It’s the Golden State vs. the Bluegrass State Saturday.
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire - Alex Evers
California Chrome, bred in California, takes on seven rivals, all bred in Kentucky, in the Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Derby, the West’s major steppingstone to the 140th Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs on May 3.
The 6-5 morning line favorite for the 77th running of the nine furlong Santa Anita Derby arrived around “noonish yesterday” from his Los Alamitos headquarters, Alan Sherman, son of trainer Art Sherman, said Thursday morning.
“He came in great and he galloped this morning. It’s a good draw (post five of eight). I’m happy with that.” As for the pace scenario, “if someone wants to go, they can go,” Sherman said. “He doesn’t have to be on the lead.”
Victor Espinoza, who has ridden California Chrome in his last three starts, all easy victories, concurred.
“I like my post,” Espinoza said. “Number five is great. There aren’t many horses in the race. I know it’s a tough race, but he’s ready to go. I have a few options. He can go either way. That’s what I like about him. He can rate or he can go to the front.
“He’s been working pretty good, so I’m really looking forward to Saturday. He went nice and easy in 46 and two (in his final major drill at Los Alamitos last Saturday). I wanted to go in 47, but he was doing it so easy, I let him stretch his legs around the race track. For him, it was an easy work.
“I feel confident about him. I think he’s going to run big. Of course, anything can happen, but I wouldn’t change positions with anybody, not at all. I’m good.”
As for the resurgence in his career at 41 under agent Brian Beach, Espinoza gave credit where credit was due.
“Brian’s done a great job for me, working hard finding the right horses to ride, and that makes my job easier in the afternoons,” he said. “Everything’s going well. I’m working hard and riding hard, and I’ll just keep going.”
In other Santa Anita Derby news:
Trainer Mark Glatt on Big Tire: “He runs hard every time and he’s getting better with each race. I don’t think we’ve seen his best yet. It’s a competitive field but he has a chance to hit the board, and the distance should be beneficial.”
Trainer John Sadler on Candy Ride, sire of Candy Boy and Big Tire: “Candy Ride gets a lot of nice horses, there’s no question about that. They come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve had lots of different ones. They’re all good; he’s a good sire.”
Schoolofhardrocks worked four furlongs Thursday for David Hofmans in 49.40. “He had a little blowout this morning,” Hofmans said. “It looks like a tough race to me.”
The field for the Derby, race eight of 11: Rprettyboyfloyd, Rafael Bejarano, 20-1, Friendswith K Mill, Tyler Baze, 20-1; Hoppertunity, Mike Smith, 3-1; Big Tire, Edwin Maldonado, 20-1; California Chrome, Victor Espinoza, 6-5; Candy Boy, Gary Stevens, 9-5; Schoolofhardrocks, Joe Talamo, 10-1; and Dublin Up, Kent Desormeaux, 30-1.
Victory in the Santa Anita Derby is worth 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner. Second is worth 40 points, third, 20, and fourth, 10.
Nearly $2 million in stakes purses will be offered Saturday. In addition, Santa Anita will have a $500,000 guaranteed Late Pick 4 and present free Derby Day T-shirts with paid admission, while supplies last, and have more than 30 premium local food trucks throughout the infield.
The annual Santa Anita Derby Day 5K run also will take place, and the track’s spacious infield will be rocking with popular local breweries and epic cover tunes from Super Diamond, in addition to live world-class horse racing.
Special packages are available at santaanita.com/events. Use promo code DERBY for 50 percent discounts.
Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) will broadcast the Santa Anita Derby from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sirius channel 93 as well as select HRRN affiliates around the country, and streamed worldwide on its website, www.horseracingradio.net.