04/06/2017 5:50PM

TimeformUS Kentucky Derby Prep Analysis: Bob Baffert is well represented in a wide-open Santa Anita Derby

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Santa Anita | Race 8 | Post Time 3:30 p.m. (PT) | Go to the FREE TimeformUS PPs

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 This has to be one of the most competitive final round Kentucky Derby preps that we’ve seen in years. That is largely due to the recent form of Southern California’s so-called best hopes for this year’s Run for the Roses. Of the six runners exiting graded stakes races in their prior starts, only Iliad and Term of Art managed to crack the top three, and even they lost those races by more than eight and six lengths, respectively. That scattered form has opened the door for a herd of new shooters to take their one shot at making into the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.

 There are a number of runners with early speed in this 13-horse affair, and the Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace. American Anthem (#6), Gormley (#8), and Iliad (#9) – coincidentally the three most established runners in the field – are all predicted to be caught up in that frenzied dash to the first turn. Furthermore, pace pressers like Battle of Midway, Kimbear, and Royal Mo aren’t exactly going to be that far behind them, so it’s unlikely that the early leaders will get much of a breather on the front end.

Let’s go through the entire field:

#1, TERM OF ART (12-1): A hotly contested pace is exactly what this son of Tiznow would like to see developing ahead of him. This closer just wants to drop back and make one run, as he did when working his way up to third in the San Felipe, where he finished slightly less than two lengths behind this race’s morning-line favorite, Iliad. It’s fair to say that Iliad did more of the hard work that day, applying pressure to eventual winner Mastery early, but Term of Art is more likely to improve with the added ground he gets to worth with here. I can’t endorse betting him to win given the number of seemingly talented new faces in this group, but he is the kind of horse that could complete an exacta or trifecta at a price.

#2, REACH THE WORLD (5-1): Among those making their stakes debuts in this Santa Anita Derby, I find this Bob Baffert charge to be the most intriguing. For a lightly raced horse like this, he actually has plenty of experience around two turns. He got plenty of education out of his debut, in which he took kick-back in his face racing inside of horses before making a mild run up the rail. After a facile wire-to-wire maiden win, he then returned against a salty allowance field last month. Unlike in his prior two starts, he was off slowly and took a while to find his stride while racing towards the back of the pack. He advanced willingly into position on the backstretch before having to wait for room on the turn for home. Once clear in the stretch, he lengthened his stride nicely and was getting to the eventual winner, Battle of Midway, at the wire.

Reach the World needs to improve his speed figures to win this Santa Anita Derby, but his pedigree suggests that he should relish this nine-furlong distance. He is by Tapit, who has already sired a pair of Belmont Stakes winners, and is out of a Galileo mare who is a half-sister to 1998 champion older mare Escena. Bob Baffert certainly knows how to get a horse into the Kentucky Derby starting gate, and he has been absolutely unstoppable when giving a leg up to Mike Smith recently (100 TimeformUS Trainer Rating). There are a lot of arrows pointing in this horse’s directions.

 #3, BATTLE OF MIDWAY (5-1): The horse that defeated Reach the World in that allowance race last time, he did have a slightly more comfortable trip that day. While he was wider throughout, he was racing in the clear the entire way and was able to get the jump on a few foes that were stymied down inside on the far turn. Overall, he has run well enough in his two wins to be considered a factor here, but I’m inclined to believe that Reach the World has more of a forward move in him.

 #4, COMMA SISTER (50-1): He has never run a particularly fast dirt race and appears to be in over his head.

 #5, SO CONFLATED (15-1): He was no match for a pair of elite 3-year-olds in the Gotham, but it’s possible that he may not have shown up with his best effort that day. He had previously run well against maidens in Southern California. Nevertheless, I don’t see the evidence that he takes the necessary steps forward since then.

#6, AMERICAN ANTHEM (5-1): This colt appeared to be on the precipice of becoming one of the favorites for this year’s Kentucky Derby after gamely battling Gormley all the way to the wire in the Sham. At the time, that appeared to be an incredible performance by a horse making just his second career start, and the speed figures back up that visual impression. The 115 TimeformUS Speed Figure that he earned for the effort is still among the highest numbers in this race. However, everything fell apart last time at Oaklawn.

 He uncharacteristically broke slowly and, rather than rush him up to contest the pace, Mike Smith attempted to get him to settle in midpack in the opening furlongs. However, American Anthem was not on board with those tactics and became headstrong, commencing a premature move on the backstretch. He briefly reached a contending position, but was pushed out very wide on the turn for home, at which point Smith wrapped up on him and protected the horse late. As far as I’m concerned, I think you can just throw out the effort. Bob Baffert deems him to run back just three weeks later and the switch to Martin Garcia suggests that he wants him close to the pace once again. He’ll surely be on my tickets.

