Creative Cause is the 6-5 morning line favorite among 10 entrants in Saturday’s Grade I Santa Anita Derby, a race that's produced 15 Kentucky Derby winners.
Never more than a length behind at the finish in any of his seven starts, Creative Cause’s four wins include a hard-fought, three-quarter-length victory over the highly regarded and then slightly favored Bodemeister in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes on March 10.
Joel Rosario will be aboard the gray colt for the fifth straight time. Creative Cause drew the rail. His 27-year-old jockey and 71-year-old trainer Mike Harrington will be seeking their first wins in thej Santa Anita Derby. Rosario is headed for his second consecutive Santa Anita riding title.
Among their competitors are I’ll Have Another, who came from relative obscurity to post a stunning 43-1 upset in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes. He's the second choice at 5-2.
Holy Candy (8-1) took four races to break his maiden but who did it in a visually impressive manner last time out.
Brother Francis (20-1), who's yet to break his maiden, has run four times, including in two graded stakes races. He has $135,720 in earnings.
Bob Baffert has saddled six of the past 16 winners of the Santa Anita Derby and has entered three. Baffert also raced a trio in 2003, finishing second, third and fifth. His entrants on Saturday will be Liaison (8-1), winner of last December’s Grade I CashCall Futurity, but winless in two starts this year; Paynter (12-1), a maiden-breaker in his only career start; and two-time winner Blueskiesnrainbows (20-1), who could have been claimed for $30,000 last December.
Creative Cause finished one length behind Hansen and Union Rags in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November. He's compiled a 4-1-2 record in his seven races for earnings of $719,000. Creative Cause was an impressive 3 3/4-length winner of Santa Anita’s Grade I Norfolk Stakes prior to his solid performance in the Breeders’ Cup. His victory in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe last time out followed a third-place finish sprinting in the seven-furlong, Grade II San Vicente Stakes.
“A lot of people thought the San Vicente was a bad race,” Harrington said following the San Felipe. “I was ecstatic with it.”
A licensed veterinarian, Harrington has had a game plan. “I said all along it’s a progression,” Harrington explained, “and the only thing I hope is that he doesn’t peak in the Santa Anita Derby instead of the Kentucky Derby.”
For the first time, Creative Cause will run without blinkers. He recently worked without them. Should Creative Cause make it to the Kentucky Derby starting gate, it would be a first for Harrington.
Heinz Steinmann, his primary client and owner of Creative Cause, asked Harrington last spring to “find another Swiss Yodeler.”
“I told Mr. Steinmann, ‘This is impossible. I could buy horses for another 10 years and never get that lucky.’” Swiss Yodeler won five stakes for the pair as a 2-year-old in 1996, including the Grade I Hollywood Futurity. But after finishing ninth in the 1997 Santa Anita Derby, Harrington’s first win in that race, Swiss Yodeler never made it to Kentucky.
But trying to please Steinmna, Harrignton wound up purchasing three horses. Among them was Creative Cause, a son of Giant’s Causeway who brought $135,000 at the 2010 Keeneland September sale.
Aside from Swiss Yodeler, Harrington might be best known for a week at Hollywood Park in May of 2006 when he won eight races from 10 starters. “Except for the week I married my wife, that was pretty cool,” the relaxed trainer said.
I'll Have Another Wants . . . Another
After flying under the radar in three sprints as a 2-year-old, including a sixth-place finish in the Grade I Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, I’ll Have Another burst into the Derby picture when racing around two turns for the first time in the Lewis on Feb. 4.
“We thought this horse was a two-turn horse,” owner J. Paul Reddam said afterward in what seemed classic understatement.
Trainer Doug O’Neill, who has failed to hit the board with three Santa Anita Derby starters, acknowledges that he was taken aback by I’ll Have Another’s performance in the Lewis.
“He’s always trained fantastic, but we never saw this coming, to be honest with you,” O’Neill said afterward. “This is incredible.”
