12/21/2012 4:40PM

Santa Anita: Time for Kentucky Derby contenders to make themselves known

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Flashback wins his racing debut with an impressive performance at Hollywood Park, earning a 93 Beyer Speed Figure.

ARCADIA, Calif. – The horses who will make up California’s Kentucky Derby crop next spring did not acquit themselves well in recent weeks. Both the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita and the CashCall Futurity at Betfair Hollywood Park were won by horses who shipped in from the East Coast to beat the locals.

Both Shanghai Bobby and Violence are now in Florida, with practically no chance they will come out here again before the first Saturday in May. So the West Coast is clear for late developers to rise quickly to the top of the charts at the Santa Anita meeting that begins Wednesday, and there are numerous prospects who look ready to make that jump, chief among them Flashback, a Tapit colt who breezed to an impressive debut win at Hollywood Park on Dec. 8, romping by 3 1/2 lengths in a seven-furlong maiden race while earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 93.

“I’m counting on him,” said his trainer, Bob Baffert.

Baffert has won the Santa Anita Derby twice in the last four years, and he again has the deepest crop on this circuit. His most accomplished runner is Power Broker, who won the FrontRunner Stakes at the Santa Anita autumn meeting and has been freshened since finishing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

“You’ll see him in March,” Baffert said.

But it is the lightly raced horses who demand attention this winter, especially with the change in rules regarding eligibility to the May 4 Kentucky Derby. No longer is graded cash what determines who starts if more than the maximum 20 horses enter. Instead, Churchill Downs has switched to a points system, and preps closest to the Derby count most. That makes races like the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 6, and before that the Grade 2, $300,000 San Felipe Stakes on March 9, of paramount importance.

In addition to Flashback, Baffert is high on War Academy, a son of Giant’s Causeway who won his debut on Nov. 9 at Hollywood Park with a Beyer Figure of 81. “We knew he could run,” Baffert said. “He got a little sick on me after the race, but he’s back in training now.”

Baffert also has several sons of Midnight Lute worth watching, including Secrets at Midnight, who should make his debut early this meet. He also has an unnamed Midnight Lute colt out of the mare Behaving Badly he’s quite high on. “I put in the name Petraeus, but didn’t get it” from The Jockey Club, he said.

Trainers Jerry Hollendorfer, Doug O’Neill, and Ron Ellis also could be prominent this meet with 3-year-olds.

Hollendorfer has Fury Kapcori, who was second in the Cash Call Futurity, and Hear the Ghost, a son of Ghostzapper who was a debut winner last Saturday at Hollywood Park.

O’Neill’s best-known runners are He’s Had Enough, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up who disappointed in the CashCall Futurity, and Goldencents, who won the Delta Jackpot. Goldencents is scheduled to race in the Grade 3, $100,000 Sham Stakes on Jan. 5, which starts Santa Anita’s graded stakes program for 3-year-olds. The Grade 2, $200,000 Robert Lewis follows on Feb. 2, then the Grade 2, $150,000 San Vicente on Feb. 17, before the San Felipe and the Santa Anita Derby.

Ellis’s best prospect could be Treasury Bill, a son of Lemon Drop Kid who rallied strongly to finish third to War Academy and then also got sick. Ellis said Treasury Bill should be ready to run the middle of January. Major Affair, a son of Officer, was second to Hear the Ghost in a promising debut.

“He doesn’t look like an Officer,” Ellis said. “He’s out of a Black Tie Affair mare, and he acts like a distance horse, so I think he gets that from his bottom side.”

Mentor Cane, a John Shirreffs-trained son of Mizzen Mast who was second to Flashback on Dec. 8, bears watching in his second start.

Merit Man, who was second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint, has been sent to Florida by trainer Bob Hess Jr., who said he would stick to sprinting in 2013. Hess does have an unraced Midnight Lute colt he likes named Rukeyser, who should debut the middle of January.

On the filly side, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Beholder is the early favorite for the Grade 1, $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks, to be run this year on the same day as the Santa Anita Derby. Beholder will get to work early this meet, though. Her trainer, Richard Mandella, said she will run in the Grade 2, $150,000 Santa Ynez Stakes on Jan. 21.

“She had a little break. We’re getting more serious now,” Mandella said.

Two-time Grade 1 winner Executiveprivilege, second in the Breeders’ Cup but then fourth in the Hollywood Starlet, is being freshened after an aggressive 2-year-old campaign, Baffert said.

Sweet Marini, a debut winner for Jorge Gutierrez on Nov. 4 at Santa Anita, earning a 93 Beyer Speed Figure, was purchased privately and then turned over to Baffert, but has not raced since and won’t be seen until later in the meet.