There are three main tracks I watch intently when it comes to Kentucky Derby prep races – Santa Anita, Gulfstream, and Oaklawn Park.
Oaklawn started its run of prep races last week with the Smarty Jones. Santa Anita and Gulfstream jump into the earnest fray this Saturday with the running of the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita and the Holy Bull at Gulfstream.
Let us look at the runners in the Lewis 1-1/16 mile test over the main track at Santa Anita. The race is the 7th on the Santa Anita card and scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. post.
There are eight horses set to go to post.
When you think of potential West Coast Kentucky Derby horses, obviously Bob Baffert horses are going to occupy your thoughts. That is no exception here as Baffert will send out a pair of highly thought of runners in this early part of the campaign.
Spielberg (Baffert/Flavian Prat/7-2) is the $1 million horse that is coming off a nose win in the Los Al Futurity in mid-December. The horse has run six times already and why all horses have a birthday of January 1, Spielberg is a February born horse and is further ahead of others right now.
That will not mean as much when we get to May, but right now it does and why Spielberg is one to watch here. He got an 81 in the win at Los Al, rushing home to win in a head bob, beating out The Great One, who came back to win his next start.
Medina Spirit (Baffert/Abel Cedillo/2-1) is the other Baffert horse and is coming off a solid second in the Sham over the Santa Anita track at 9-1. He pushed the pace throughout in the one-mile race and was closing at the end. The added distance should help here in his career third start. The 99 Beyer he earned from the race is easily the best mark in the field.
Hot Rod Charlie (O’Neill/Joel Rosario/3-1) is also out of the O’Neill barn and was second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at 94-1. It took four, well-bet starts before he won a race, but he did follow the win with the second in the Juvenile, so perhaps the light went off. We shall see!
Wipe the Slate (Doug O’Neill/Mario Gutierrez/4-1) could be interesting for the Kentucky Derby winning connections. The horse has two starts, finishing 9-lengths back from the highly thought of Life Is Good, before rallying for a 3-length win in his second effort.
The last start was on December 26 at Santa Anita and since then the horse has put together a string of nice works. Could be another runner that has yet to find a preferred running style.
Rombauer (Michael McCarthy/Mike Smith/8-1) may be a wonderful Chardonnay but might be a level below the favorites. Of course, when Smith takes the mount, the horse deserves attention and Smith did ride him to a second in the American Pharoah at Santa Anita, beating out Spielberg in the process at 11-1. But that was followed by a fifth in the BC Juvenile at 26-1. He has shown there is something there and with Smith up, you might have a good value play.
Roman Centurian (Simon Callaghan/Juan Hernandez/8-1) is a $550,000 runner by Empire Maker that had a weak career debut losing by 12-plus lengths in a sprint, but then rallied for an impressive closing run to win his second start by over three lengths while going two turns in early January. Hernandez has been up in both mounts and it will be interesting to see what running style the connections prefer.
Parnelli (John Shirreffs/Umberto Rispoli/12-1) is the third-place finisher from the Sham, but before you get too excited, he was 13-lengths back from the top two. He started mid-pack, then progressively fell back along the way.
Waspirant (Shirreffs/Ricardo Gonzalez/20-1) is the other Shirreffs jumps off here for Parnelli. The horse has only hit the board once in four starts, a maiden win in late August. The most recent start was a fourth in the 5-horse Sham field, finishing 19-lengths off the pace. Will be the longshot here, but one thing Gonzalez – the former Northern California jockey – has done is bring home some long priced horses in big races.
By Dennis Miller