Mario Gutierrez, a standout jockey in Canada in recent years, was along for the ride in the Lewis. Gutierrez, 25, will be seeking his initial Grade I victory in his first Santa Anita Derby.
With $151,000 in graded stakes earnings, I’ll Have Another needs a strong showing on Saturday to qualify for the May 5 Kentucky Derby. The son of Flower Alley was purchased by Reddam for $35,000 last April. Reddam subsequently named the chestnut colt in recognition of his nightly response when asked by his wife, Zillah, “Do you want any more cookies?”
Liaison Gets Extra Ground
Backers of Liaison will want him to improve off his fourth-place run in the San Felipe.
“He definitely needs more ground,” said Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes. “I think he wants every bit of a mile and an eighth.”
Should Liaison emerge triumphant, Arnold Zetcher would become the first owner to win back-to-back Santa Anita Derbies since C. V. Whitney won with Silver Spoon and Tompion in 1959-1960.
Rafael Bejarano has the mount.
Holy Candy A Latecomer
Holy Candy lacks any graded stakes earnings, so a victory is essential if he's to make the Kentucky Derby.
Following three second-place finishes, he scored a dazzling maiden win by 3 1/2 lengths on March 23 under Rosario. Holy Candy ran one mile in 1:35.98 and galloped out very strongly. “We’ve thought all along he was our best 3-year-old,” trainer John Sadler said afterward, “and it was nice to see him finish and gallop out the way he did.”
With Rosario committed to Creative Cause, Alonso Quinonez will be aboard Holy Candy, who's also a gray, on Saturday. Bred by Jenny Craig’s Craig Family Trust, Holy Candy is owned by Craig Stables in partnership with Donkey Island Racing, whose group includes New Orleans Saints All Pro quarterback Drew Brees.
Midnight Transfer: A Longshot
Midnight Transfer, third in the San Felipe after taking the six-furlong San Pedro Stakes, is pegged at 10-1.
“I’ll be a longshot in the Santa Anita Derby, but it is what it is,” said Carla Gaines, who trains Midnight Transfer for Warren Williamson. “Mr. Williamson (who is 83) is having some health issues. He wants to see his horse run here, and he wants to try the Derby, so the pressure is off. We’re going to do it and see what happens.”
Mike Smith replaces Victor Espinoza, who is sidelined with a broken hand.
Brother Francis Still A Maiden
Broker's Tip won the Kentucky Derby as a maiden in 1933, but such an occurrence has yet to transpire in the Santa Anita Derby. Brother Francis, therefore, faces an enormous historical challenge.
He closed strongly to finish third behind Liaison and Rousing Sermon in the CashCall Futurity, and the extra sixteenth of a mile may suit the James Cassidy trainee.
“I’ve got a legitimate excuse for the horse every time he runs,” Cassidy told the Daily Racing Form. “One thing I’ve got in my favor – he will try harder than anyone else.”
Garrett Gomez takes over for Espinoza aboard Brother Francis, who is a 20-1 longshot.
The complete field for the Santa Anita Derby, with jockeys and morning line odds in post position order (all starters carry 122 pounds): Creative Cause, Joel Rosario, 6-5; Liaison, Rafael Bejarano, 8-1; Holy Candy, Alonso Quinonez, 8-1; I’ll Have Another, Mario Gutierrez, 5-2; Longview Drive, Russell Baze, 12-1; Paynter, Martin Garcia, 12-1; Senor Rain, Eswan Flores, 15-1; Midnight Transfer, Mike Smith, 10-1; Blueskiesnrainbows, Joseph Talamo, 20-1, and Brother Francis, Garrett Gomez, 20-1.
The 75th Santa Anita Derby will be contested as the sixth race at 2:46 p.m. local time. The program includes three other stakes headed by the Grade II Potrero Grande Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs that features 2011 Breeders’ Cup Sprint champion Amazombie.
--Edited Santa Anita release