04/09/2011 9:42PM

Santa Anita Derby: Midnight Interlude nips Comma to the Top

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Midnight Interlude (6) with Victor Espinoza riding, is up in the last stride to win the Santa Anita Derby.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The road to the Kentucky Derby, which took several unforeseen detours on Saturday, had one final surprising turn at Santa Anita when Midnight Interlude, who was coming off a victory against maidens, outran eight other rivals to capture the Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Derby and earn a trip four weeks hence to Churchill Downs.

Midnight Interlude ($29.80) got up in the final stride to nail Comma to the Top, who led every step but the one that mattered most, and prevail by a head. Mr. Commons, who loomed dangerously along the rail at the top of the stretch, finished third, another 2 1/4 lengths behind.

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Of the other highly regarded horses in the race, Silver Medallion was fourth, Anthony's Cross fifth, Indian Winter sixth - after being extremely rank the first part of the race - and Bench Points seventh in the field of nine.

Midnight Interlude might be the only horse exiting the race to go on to the Kentucky Derby.

Midnight Interlude, under Victor Espinoza, was timed in 1:48.66 for 1 1/8 miles on a fast main track. He was expected to be on or near the lead, but ended up stalking from fourth after getting caught four paths wide on the first turn.

"I wanted to save a little horse for the end," Espinoza said. "He ran unbelievable."

The Santa Anita Derby lost its top two stars in the preceding 48 hours, when first Premier Pegasus (fracture) and then Jaycito (sore foot) were withdrawn. As a result, Silver Medallion, making his first start on dirt after prior races on turf and synthetic surfaces, was the 5-2 favorite.

DRF COVERAGE: Who is Midnight Interlude?

While the winning horse may have been a surprise, it was no surprise which trainer was in the winner's circle. Bob Baffert, seemingly down and out when Jaycito was withdrawn, somehow pulled another rabbit out of his bag of tricks and won the Santa Anita Derby for a record sixth time, all since 1996.

Midnight Interlude, a colt by War Chant, was bred and is owned by Arnold Zetcher.

Midnight Interlude will be attempting to become the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby without racing as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882. Midnight Interlude did not make his debut until January, when he finished a distant third against maidens in a sprint here. He stretched out and finished second against maidens in February, then last month rolled to an 8 1/2-length victory against maidens going one mile. A strong work on Monday, when he blazed six furlongs in 1:10.60, convinced Baffert to take a shot in the Santa Anita Derby.

"He grew up in a hurry," Baffert said. "His work was really brilliant this week."

Baffert has other Kentucky Derby contenders. The Factor is scheduled to run next weekend in the Arkansas Derby, and Baffert said Saturday he that expects Jaycito to be well enough to run in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland in two weeks.