Santa Anita Derby features Messier, formerly coached by Bob Baffert
Suspended trainer Bob Baffert will not be allowed to enter a horse in next month’s Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, but a horse he knows very well could end up being a top contender.
Messier is the tied favorite in the morning line for Saturday’s $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, Grade 1, which will offer 170 qualifying points for the May 7 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. With the winner receiving 100 points and the runner-up 40, the top two from the Santa Anita Derby will likely be safe on the field for the Race of Roses.
In light of his suspension at Churchill Downs and his failed appeal, Baffert transferred a handful of his best 3-year-olds to new coaches last month. Among them was Messier, who is now in Tim Yakteen’s barn. Yakteen is a former Baffert assistant and came out on his own in 2004.
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Messier — named after former hockey star Mark Messier — was raised in Ontario and is 3-2-0 in five career starts. The Empire Maker son won the Grade 3 Bob Hope at Del Mar in November and recently took a 15-length win in the Robert B. Lewis Feb. 6 at Santa Anita. His 103 Beyer Speed Figure in this race is the best this year for a 3 year old in a race over 6 furlongs.
Messier is one of six participants in the Santa Anita Derby, but many will see it as a match race between him and Forbidden Kingdom.
Forbidden Kingdom (6-5 in the morning line) is coached by Richard Mandella and is 3-1-1 in five career starts. He won two Grade 2 races at Santa Anita – the San Vicente on January 29 and the San Felipe on March 5 – to open his 3-year campaign.
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In updated Kentucky Derby futures odds released earlier this week by Circa Sports in Las Vegas, Messier (+525) and Forbidden Kingdom (10-1) were the second and third picks, respectively. The winner of the Louisiana Derby Epicenter (+500) was the first choice.
Santa Anita derby
Publication time: 5:30 p.m. EDT Saturday at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif. Bag: $750,000. Grade: 1. Distance: 1 1/8 miles. TV: TVG and NBC. Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 100 for first place, 40 for second place, 20 for third place, 10 for fourth place.
PP Horse, jockey, trainer, odds
1. Happy Jack, Abel Cedillo, Doug O’Neill, 20-1
2. Armagnac, Drayden Van Dyke, Tim Yakteen, 20-1
3. Forbidden Kingdom, Juan Hernandez, Richard Mandella, 6-5
4. Messier, John Velazquez, Tim Yakteen, 1-1
5. Win the day, Umberto Rispoli, Doug O’Neill 20-1
6. Taiba, Mike Smith, Tim Yakteen, 4-1
Morello leads the Wood Memorial field
Coach Steve Asmussen already has a top Kentucky Derby contender in Louisiana Derby-winning Epicenter and will look to strengthen his hand at Saturday’s $750,000 Grade 2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.
Asmussen-trained Morello, a Grade 3 Gotham winner on March 5 at Aqueduct, is the 8-5 morning line favorite in a field of eight for the Wood. Morello clinched the No. 5 post position and will be ridden by Jose Lezcano.
“The horse is doing well, he’s super lively and we think we have what it takes to get the job done,” said Dave Lyon of Blue Lion Thoroughbreds, owner of Morello in partnership with Craig Taylor and Diamond T Racing. “Distance is not a question mark for me. I think with his way of racing, his patience and his class, it shows that he can do it.
Morello, a son of Classic Empire, is 3 for 3 at Aqueduct, breaking his maiden in November before winning the Jimmy Winkfield on Feb. 6 and Gotham.
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Other top contenders include Mo Donegal and Early Voting, both at 5-2 a.m.
Mo Donegal, coached by Todd Pletcher, finished third in the Holy Bull Grade 3 on Feb. 5 at Gulfstream. Early Voting, formed by Chad Brown, is 2 for 2 at Aqueduct and last won the Grade 3 Withers on Feb. 5.
“He did about two laps for the first time and he passed the test well,” Brown said of Withers’ win. “He’s definitely gained experience and he seems to be training well. He prefers to be up front, so hopefully he’ll be there again.
Publication time: 4:45 p.m. EDT Saturday at Aqueduct in South Ozone Park, NY Bag: $750,000. Grade: 2. Distance: 1 1/8 miles. TV: TVG and NBC. Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 100 for first place, 40 for second place, 20 for third place, 10 for fourth place.
PP Horse, jockey, trainer, odds
1. Mo Donegal, Joel Rosario, Todd Pletcher, 5-2
2. Golden Code, Kendrick Carmouche, Todd Pletcher, 15-1
3. Early Voting, Jose Ortiz, Chad Brown, 5-2
4. Long Term, Javier Castellano, Todd Pletcher, 20-1
5. Morello, Jose Lezcano, Steve Asmussen, 8-5
6. Skippy Longstocking, Junior Alvarado, Saffie Joseph Jr., 15-1
7. The Secret of AP, Manuel Franco, Saffie Joseph Jr., 20-1
8. Barese, Dylan Davis, Mike Maker, 8-1
Jason Frakes: 502-582-4046; [email protected]; Twitter: @KentuckyDerbyCJ.