04/07/2016 1:16PM

Wet track adds intrigue to Santa Anita Derby

Barbara D. Livingston
Danzing Candy has never raced on an off track but has a strong wet-track Tomlinson rating of 404.

ARCADIA, Calif. – As winter neared, the weather forecast for Southern California was dire. El Nino was coming, and with it the rain. But except for a brief spell of showers in January, Santa Anita largely has been spared a wet, wild meet.

That may change this weekend.

The forecast from The Weather Channel for Saturday at Santa Anita is for a 100 percent chance of rain, following showers predicted for Thursday night into Friday. On Thursday morning, that was very much on the mind of the trainers of the top two contenders in the Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Derby on Saturday.

“I’d rather run in slop than mud,” said Cliff Sise Jr., who sends out the speedy Danzing Candy.

“I hope it’s not a hard, sealed track,” said Bob Baffert, who sends out the late-running Mor Spirit.

Danzing Candy and Mor Spirit finished one-two last month in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe. Jon White, the linemaker at Santa Anita, has Mor Spirit favored at 8-5 and Danzing Candy next at 9-5 for Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile race.

Danzing Candy has never raced on an off track but has a strong wet-track Tomlinson rating of 404.

“I think with his action, he’ll be fine with it,” Sise said. “He travels like a horse who should like the slop.”

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Mor Spirit was second on a sloppy, sealed track at Churchill Downs last fall in the Kentucky Jockey Club, his only start on an off track.

Danzing Candy and Mor Spirit will line up alongside one another in posts 3 and 4 in a field that was reduced to nine on Friday morning when Dressed in Hermes was scratched by trainer Janet Armstrong. Sise said the inside draw forces his hand. He’s going to the lead.

“That’s all you can do coming out of the 3 hole,” he said.

Danzing Candy will need a sharp break. That was a problem for him in his first three races, but he was much better in the San Felipe. He made a visit to the starting gate for a schooling session Thursday and was set to return Friday.

“We’re trying to teach him to stand and relax,” Sise said. “He got a little antsy this morning.”

As for Sise, he said he was calm 48 hours out. “Saturday, I’ll be nervous,” he said.

Exaggerator, Uncle Lino, and Smokey Image – who were third, fourth, and fifth in the San Felipe – are back for more.

Iron Rob and Denman’s Call, one-two in the six-furlong San Pedro last month, stretch out and add speed to the lineup.

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Rare Candy, still eligible for a first-level allowance, has been gelded since his last start and will try to pull off another upset at this meet for trainer David Hofmans, owner Susan Osborne’s Tarabilla Farms, and jockey Joe Talamo, who teamed to win the Santa Anita Handicap with Melatonin.

Diplodocus, also eligible for a first-level allowance, has not raced since a troubled trip in the El Camino Real Derby on Tapeta at Golden Gate Fields eight weeks ago.

The Santa Anita Derby is worth 170 qualifying points overall, including 100 to the winner, under the system used by Churchill Downs to determine the field for the May 7 Kentucky Derby should more than the maximum of 20 enter.

It goes as race 8 on a 12-race card that begins at noon Pacific. Post time for the Santa Anita Derby is scheduled for approximately 3:45 p.m. It will be shown live as part of a two-hour telecast on NBCSN, beginning at 2 p.m. Pacific, that also includes two other major Derby preps, the Wood Memorial from Aqueduct and the Blue Grass from Keeneland.

There are five other stakes on the card, most notably the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks, in which the unbeaten champion filly Songbird will try to solidify her position as the favorite for the Kentucky Oaks on May 6. Her rivals include the promising Bellamentary, whose ownership group, Little Red Feather Racing, has had a strong run of success in recent weeks and whose trainer, Phil D’Amato, led the standings heading into the final four days of the meet, which closes Sunday.

Santa Anita Derby, Race 8


Danzing Candy, by Twirling Candy

Last 3 Beyers: 100-92-89

◗ He has improved his speed figures with every start, and no two-turn Derby prep has had a faster winning figure than his in the San Felipe.

◗ He is 3 for 3 with Mike Smith, who is back aboard.

Mor Spirit, by Eskendereya

Last 3 Beyers: 97-93-88

◗ He turned in a sensational final workout Monday, and the extra distance of this race should only help this long-fused runner.

◗ His training schedule was compromised heading into the San Felipe. Jockey Gary Stevens “will have more horse to work with” this time, Baffert said.

“He needs to run first or second,” Baffert said. “Danzing Candy is going to be tough.”

Exaggerator, by Curlin

Last 3 Beyers: 96-98-92

◗ He was third-best in the San Felipe, flattening out after a midrace move, but he still got a strong figure, and his second to Nyquist in his prior start puts him right there against these.