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2017 Santa Anita Derby Picks and Analysis

Gormley and Iliad the class of 80th Santa Anita Derby

2017 Santa Anita Derby-G1, Race 8, Santa Anita, Saturday, April 8, 2017
3-Year-Olds, 1 1/8-miles, Dirt, Purse: $1 Million

Santa Anita Derby Picks

Santa Anita Derby Analysis

Without the presence of Mastery, the 2017 Santa Anita Derby looks like a clear rematch between Gormley and Iliad, both of whom should outclass their 10 remaining rivals.

Gormley took a better-than-it-looked run at Mastery on the turn for home in the San Felipe Stakes-G2 at Santa Anita on March 11 and basically had his heart broken after taking his best shot. In the same race, Iliad sat just back and outside the top pair and made a good move into contention just as Gormley was beginning to fade. He too, was no match for Mastery, finishing 6 3/4-lengths back of that one in second and appearing to be out of air in the final sixteenth. Gormley faded to fourth, 9 3/4-lengths back.

If Gormley can recover from having his heart broken by Mastery he will be tough to beat, as there are none of Mastery's quality in here. If anyone can beat him, it will be Iliad, who should move forward in his third start off the layoff. Both Iliad and Gormley will sit close to the pace in here and they should overpower the front runners turning for home.

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American Anthem and Royal Mo should be the dominant speed horses and could cancel each other out if both decide to go to the lead. Both are also coming off subpar races. 

Royal Mo got a free pass wiring the field in the  R B Lewis-G3 at Santa Anita on February 4, but came back to finish a fading ninth in the Rebel Stakes-G2 at Oaklawn Park in his next start on March 18. He pressed from the outside in the Rebel but failed to pick up his feet when asked. He had passed horses earlier in his career, so it may be that the lifetime best 94 Beyer Speed Figure he ran in winning the R B Lewis knocked him out.

American Anthem is a much more intriguing speed play who also faded badly as the favorite in the Rebel after stalking wide early. American Anthem also may have bounced off a lifetime best Beyer Speed Figure of 94 in his race previous to the Rebel, the Sham Stakes-G3 at Santa Anita on January 7. In that race he fought gamely inside through the stretch and just missed to Gormley. It was an exceptional effort that deserved to be followed by some light work. 

Instead, trainer Bob Baffert chose to bullet work American Anthem six furlongs not once, but twice before the Rebel. No wonder he never bothered to pick up his feet in the Rebel, and he could rebound here after more reasonable maintenance works.

Baffert also saddles up and comer Reach the World for this year's Santa Anita Derby off a neck loss to fellow entrant Battle of Midway going 1 1/16-miles in N1X optional claimer on March 9. Both horses were making their third lifetime starts in that race but Reach the World had a tight trip between horses that cost him the win. Neither appears to be in the class of Gormley and Iliad at this stage, but with a perfect trip behind a duel anything could happen. Term of Art, who finished a rallying third in the San Felipe 8 1/2-lengths behind Mastery and 1 3/4-lengths behind Iliad, would also benefit from a pace battle.

The race sets up with either or both American Anthem and Royal Mo on the lead with Gormley and Iliad right behind them ready to pounce. Those two should take over into the stretch and fight it out to the wire while Term of Art, Reach the World and Battle of Midway battle for third and fourth.

It's tough to choose between Gormley and Iliad in the win spot, but we'll give a slight edge to Iliad and bet him if we can get 2-1 or better. We'll also play the exacta with Iliad on top of Gormley and reverse it for half the amount. American Anthem, Term of Art, Reach the World and Battle of Midway will be our fillers for the trifectas and Superfectas and we'll also use them in the second spot just in case one of our top two picks falters late.

The remainder of the Santa Anita Derby field includes a number of longshots, any of whom could improve enough to finish in the lower spots in the superfecta. Taking ALL in the third and fourth spots on a few tickets would likely be a good idea.

And a chance to make a decent score.

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