Head to Head: Handicapping the Santa Anita Derby

Head to Head: Handicapping the Santa Anita Derby
Photo: Santa Anita / Benoit Photo

Saturday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby concludes the Western Kentucky Derby preps. The 1 1/8 mile contest offers Derby qualifying points on a scale of 100-40-30-20-10 to the top five finishers.

The top three finishers in the San Felipe Stakes (G2) return in the Santa Anita Derby, led by Practical Move. Toss in runners-up from the Sunland Derby (G3), Sham Stakes (G3), and a Japanese invader, and we have an exciting lineup.

Ashley Tamulonis of Coast To Coast and I see the race as cut-and-dried, but there are no sure things in racing.



1.  I Don’t Get It (20-1)

I Don’t Get It didn’t get it in his first couple starts, rounding out the superfecta in both a 6 1/2-furlong and a mile maiden event. However, he hit the gate in his debut and stumbled badly in his second start, so with a clean exit from the gate, the Cloud Computing colt finally got his picture taken. His Brisnet speed ratings have improved in each start, culminating with a 95 last out. He was fourth behind Skinner in his second race and bested Dazzlemesilver last out. Trainer Doug O’Neill is 17 percent with last-race maiden winners (46 percent in the money), so this guy could be an interesting long shot. Exotics.


I Don’t Get It. No, really, I don’t get it. This last-out maiden winner’s speed ratings are improving, but his final time for 1 1/6 miles was a pokey 1:43.76, roughly two seconds slower than the San Felipe (G2). The O’Neill trainee had a pre-race five-furlong gate breeze in company. He was slow out of the gate but eventually caught up and stayed a neck in front of Ceiling Crusher, an optional claiming class runner. However, I Don’t Get It shut down as his mate picked it up past the wire. I Don’t Get It is a lumbering one-paced type who runs with his head down. Doug O’Neill is winless in his last seven starts with the last-out maiden to stakes angle. Pass.

2.   Dazzlemesilver (50-1)

Dazzlemesilver has so far failed to dazzle, running a non-threatening third in both career starts. Trainer Keith Desormeaux is obviously hoping that the third time’s the charm, but it might not hurt to look around for a rabbit’s foot or something. Pass.

Dazzlemesilver is still a maiden and finished a non-threatening third behind I Don’t Get It last time out. Usually, I have a soft spot for Desormeaux runners, but I’m not dazzled this time. Pass.

3.  Geaux Rocket Ride (3-1)

By Candy Ride, Geaux Rocket Ride blasted off for the lead in his debut and never looked back, lengthening his advantage to eventually cross the wire 5 3/4 lengths the best. He earned a sparkling 97 Brisnet speed figure for that effort. He doubled down on that to run a gallant second in the San Felipe (G2) in just his second start, 2 1/2 lengths behind winner Practical Move. Trainer Richard Mandella is 27 percent with beaten favorites (54 percent in the money) and 25 percent with second-time routers (63 percent in the money). Flavien Prat remains aboard and is 33 percent with Mandella (100 percent in the money). Contender.


Geaux Rocket Ride had a good trip in the San Felipe (G2) but didn’t get to cut the corner like Practical Move did. Could he have been closer? Maybe. By Candy Ride out of an Uncle Mo mare, Geaux Rocket Ride should handle the extra distance, but I think Practical Move has his number. Contender.

4.  One in Vermillion (50-1)

By Army Mule, One in Vermillion is a stakes winner at Turf Paradise and Sunland Park, where he beat no one. Last out he was a very distant fifth in the Sunland Derby (G3). He has since been transferred to Eric Kruljak, who is winless with his last four new trainees (though 75 percent in the money). The transfer makes sense when you account for the fact that Kruljac is 19 percent in graded stakes (31 percent in the money). Still, if he ran a clunker at Sunland Park, I don’t expect more here. Pass.


One in Vermillion was a big horse at small tracks, Turf Paradise and Sunland Park. In his first graded stakes try in the Sunland Derby (G3), One in Vermillion had a meltdown in the gate, stumbled slightly coming out, and had to steady in the first furlong. He went wide around the first turn chasing a 20.58-second first quarter and was outrun by the half, which went in 45.96 seconds. We’ll likely see softer fractions in the Santa Anita Derby, but if he wins, it’ll be at One in Vermillion odds. Pass.