 #7, KIMBEAR (12-1): This is yet another exciting new face in the group. While it’s fair to be skeptical of runners that have taken six races to win their maiden, this runner has only gotten in two starts on dirt, which is clearly his preferred surface. He ran deceptively well when second to Iliad last December, launching a wide far turn run before closing resolutely through the stretch in a race where no one else was making up serious ground late. Then last time, he showed a new dimension, racing up on the pace throughout before dispatching of his rivals on the turn for home. A couple of horses have returned out of that race to significantly improve their speed figures in their subsequent starts, including Sonneteer, who returned to finish second in the Grade 2 Rebel.

 This will be Kimbear’s first test beyond seven furlongs on dirt, but he’s certainly bred to handle the stretch-out in distance. His sire, Temple City, is a known stamina influence – though he’s not necessarily renowned for success with his dirt starters. Yet there is also plenty of stamina on the dam’s side of his pedigree. This is John Oxley-breeding to the core. His dam, Sky Dreamer, is by Oxley’s horse Sky Mesa, out of a dam that was the product of Oxley’s Kentucky Derby winner, Monarchos, and his champion mare, Beautiful Pleasure. Furthermore, Kimbear’s dam was graded stakes-placed going nine furlongs. In a race where the top contenders have so many questions to answer, this horse could offer some value.

 #8, GORMLEY (9-2): Mastery was too much for him to handle in the San Felipe, and I believe that his near 10-length defeat was very much a result of him trying to apply pressure to that superior rival. Given a less taxing trip, he probably could have finished in the money. So, now that Mastery isn’t in the lineup, Gormley should have an easier time reasserting himself, right? Well, that’s easier said than done. This horse has run his best races when racing on or near the lead and he is likely to have company in that position if the Pace Projector is correct. Additionally, there are some talented new faces in this group that may be ready to  usurp more precocious types like this colt. He’s the only horse in the race that has run TimeformUS Speed Figures above 110 on three separate occasions, so I have to respect him. Yet I’m inclined to favor some more progressive types in this spot.

 #9, ILIAD (7-2): If there’s one horse among the three Derby preps this weekend that I am firmly against, it is this colt. I just do not see the evidence that he wants to go this far. His San Felipe effort was fine, but he ran the race like your quintessential horse with distance limitations. He appeared to be traveling effortless around the far turn while tracking Mastery’s demanding pace. Yet when push came to shove in the stretch, he came up totally empty. He had easily put away Gormley at the quarter pole and looked like he was on his way to finish well ahead of that foe. Yet Iliad tied up badly in the final sixteenth, and Gormley was actually coming back at him at the wire while Iliad was nearly in danger of losing second to Term of Art.

I know that he’s a half-brother to marathon runner Melmich, but this horse appears to be cut from a different cloth. He acts like an out-and-out sprinter and the projected fast pace that he’s going to encounter in this race will do him no favors. At anything close to his morning-line odds, I want no part of him.

#10, MILTON FREEWATER (30-1): He’s primarily made a name for himself against California-breds, and his lone start around two turns resulted in a loss to inferior foes. The waters look too deep.

#11, IRISH FREEDOM (20-1): The most positive thing I can say about this runner is that Bob Baffert saw fit to run him in this race. It’s unusual for Baffert to take a shot in one of these Derby preps with a horse that is guaranteed to be one of the longest shots on the board, so that alone is noteworthy. While he has yet to run a particularly fast race, he did work out an impossible trip last time. Breaking from the outside post position, he never could get over to save ground at any point. He launched a wide premature move around the three-eighths pole, but flattened out in the stretch. He has apparently trained well out of that race, and he showed real potential as a 2-year-old when running down Saturday’s  rival Royal Mo to win his maiden at first asking. He has questions to answer, but there is some talent here.

#12, MIDNIGHT PLEASURE (30-1): He made a mild impact on two Grade 1 races as a 2-year-old, but he has since been switched into the barn of his owner, who is winless with 15 starters as a trainer. This one is hard to endorse.

#13, ROYAL MO (10-1): Any hopes his connections might have had that this colt would get back to his Robert B. Lewis-winning form were probably dashed at the post position draw. Unless they decide to revert to the late-running tactics that he employed in his second career start, it seems unlikely that this son of Uncle Mo will be able to work out the right trip. He prefers to be forwardly placed early and there are a number of runners to his inside that will be vying for the same position. That Robert B. Lewis is looking like an especially weak race in retrospect, and my feeling is that this horse was exposed as a bit of a phony in the Rebel last time. I’ll be surprised if he’s able to rebound under these circumstances.

THE PLAY

The three horses that most interest me are Bob Baffert’s pair of Reach the World (#2) and American Anthem (#6), as well as the longshot Kimbear (#7). American Anthem may be the most talented of the three, but he has to overcome a potentially unfavorable pace scenario. Reach the World, on the other hand, just seems like the right horse here. He still has some improving to do, but he seems to have all the tools you need to be successful in this kind of race. Kimbear has the most to prove of this trio, but given a generous price on him, I have to upgrade his chances.

Win: 2  (at odds of 9-2 or greater)

Win/Place: 7  (at odds of 12-1 or greater)

Exacta Box: 2,6,7

Exacta: 2,6,7 with 1,3,8,11

Trifecta: 2 with 6,7,8 with 1,3,6,7,8,11