News and STORIES

A Trip to Kentucky on the Line in The Runhappy Santa Anita Derby

Author: Chris Adams
Published: Wednesday March 31, 2021
The Santa Anita Derby has been a crucial race for the Kentucky Derby in years’ past. It has always been seen as the premiere West Coast Kentucky Derby prep race and will guarantee the winner a post on the first Saturday in May. Bettors would be wise to pay attention to this race as the winner has gone on to win the Derby 10 times including triple crown winners Affirmed and Justify. Losing the race however does not mean an end of Derby dreams as seven Kentucky Derby winners were beaten in this race before getting to the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs. Among those was last year’s Derby winner, Authentic.

Triple crown winning trainer, Bob Baffert, has won this race nine times including two of the last three. Baffert has three probable entries in Roman Centurian, Defunded, and Medina Spirit in this year’s edition.

Significant Stories Heading Into the 2021 Santa Anita Derby

  • Life is Good is out: Bob Baffert looked to have the stand alone favorite in this race and into the Kentucky Derby with his colt Life is Good. However, it was announced in late March that Life is Good would be off the Derby trail. This created a great amount of parody in the Santa Anita Derby and in the Kentucky Derby. Life is Good beat many of the race’s probables easily in the San Felipe Stakes in March.
  • Hot Rod Charlie flatters the Californians: The debate over which string of horses is better seems to be leaning west coast after Hot Rod Charlie shipped out of California and won the Louisiana Derby over some derby hopefuls including Brad Cox’s Mandaloun. This is significant because Hot Rod Charlie lost to two of the top contenders in this race, Roman Centurian and Medina Spirit in the Robert B. Lewis in January. 

The Probable Favorite

Medina Spirit is 2 for 4 lifetime with the two losses coming in second place finishes to Life is Good who is off the Derby Trail. This one is likely to be the shorter price of the Baffert trained horses come Saturday.

The Likely Contenders

  • Roman Centurian enters the race coming off of two consecutive stakes defeats for Bob Baffert, but is ridden by one of the top jockeys in the Santa Anita colony, Juan Hernandez and has been within a head of the likely race favorite. 
  • Defunded comes off an impressive maiden special weight victory. The question here will be class as this will be the horse’s first race against winners. Trainer Bob Baffert has been known to do damage with colts that get on the Derby trail late including triple crown winner, Justify.
  • Dream Shake is very lightly raced with only two tries under his belt including an incredibly impressive maiden score. He gets one of the best timing riders in the country with Joel Rosario aboard.
  • Rock Your World is undefeated in two career starts. This will be his first chance to prove himself against graded stakes company.
  • Get Her Number won the American Pharoah Stakes before a winter layoff. This will be the 2nd race off the layoff and a return to the track of his last grade 1 victory.
  • Rombauer for Michael McCarthy is now pointing back to this race after Life is Good scratched. This colt already has Derby points after winning the El Camino Real.
Other listed probables include: The Great One, Parnelli, Law Professor, Outtothelegend, and Back Ring Luck.

Handicapping the 2021 Edition

When handicapping this year’s edition of the Santa Anita Derby, there are a number of things to consider.

The first significant item of note is that many of these horses have already faced each other in previous prep races. Given the horses' young age they are still developing and these previous results may or may not be repeated depending on how the horses have matured since the last effort. For this reason class may not play as big of a role in the outcome as it might when facing foes from other circuits or when these horses start to enter their four year old seasons.

Another factor in determining who will win this year’s edition will be the speed and pace setup.

Daily Horse Picks' speed bias analysis shows that at Santa Anita horses with a speed designation of “fastest” have fared the best. This result has been amplified when a horse rated fastest also has a pace designation of “leader” or “deep closer”. These designations can be found on each race page on DHP. 

Stamina will Play a Major Role

For many of the horses in this race the nine furlong distance will be the furthest they have ever traveled so stamina will likely play a major role in the race’s final moments.

With so many unknowns in the race, young horses rapidly developing, longer distances, etc, it may also be helpful to find the best connections. A well timed ride by a top jockey may just be enough for the winner to get across the wire. A trainer with a history of getting horses ready for the Derby may have the workout regime to put a little more stamina into the horse as the stretch out.

A horse with both of these in his favor may be able to separate himself from the field. This year’s contest will include a number of the best riders and trainers at Santa Anita including leading jockey Flavien Prat and the aforementioned trainer, Bob Baffert who will likely end up with two or three in the starting gate. Daily Horse Picks has winning statistics for each jockey and trainer as well as their in-the-money percentages which can be vital to determining horses that will round out exacta, trifecta, and superfecta wagers. 

The Santa Anita Derby has historically had a significant impact on the run for the roses, particularly in recent years, and the 2021 edition appears on paper to be no different.