The Santa Anita Derby, a key race for recent Kentucky Derby winners, highlights a trio of 3-year-old stakes races on Saturday 2021 rac that will help fill in the ever-changing 3-year-old picture.
They are the $800,00 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, the $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby.
Here are my betting thought on all three races, in no particular order.
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Santa Anita Derby Picks
The Bob Baffert-trained Medina Spirit is the 5-2 morning line favorite. No problem there. He’s a tough customer out of a top barn and must be respected. But let’s not forget that he’s also pinch-hitting for absent stablemate Life Is Good after that colt suffered a leg injury
I’m backing Rock Your World (4-1) to post a mild upset, given the John Sadler trainee has a sterling dirt pedigree even though he won his first two starts on the lawn. He’s also been working lights out on the main track. Umberto Rispoli has the call.
Blue Grass Stakes Picks
The Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes drew the day’s star attraction among its nine entrants. Essential Quality, 4-for-4 and last year’s 2-year-old champion after winning the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, is the 3-5 morning line choice.
There appears to be little speed in the race, but that shouldn’t matter to a horse that usually races fairly close to the pace.
I’m intrigued by two other horses entered in the race: the Todd Pletcher-trained Untreated (10-1) and Keepmeinmind (8-1).
The former is taking a huge step up in class off a maiden score at Tampa Bay, but lands top rider Joel Rosario for the attempt. Rosario could have ridden serious contenders at either Aqueduct or Santa Anita on Saturday, so the fact he ends up here is interesting, to say the least.
Keepmeinmind, on the other hand, didn’t do much running in his 3-year-old debut in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, but was a top 2-year-old last year for trainer Robertino Diodoro and is eligible to improve in his second start off a layoff. Being a closer won’t help in this paceless field, however.
Wood Memorial Race
Risk Taking, the winner of the Grade 2 Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct is the 5-2 morning line favorite.
The Chad Brown trained son of Medaglia d’Oro has won twice at the distance, jumping up in class following his maiden score Dec. 20 to take the Grade 3 Withers Stakes on Feb. 6. He also attracts top jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. to ride.
I’m going to try to beat him with Brooklyn Strong (6-1). The son of Wicked Strong, trained by Danny Velazquez and to be ridden for the first time by Manny Franco, should get a ground-saving trip from the rail and was flattered by last weekend’s Grade 1 Florida Derby winner, Known Agenda, whom he easily beat in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at this distance and track last year.
For exotics, I’ll also use Candy Man Rocket (12-1), who broke slowly in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby in his last start and finished well up the track. The Bill Mott-trained colt looks like the quickest horse in the field and moves back to the outer portion in the starting gate, a position from which he cruised in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes. He might not want to run this far, but I expect him to be on or near the lead in the upper stretch.