ARCADIA, Calif. – Santa Anita Derby, the twists and turns on the Kentucky Derby trail took another hairpin curve on Thursday afternoon when it was announced that Hear the Ghost, the San Felipe Stakes winner, would miss the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on Saturday because of an injury. He becomes the third horse, following Fountain of Youth winner Violence and Risen Star winner Ive Struck a Nerve, to be removed from consideration for the May 4 Kentucky Derby after winning a prep worth 50 points to the winner.
Jerry Hollendorfer, who trains Hear the Ghost and owns him with Ted Aroney, said the injury was detected after Hear the Ghost trained at Hollywood Park on Thursday morning. Hollendorfer did not disclose the nature of the injury, but said he is off the Kentucky Derby trail.
“We’re not going to run him,” Hollendorfer said. “We’re not going to take a chance. With time, he’ll come back 100 percent.”
The defection of Hear the Ghost leaves a field of eight for the Santa Anita Derby, and makes Flashback, the San Felipe runner-up, an even stronger favorite for the race now that the only horse to defeat him is out.
With three Kentucky Derby victories and a record six in the Santa Anita Derby, trainer Bob Baffert is well aware that anything that happened heretofore this spring with his 3-year-olds doesn’t matter, because as the days get shorter to the Kentucky Derby, the preps get longer, and the 1 1/8 miles of the Santa Anita Derby begins the ontrack culling process.
“You start separating horses, find out the ones that want to go on,” said Baffert, who sends out Flashback, Power Broker, and Super Ninety Nine. “We’ll find out Saturday which horses want to go on.”
That will be the compelling nature Saturday of both the Santa Anita Derby and the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Racetrack, which is headed by Verrazano, Normandy Invasion, and Vyjack. Both races are worth 170 Kentucky Derby points overall, with 100 going to the winner, under the system put in place this year by Churchill Downs to determine the starting field for the Kentucky Derby. Both races will be shown on NBC Sports Network in a 90-minute telecast beginning at 3 p.m. Pacific.
One of the intriguing aspects of this Santa Anita Derby is the prism through which to view the race: last month’s San Felipe Stakes. Three of the top four finishers from that race – Flashback, Tiz a Minister, and Goldencents, in that order – are back for an encore performance, and five others have jumped in. But was the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe a preview of coming attractions, with Flashback and Goldencents finding the distances increasingly challenging, or did the race shape – with fast early fractions – tell the tale?
The viewpoints are as varied as in “Rashomon.”
Baffert believes Flashback was relaxed the initial part of the San Felipe, but took off when he was taken off the rail going around the first turn and found a willing rival in Goldencents, who “put it to him,” Baffert said.
Kevin Krigger, aboard Goldencents, thought Flashback’s early bid compromised the chances of both Goldencents and Flashback.
“I think this race will be different from the San Felipe,” Krigger said. “I think the pace will be more relaxed in here. I don’t think Flashback will be head-and-head with me going into the turn or around the turn, and I think that will give us a fairer chance at having a more relaxed scenario.”
Flashback drew the rail, but is expected to try and stalk with new jockey Garrett Gomez, as stablemate Super Ninety Nine sets off for the lead.
“Super Ninety Nine will be on the lead,” Baffert said Thursday morning at Santa Anita.
Flashback was aided by the hard race in the San Felipe in that it “toughened him up,” Baffert said.
Power Broker, idle since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, has trained sharply for his first start in five months.
“He’s got a good foundation,” Baffert said. “He’s ready. He can handle the distance.”
Tiz a Minister was a close third in the San Felipe, beaten just one length. He would benefit from a contested early pace.
“We’re going to sit back, hoping some of the horses get in a hot pace battle,” said his trainer, Paul Aguirre. “He’s doing fantastic.”
There are three others in the race, each of whom owns only a maiden win.
Storm Fighter was an easy winner against California-breds in his first start around two turns March 2 following a pair of sprints.
“He’s an extremely good-looking horse,” said trainer Bruce Headley. “We have high hopes for him.”
Summer Exclusive won his lone start, a sprint on March 2 in which he attended a quick pace before going on to win. His presence would seemingly increase the likelihood of sharp early fractions.
Dirty Swagg has not raced since finishing last of five behind Goldencents in the Sham Stakes Jan. 5. His two worst races have been on Santa Anita’s main track.
The Santa Anita Derby takes place with some soap-opera drama as a backdrop at Santa Anita Park. Baffert and Doug O’Neill, the trainer of Goldencents, are not close, their feud highlighted by an ugly restaurant spat at Del Mar last summer following the private sale of Richard’s Kid. Similarly, Peter Miller, who trains Summer Exclusive, has had issues with Baffert’s camp, believing, among other things, Baffert has sent out multiple horses to tag-team Miller in stakes races.
In addition, Santa Anita announced Wednesday it was going to conduct surveillance on all Santa Anita Derby runners during the 72 hours before the race. The surveillance was not initiated by the California Horse Racing Board, but instead is being conducted through an agreement between Santa Anita and the Thoroughbred Owners of California, with funding from a group of horsemen. Among them are the connections of Santa Anita Derby entrant Storm Fighter – Headley and owner Golden Eagle Farm – which could be seen as a conflict of interest.
The Santa Anita Derby is the ninth race on an 11-race card, beginning at noon Pacific, which also features the Grade 1, $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks, with champion 2-year-old filly Beholder heading a field of six. The Santa Anita Oaks is worth 170 points overall, 100 to the winner, towards the May 3 Kentucky Oaks.
There are three other stakes on the card, two graded, most notably the Grade 2, $150,000 Potrero Grande for older sprinters, whose eight entrants include Malibu winner Jimmy Creed and the popular, hard-hitting Comma to the Top.
There is a $750,000 guarantee on the late pick four, encompassing races 8 through 11. There is also a T-shirt giveaway, and the infield will have a beer festival, food trucks, and live music.