into the first turn, then dropped into a gorgeous stalking position along the inside, tracking the three leaders, who were setting a sharp pace (22.66 seconds, 46.55). He was asked to advance near the far turn to both go around the leaders while four paths wide and not be compromised by the longshot MIDNIGHT PLEASURE to his outside. He reached the weary leaders at the furlong pole and surged to the front in deep stretch.

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

BATTLE OF MIDWAY, who was second, was sent away from the gate from his inside draw to establish position, wound up in a three-way duel for the lead with AMERICAN ANTHEM and Royal Mo while along the rail, put away American Anthem and shook free of Royal Mo entering the lane, could not quite hold off Gormley, but held second in a game effort.

Royal Mo, who was third, angled over from his outside draw to go into the first turn three paths wide while dueling for the lead with Battle of Midway and American Anthem. He stayed in that spot down the backstretch and around the far turn, drifted out just a bit entering the lane, was between Gormley and Battle of Midway in deep stretch and wasn’t quite good enough while swapping over to his left lead near the wire. His rider, Gary Stevens, had his whip inadvertently knocked from his hand by Espinoza inside the sixteenth pole.

REACH THE WORLD, who was fourth, lacked speed and raced near the rear of the pack along the rail around the first turn. He checked slightly midway on that turn, was gradually angled off the rail while heading down the backstretch, rallied five paths wide on the far turn, got fanned about seven wide at the top of the lane, then continued his steady run through the stretch. He acts like a Belmont Stakes horse.

Iliad, who was fifth, broke sharply, was rated off the pace, bumped with Gormley heading into the first turn, raced in the two path on the first turn while in the clear, went into the far turn about three to four paths wide, was fanned about six wide into the lane while just inside of Reach the World, finished with some interest, but wasn’t good enough.

KIMBEAR, who finished sixth, bobbled a bit leaving the gate, raced in the two path into the first turn, checked slightly while alongside Reach the World midway on that turn and was shuffled back to 12th, raced about three paths wide on the far turn, made an extended run to be about even with Iliad a furlong out, but faltered in the final sixteenth.

TERM OF ART, who was seventh, had no early speed per usual and trailed into the first turn and down the backstretch, rallied three paths wide while in the clear on the far turn, got fanned about six or seven paths wide into the lane while still near the rear, passed a few rivals, but never threatened.

IRISH FREEDOM, who was eighth, was away a bit slowly, raced awkwardly on his wrong lead in the opening furlong, was fanned four paths wide while towards the rear around the first turn, steadily advanced into a contending position while turning into the backstretch, was four paths wide while just outside Iliad with three furlongs to go, got carried about six paths wide entering the lane, had to check briefly there, then tried to finish. This was an adventurous trip. If he’s given time to recover from this effort and then sanely campaigned, he might be all right down the line.

MILTON FREEWATER, who was ninth, raced mid-pack while in the two path on the first turn, had trouble keeping pace on the far turn, checked midway on that turn while being outrun, was angled about six paths wide at the top of the lane, and raced on his wrong lead through the lane while always well back.

Midnight Pleasure, who was 10th, was three paths wide while chasing the early leaders around the first turn, raced alongside Gormley down the backstretch and then into and around the far turn, was fanned about four paths wide while unable to keep pace with the leaders near the quarter pole, then retreated through the stretch.

SO CONFLATED, who finished 11th, saved ground while mid-pack around the first turn, continued to hug the rail while following Gormley down the backstretch, got through inside on the far turn and into the lane, but weakened late after a trouble-free journey.

American Anthem, who was 12th, was hustled from the gate to attend the pace while between Battle of Midway and Royal Mo, had to be asked aggressively with three furlongs to go to try and hold his position, then faded through the lane. The two horses he battled with early finished second and third.

COMMA SISTER, who finished last of 13, reared up in the gate before the start, was away a bit awkwardly, was three paths wide while towards the rear around the first turn, started to be badly outrun heading down the backstretch, and was pretty much eased through the lane.