5.  Practical Move (8-5)

Practical Move knocked at the door last year before breaking through in his third start, notching the win despite crossing the wire second as Fort Bragg impeded him in the stretch. He was then third in the Bob Hope (G3) before winning the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) to close out his juvenile season. He earned a field best 105 Brisnet speed rating in that race. He laid any doubts to rest by surging to the lead in the stretch of the San Felipe (G2) in his 2023 debut, besting Geaux Rocket Ride and Skinner by 2 1/2 lengths. He received another triple-digit rating, a 102. Trainer Tim Yakteen is 21 percent with runners second off the layoff (45 percent in the money). With jockey Ramon Vazquez, he is 20 percent (60 percent in the money). One to beat.


Practical Move is in the triple-digit speed rating range, well above the rest of the field. The question is – can he carry his speed nine furlongs? Practical Joke’s offspring have a 25 percent win and 65 percent in the money rate at nine furlongs, Practical Move’s dam, a daughter of Belmont Stakes hero Afleet Alex, is stakes placed at the distance. Classwise, Practical Move hails from the same family as 2019 Champ Vino Rosso. The Tim Yakteen trainee has also overcome trouble in his races, making him a formidable opponent. Contender.     

6.  National Treasure (3-1)

National Treasure is another that’s been knocking at the door, but unlike stablemate Practical Move, this son of Quality Road has been unable to enter. In three graded attempts, he ran second in the American Pharoah (G1), third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), and third in the Sham (G3) in his seasonal debut. This will be his first start for Tim Yakteen, and first start since Jan. 8. Yakteen is 19 percent with runners off a 46-90 day layoff (49 percent in the money). Though he hasn’t struck gold yet, he’s moving in the right direction. Exotics.


National Treasure just didn’t have that special Bob Baffert magic last year, but he still shored up the exotics in two Grade 1 races and a Grade 3. Now he makes his first start for Tim Yakteen, and you can get those stats from Ashley. By Quality Road out of a Medaglia d’Oro mare, National Treasure has a strong middle-distance pedigree. In his final breeze, National Treasure outworked stablemate Saville Row. They traveled five furlongs in 1:00.60, and National Treasure was shaken up through the wire to complete six furlongs in 1:12.60. Exotics.

7.  Skinner (4-1)

Skinner has quite the peculiar running lines in his past performances. In his first three starts, he was beaten a grand total of 44 1/2 lengths, including a 28-length drubbing in the American Pharoah (G1) and finishing a well-beaten third in the Del Mar Futurity (G1). Dropping back into maiden company was just the ticket as the Curlin colt came home a 3 1/4-length winner going a flat mile. Last out, he was a solid third in the San Felipe (G2), gaining placings through the stretch after trailing early due to breaking a step slow. He received a 104 late pace rating and a 98 rating for the race itself. Trainer John Shirreffs is 30 percent with runners third off the layoff (60 percent in the money). The colt certainly benefitted from the time off after the American Pharoah (G1) and is trending in the right direction. Exotics.


By Curlin out of a stakes-winning daughter of Malibu Moon, Skinner has a later maturing, classic pedigree, and his past performances confirm it. He graduated in his first start of the season, then improved to finish third in the San Felipe (G2) after circling the field in a sustained drive. The John Shirreffs trainee closed seven wide around the turn and continued to gain ground. One knock is that Skinner stayed on his left lead until midway down the stretch and appeared to hang slightly after switching leads before regaining focus. If Practical Move doesn’t run his race and Skinner can stay a little closer, he could surprise. Contender.

8.  Mandarin Hero (8-1)

Japanese invader Mandarin Hero was undefeated as a juvenile but finished second in the Kumotori Sho in his 2023 debut. The son of Shanghai Bobby presses the pace, but it takes him the length of the stretch to hit his best stride, something that came back to haunt him in his last race. The Japanese have been dominating everything lately, so I’m loath to discount his chances. I just don’t love him. Exotics.


