As the calendar flips to 2012, the next Kentucky Derby winner turns three-years-old and their connections map out a four-month campaign that will lead them to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
The road to Louisville, Ky. through California goes through Santa Anita Park, where the trail culminates with the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (Grade I) run over 1 1/8-miles on April 7. It’s been over two decades since the Santa Anita Derby winner went on to win the Kentucky Derby, when it happened in back-to-back years from 1988-89 with Winning Colors and Sunday Silence.
In the 90’s, Real Quiet and Silver Charm, both trained by Bob Baffert, exited runner-up efforts in the Santa Anita Derby ahead of Kentucky Derby glory, and Giacomo, the only Kentucky Derby winner to come through California in the last 10 years, finished fourth in the 2005 Santa Anita Derby before lighting up the tote at 50-to-1 at Churchill Downs.
Baffert hasn’t won the Kentucky Derby since 2002 when he scored for the third time in six years with War Emblem, who took the Illinois/Louisiana trail to Louisville. That drought could end in 2012 with the cavalcade of talent stabled with the silver-haired wizard, which also means he’s likely to again ship some of his runners to other circuits for their preps.
At this early stage, Baffert’s Liaison, whose sire Indian Charlie ended his career with a third-place effort in the Kentucky Derby in 1998 after winning the Santa Anita Derby, is the leading contender from California off his win in the Cash Call Futurity (Grade I) at Hollywood Park on December 17 that pushed his career earnings to $469,560.
A fourth-place finish in the Futurity also puts stable mate Sky Kingdom on the radar. Both will potentially make their next starts at Santa Anita in the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis run over 1 1/16-miles on February 4.
Second to Liaison in both the Cash Call Futurity and the Real Quiet Stakes, California-bred Rousing Sermon, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, could also show up in the Robert B. Lewis, as could the third-place Futurity finisher Brother Francis, who has yet to break his maiden for James Cassidy.
A perfect 3-for-3 to start his career, including the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint at Churchill Downs in November, Baffert’s Secret Circle is likely to stretch out to a route of ground for the first time in the $100,000 Sham Stakes (Grade III) on January 7 at Santa Anita.
Named after the 1973 winner of the Santa Anita Derby who went on to finish second behind Secretariat in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, the first local three-year-old prep that goes at a mile on the main track is also likely to include Hierro, who broke his maiden at Churchill Downs in November for the nation’s leading trainer Steve Asmussen.
The final prep for the Santa Anita Derby comes on March 10 with the $300,000 San Felipe Stakes (Grade II) also run at 1 1/16-miles, which is where we could see the return of Creative Cause, who has been given a break by trainer Mike Harrington since running third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Grade I).
Creative Cause has already earned $521,000 off multiple graded stakes wins along with a runner-up effort in the Del Mar Futurity (Grade I) to Drill, who is also trained by Baffert and was at the head of the juvenile class before getting drilled in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Delta Jackpot (Grade III) and Cash Call Futurity.
With earnings of over $681,000 after winning the Delta Jackpot, Asmussen’s Sabercat is stabled at Santa Anita and will also likely be pointed to the San Felipe.
It’s probable we’ve mentioned at least some of the runners that will emerge from California to head east for the Kentucky Derby, but with the abundance of talent on the back side that ranges across many top barns, it would be no surprise to see other names get in the mix.
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