With the Kentucky Derby just four short weeks away, Triple Crown hopefuls are making their final preps over the next two weeks. With this in mind, the most important race this weekend had to be the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, the richest race of the day with $750,000 up for grabs. Arguably the best three year olds on the West Coast entered in this event, with just seven making the gate. The lukewarm 2-1 favorite was St Averil, with Wimbledon the second choice at 5-2. Unfortunately the upset theme that has plagued the Triple Crown trail this year struck again.
Castledale winning the Santa Anita Derby over Rock Hard Ten who was eventually disqualified for interference.
34-1 shot Lucky Pulpit and 7-1 Quintons Gold Rush battled on the front end early on, through a hotly contested pace of 22.87, 46.84, and 1:11.11, as Rock Hard Ten stayed in close contention in third. Turning for home, 5-1 shot Imperialism, who trailed the field early, moved up strongly in his bid for the lead, as did 30-1 outsider Castledale who was widest of all. Down the lane, Castledale rallied well, and in deep stretch, collared Rock Hard Ten to win by a head in 1:49.24 for the 1 1/8 miles. It was 2 lengths back to the late closing Imperialism. Favored St Averil finished sixth. Rock Hard Ten drifted in on Imperialism causing the latter to check at the 1/16 pole, so the stewards disqualified him from second and placed him third. Jockey David Flores aboard Rock Hard Ten claimed foul against Castledale and Jose Valdivia Jr. but that claim was disallowed.
Jose Validivia up on Castledale in the winner's circle with trainer Jeff Mullins to the right.
Winning jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. said, "It was amazing. I saw him run the last time in the San Rafael, I thought he was very impressive, I just thought he got tired. You have to ride him like a turf horse." Asked about the inquiry, "My horse is about fourteen hands tall, compared to Rock Hard Ten who's about sixteen hands tall. So I just followed David Flores down the lane, and I know David started coming down on people, but my horse is so small I didn't come into contact with anyone. I just kind of followed him in there. I would hate to be in the stewards' shoes to make decisions like this. When the money's on the line the riders are going to be more aggressive than usual, especially in a race of this magnitude."
Winning trainer Jeff Mullins said, "We'll let the horse come out of the race and we'll make a decision (on the Kentucky Derby). Nothing's etched in stone right now so we'll see how the horse comes out and let him tell us whether he's ready to go."
Imperialism enters the paddock for the Santa Anita Derby.
Victor Espinoza, aboard Imperialism, finished third but placed second, said, "Unfortunately the other horses came into me and I just got stuck. There was nothing I could do about it. I was just thinking about getting there right at the wire but sometimes it doesn't work out that way. Everything was nice and smooth (at first). I was cutting the corners sharp and everything it was great, but then we turned for home and there was no way I was going to compete. I tried to get to the right to have a chance, but I got stuck pretty quick. But I think this horse has a good chance to win the Kentucky Derby."
Rock Hard Ten in the walking ring before the race.
David Flores aboard Rock Hard Ten said, "Well, with the stewards, you don't know what they're going to do. My horse he ran a great race and I think that's going to move him up a lot. This was the first time he had competition and he fought and fought all the way. A mile and an eighth his third time out is a lot, but this horse is capable of doing it, (Trainer) Jason (Orman)'s just got to keep trying him. He feels like a quality horse and he's going to get better."
Tyler Baze, aboard beaten favorite St Averil, said, "He just wasn't the same horse today. To tell you the truth I think he was sick or something. I was after him at the 5/8 pole and he wouldn't go. He's never been that bad before. He's always needed to be ridden hard but there was definitely something wrong." Trainer Rafael Becerra added, "I'm going to find out (why he ran so poorly). I'm going to scope him and see if he bled. He (Tyler Baze) was whipping him; he was after him all the way, I could see that. From the 5/8 to the 3/8 pole he didn't have it."