Mandarin Hero was a little keen when asked to settle behind the pace in the Kumotori Sho Stakes. He moved outside in the stretch but made up little ground and settled for second, beaten about 3/4 of a length. The final time was 1:54.4. The pace was slow over a deep and very dusty track. So dusty that the jocks were wearing face masks and the dust haze obscured part of the field. Previously, Mandarin Hero won his first four starts at Oi. This good looking almost black son of Shanghai Bobby is out of a daughter of a miler son of Sunday Silence, so getting nine furlongs against faster competitors is questionable. Additionally, his pre-race gate schooling was ok, but he was a little slow breaking. Previously, Mandarin Hero was within himself in a four-furlong spin in 53.60 seconds. Like Ashley, I don’t love him, and there are lots of questions only he can answer. Worth an exotics look, if the odds are right.


9.  Low Expectations (30-1)

Is it in poor form to make a joke about “well with a name like that…?” In all seriousness, this gelded son of Nyquist debuted on turf and ran unsuccessfully on that surface in four races, going 4: 0-0-1. Trainer Antonio Garcia switched him to dirt with great success. He has since gone 3: 2-1-0, including running second in the Sunland Derby (G3) last out. He’s currently undefeated on the Santa Anita dirt, but that was against much softer than he’ll face here. Pass.


The first thing that popped into my head when I saw Low Expectations’ name was Garth Brooks bar favorite, “Friends in Low Places,” and now it’s stuck in my head. Despite his name, Nyquist’s son is out of a stakes-placed Tapit mare. His family includes Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) champ New Year’s Day, multiple Grade 1 heroine Got Stormy, graded winner Mohaymen, and Blue Grass hero Enforceable. Low Expectations benefited from a torrid fast early pace in the Sunland Derby and was in the position to win; he just wasn’t fast enough. He does his best work on the front-end. Pass.


Final thoughts

Ashley: So here we have Tim Yakteen versus the world. In a perfect world, Yakteen wins this with Practical Move who has been in his barn from day one. Considering that the Practical Joke colt owns the two highest speed ratings in the field, including the highest last race speed rating. Ramon Vazquez is going to give him a tactical ride, likely sitting right off Geaux Rocket Ride. Skinner will need a better trip than he got last out; while Practical Move rode the rail and cut the corner into the stretch, Skinner took the overland route and circled the field. Look for National Treasure and Mandarin Hero to be in touch early, too. Nothing fancy. I’m following the numbers.

Nine of the last 14 winners of the Santa Anita Derby won or placed in the San Felipe, while two others finished fourth. Most gained ground in their final start. No particular running style is preferred. Favorites won or placed in 12 of the last 14 editions of the Santa Anita Derby.

I agree that Practical Move is the one to beat. But upsets happen even to the best. If the pace sets up, Skinner could be the one to surprise. Geaux Rocket Ride had every opportunity to get to Practical Move in the San Felipe, but he didn’t have the kick. I tossed Mandarin Hero in because I’m not enamored of National Treasure. 




5. Practical Move (8-5)

5. Practical Move (8-5)

6. National Treasure (3-1)

7. Skinner (4-1)

3. Geaux Rocket Ride (3-1)

3. Geaux Rocket Ride (3-1)

7. Skinner (4-1)

8. Mandarin Hero (8-1)

Meet Laurie Ross

 HRN Pedigree Analyst 


 Published Author

 Pedigree Research/Consultation/Sales 

 ThoroFan Board Member

 Member – NTWAB

Through hands-on work at barns, I learned valuable lessons about Thoroughbred conformation, gait, and temperament and later worked withThoroughbred rescue/re-train organizations. I have committed my passion for horses to the intensive study of pedigree and breeding theory for the last 20 years. 

I support clients with all aspects of pedigree/breeding analysis, research, sales, catalogue review, and recommendations on claims or private sales. Clients include national leading owners, racing/breeding syndicates, the little guy with one mare, and everyone in between. 10-20% of all proceeds are donated to Thoroughbred rescue & retraining groups. Check out my website, Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds, and the IMTBreds blog.

I welcome your questions regarding pedigree, handicapping, and breeding. If you would like me to cover a specific topic, please contact me. 

Twitter: @IMTBreds
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