2019 Santa Anita Derby Expert Picks with Odds and Betting Predictions
The spring of racing at Santa Anita has been, to be frank, a total disaster. Far too many breakdowns caused an unprecedented shutdown and the cancellation of a key prep race. Now they are back racing, but there is an air of nervous uncertainty looming over the track. This race has been the most important Derby prep in the country for the last seven years, producing not only Triple Crown winner Justify last year but also Derby and Preakness winners I'll Have Another in 2012 and California Chrome in 2014 and Preakness winner Exaggerator in 2016. That's eight Triple Crown race wins in the last seven years for winners of this race. Incredible.
But can the race shake off the darkness surrounding Santa Anita right now and continue the streak of excellence? The field is only six horses this year, but four of those horses are brilliant, including one who may very well be our best three-year-old this year. Here is how the field sets up. (Odds are track morning line)
Game Winner (4/5): Trainer Bob Baffert has made this race his personal playground, winning it eight times, including four in the last decade. And not only does he bring the heavy favorite here, but the second choice as well. He's going to be tough to beat. This colt is the reigning two-year-old champion, having won all four races, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. The last three wins were Grade 1s, so he had nothing left to prove. It took him a while to get to the track this year, and when he was due to start the San Felipe was cancelled. He headed to the Rebel instead. He didn't win but ran a solid race and finished a respectable second. The setback isn't a particular concern - as long as he comes back well here. The breeding here is spectacular. He's a son of Candy Ride, the sire of such legends and Shared Belief and Gun Runner. And his damsire is the great A.P. Indy, a stamina factory who has dominated the Triple Crown races as a sire. The talent is massive, and the horse is working great. He's all but impossible to bet at this price, and that makes the race tough to bet overall, but I am a big believer in the colt, and it is his race to lose.
Roadster (5/2): If a horse is going to beat Game Winner, it will be this colt, his stablemate. Roadster was on track to be the star of the incredibly-deep Baffert stable last fall, but a breathing issue in the Del Mar Futurity meant he needed throat surgery, and he was sidelined from the beginning of September to early March. He returned in an allowance race, and he looked solid in the win. Now he's looking to make the stakes splash he couldn't make before. He has no Derby points, so he needs to finish in the top two to get into the Derby field - and he needs at least that to prove he deserves the opportunity. He's training great, and we will get to see what he is made of. I doubt he is as good as Game Winner, but I can't wait to see what he can do.
Instagrand (3/1): This Jerry Hollendorfer-trained colt won two races last year, capped by the Grade 2 Best Pal at Del Mar in August. But then he was out of action for the rest of the year. The hype was around him this spring, but he kept dodging prep races in a way that certainly raised suspicions. He wound up heading to New York for the Gotham, which was a long way to go for an early prep race. And it didn't go well - he was flattered by his third-place finish. He has looked like a sprinter, and it's hard to believe he is more than that after the last race. I am not a believer.
Nolo Contesto (6/1): This colt is a son of Pioneerof The Nile, the sire of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, who tragically died last month at just 13 years of age. The colt is making his stakes debut, but he has shown some spunk in his races so far. In his maiden win in his second outing he beat Omaha Beach, the colt that needed five tries to break his maiden but then came back to beat Game Winner by a nose in the Rebel next time out. Then this colt came out next time and finished second to Roadster in that allowance race. He's messed with some good horses and looked alright. But this is a really tough spot, and I am not crazy about trusting Joe Talamo in the saddle. I'll pass given the field, but in a deeper race he'd be a factor in the exotics.
More Ice and Synthesis (Both 30/1): Synthesis is with a new trainer for this race, and not because he has so much talent that guys were lining up to have him in their barn. And More Ice is a second Hollendorfer horse here and was expected to be in a turf race at Keeneland instead of this spot, and he was likely only entered to fill out the field a bit and earn some brownie points with the race secretary. Typically, when a horse is at a price like this in a field this small, he's just not very good. And that certainly seems true here. Neither horse is a factor in my eyes. Of course, given how the spring has gone this year, that probably means one of them will win the thing.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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