At Hawthorne Race Course in Chicago, eleven went to post in the $500,000 Illinois Derby, a Grade 2 event over 1 1/8 miles. 17-10 favorite Pollard's Vision led at every call to win going away by 2 3/4 lengths over 7-2 second choice Song of the Sword in a time of 1:50.80 for the 1 1/8 mile distance. It was another 2 3/4 lengths back to 9-2 third choice Suave in third.
Winning jockey Eibar Coa said, "Everything worked out with the plan that we had. We wanted to be close to the pace and that was the way we broke. By the first turn we had the lead to ourselves and we were running very easy. By the 1/4 pole I was a little concerned, I saw the horses coming. But I knew I had plenty of horse left and he gave it to me when I asked." Ginny DiPasquale, assistant to winning trainer Todd Pletcher, said, "We're really proud of him. He's such a game little horse. He tries every time. He can sense the horses running at him, whether he can see them or not, we don't know, and he always tries a little harder. But he doesn't really have to see the horse. He just has to know they are there. He's been maturing with every race. He's got a little bit of an attitude which is good, especially developing at this time of the year. We could be heading to Kentucky for the Derby. We'll have to wait and see."
Richard Migliore, aboard second place finisher Song of the Sword, said, "We got to the 3/8 pole and it looked like the eventual winner was going pretty easy and I thought it was time to apply some pressure to take him. My horse ran hard; we just couldn't beat him. The other horse just kept finding an answer for us. We ran well considering it was only the fourth start of his life."
Trainer Paul McGee, of third place finisher Suave, said, "I feel like he ran a good race. We got into a little trouble going into the first turn and ran a very credible race considering the trouble we got in early. I thought we would be a little closer to the pace. He came with a little bit of run turning for home but we couldn't catch the winner. We thought he got an easier lead than we had expected. We are not sure where we are going next. The Derby is a possibility but the earnings are a factor, we have to see if we have enough to get in."
Kaufy Mate winner of the Aventura Stakes.
At Gulfstream Park, some outside Triple Crown hopefuls were entered in the $250,000 Aventura Stakes over 1 1/16 miles on the main track. 5-1 third choice Kaufy Mate stalked the early pace of 2-1 favorite Forest Grove through a half in 48.39 then split rivals on the far turn, drawing clear through the stretch to win by 4 1/2 lengths over 4-1 second choice Humorously in 1:44.67. It was just a neck back to 13-1 shot Baronage, while favored Forest Grove faltered late and finished seventh in the field of eight. Winning jockey Manoel Cruz said, "My first thought was to send him when he broke good. I just wanted to be to be 1-2-3, but I decided if I couldn't rate him I would send him. But he rated good for me. At the half-mile pole I had a ton of horse so I sent him then and he really took off for me." Trainer Kirk Ziadie said, "I give all my credit to my owner for nominating this horse because I didn't want to put him in here. I wanted to put him on the shelf. We got him patched up as best we could and now we can give him the break. This is not a Derby horse. He's still playing. He's got his ears flicking around, and you never know, he could get better and better, but this horse has had some problems."
Madcap Escapade winner of the Ashland Stakes.
The fillies had their event too, as a compact field of four went in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes over 1 1/16 miles at Keeneland. Five were originally drawn but Halfbridled was scratched the day before the race. 7-10 favorite Madcap Escapade lived up to expectation, making all the running and extending her lead to 2 1/2 lengths after a mile in 1:37.49, and then holding off the late charge of 17-10 second choice Ashado to win by 1/2 a length in 1:44.55. Winning jockey Rene Douglas said, "It couldn't have gone any better. We had a very easy opening quarter and she just cruised right along. She was looking at the starting gate on the turn for home and kind of hesitated a bit. I was concerned when I saw Ashado coming but we had enough left to win. I'm just very thankful to be able to get back on this filly." Trainer Frank Brothers added, "There is not a question that she is a special filly. She's been that way from day one. She is by far the best filly I've trained." Madcap Escapade was one of the 14 late nominees to the Kentucky Derby so she could go there or the Oaks next.