Updated on 09/16/2011 7:07AM

Will the best horse win?


ARCADIA, Calif. - Mayakovsky has the best early speed. Easy Grades has the race's winningest rider. Danthebluegrassman has a trainer who has won the race four times in the last six years. U S S Tinosa already has won at the distance. These are the strengths each will carry into Saturday's $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, in which they will try to beat Came Home, who is, quite simply, the race's best horse.

Came Home has won five times in six starts, his lone loss coming in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He won his only start around two turns. He displayed an ability to comfortably sit behind horses in his last victory, the March 2 San Rafael Stakes. He will, however, be trying to negotiate 1 1/8 miles for the first time, having never won beyond a mile previously.

Came Home is by Gone West, whose offspring tend to prefer middle-distance races at best, and he is out of a mare by Clever Trick, whose offspring usually want shorter distances. Nine furlongs, on paper, may be beyond Came Home's optimum distance. There are plenty of horses, though, like Kentucky Derby winners Bold Forbes and Spend a Buck, and Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, whose whose speed and class formed an unbeatable combination. And while a number of horses with seemingly better distance pedigrees will still be trying to win a maiden race on Saturday's card, Came Home is the 6-5 morning-line favorite in the West's premier prep for the May 4 Kentucky Derby.

"There are so many exceptions when it comes to heredity and genetics. I'd rather go with class and sheer talent," Chris McCarron, the regular rider for Came Home, said Thursday morning at Santa Anita. "The distance is of no concern to me."

Eight were entered Thursday morning in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, with Came Home landing post four. From the rail out, Came Home is surrounded by Jack's Silver, Danthebluegrassman, Lusty Latin, U S S Tinosa, Mayakovsky, Proud Citizen, and Easy Grades. All carry 122 pounds.

Proud Citizen was a surprise entry for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, whose Derby stock is anemic this year. Proud Citizen has one win in four starts, never has raced beyond seven furlongs, and has not raced since Sept. 1, when he was sixth of seven in the Hopeful Stakes. He was expected to head to Keeneland for Sunday's seven-furlong Lafayette Stakes. Tracemark, a winner of 1 of 12 starts, was not supplemented to the Santa Anita Derby for $15,000, and will instead go in next week's California Derby at Bay Meadows.

The Santa Anita Derby is the fifth race on an 11-race card that begins at noon and has two supporting stakes, the San Bernardino Handicap for older horses, and the Arcadia Handicap for turf horses. Post time for the Santa Anita Derby is 2:40 Pacific time. The race is linked with Saturday's Illinois Derby for a Derby Double wager.

Mayakovsky comes off a front-running comeback victory in the Gotham Stakes March 17, and figures to make the lead here. More than Came Home, he has questions regarding his ability to handle nine furlongs. "If he doesn't run well, we will go to the Met Mile," said his trainer, Patrick Biancone.

Came Home should end up in a stalking position, much as he did in the San Rafael.

Danthebluegrassman figures to be prominent, too. Attempts to rate him in a recent workout were not well received by the colt, so "we'll put him in the race early," said his trainer, Bob Baffert, who has won this race four times.

Easy Grades, who had the outside post position in the San Rafael, drew the far outside again. He had a wide trip in the San Rafael, but kept to his task and ran second. With a better trip, and the prospect of a hotter pace this time, he could be score a mild upset. And his jockey, Gary Stevens, has won the Santa Anita Derby eight times, tying a record held by Bill Shoemaker.

U S S Tinosa won the Sham Stakes at 1 1/8 miles here in February, then was second to Medaglia d'Oro, while beating Siphonic, in the San Felipe Stakes on March 17.

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