Even in a year where the COVID-19 pandemic pushed matters from April to June, Saturday’s Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby storylines begin where they usually do – in Bob Baffert’s Santa Anita Park barn. After all, where else to begin than the barn that produced nine previous Santa Anita Derby champions.

Bob Baffert-Santa Anita Derby
Bob Baffert usually rides high in the saddle at the Santa Anita Derby. He’s going for his 10th victory in the premier West Coast Kentucky Derby prep behind 4/5 favorite Authentic. (Image: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

This is the barn that since 2013, produced three winners and four runners-up in the West Coast’s premier Kentucky Derby prep. It’s the barn that produced the last Triple Crown winner in 2018’s Justify, the barn that sent out 2009 winner Pioneerof The Nile, the sire of the previous Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah. And it’s the barn where 2001 Preakness, Belmont, Haskell and Travers winner Point Given came from.

Baffert’s record in the Santa Anita Derby is beyond compare. When he sends out a horse for the 1 1/8-mile test, that horse responds. Since 2013, if a Baffert horse leaves the gate at morning line odds of 3/1 or lower, that horse finishes first or second. This includes the last two Santa Anita Derby winners: Roadster (2019) and Justify.

Baffert’s second winner, Indian Charlie (1998) co-owns the event record at 1:47.00. That equates to a mind-boggling 132 Beyer Speed Figure.

Kentucky Derby Kings Come Out of the Santa Anita Derby

The Santa Anita Derby offers 100-40-20-10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to its top four finishers and its Kentucky Derby king-making role is long and established. From 1952’s Hill Gail to 2018’s Justify, 10 Santa Anita Derby winners went on to win the Run for the Roses. And another seven lost the Santa Anita Derby, but prevailed at Churchill Downs the first Saturday of May.

Because of the coronavirus, this year’s Kentucky Derby is the first Saturday in September. But again, that poses no hill for a climber like Baffert, who sends 4/5 morning-line favorite Authentic to the outside post. The undefeated Authentic, an Into Mischief progeny from a dam named Flawless, has been all of that and then some.

Santa Anita Derby

Morning Line (jockey)

  1. Friar’s Road, 20/1 (Geovanni Franco)
  2. Rushie, 8/1 (Flavien Prat)
  3. Shooters Shoot, 8/1 (Abel Cedillo)
  4. Anneau d’Or, 15/1 (Victor Espinoza)
  5. Azul Coast, 15/1 (Umberto Rispoli)
  6. Honor A.P., 9/5 (Mike Smith)
  7. Authentic, 4/5 (Drayden Van Dyke)

Currently +725 in the Circa Sports Kentucky Derby Futures Board and 5/1 at William Hill, Authentic goes for his fourth consecutive victory – and third consecutive stakes win – in solid form. He won his last two races, the Grade 3 Sham Stakes and the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes, by a combined 10 lengths. He’s prevailed at distances ranging from 5 ½ furlongs to 1 1/16 miles, beating 16 horses along the way with a combination of on-demand speed and pace-stalking skills.

Baffert’s Membership in the $300 Million Club is Pending

Yes, Authentic, his 60 Derby points, and the steady Drayden Van Dyke in the irons give Baffert a seemingly easy path to a three-peat. Along with that, an easy path to surpass the $300 million mark in career earnings. He currently sits at $299,947,847 and Baffert would join Todd Pletcher and Steve Asmussen as the only North American trainers in that elite club.

So what could go wrong? Well, 9/5 Honor A.P. could go wrong for Baffert. Second to Authentic at the San Felipe running at 75%-80% because of a foot injury, Honor A.P. caught Authentic on the far turn and ran with him until midstretch. The product of Honor Code, Honor A.P.’s long strides and stamina-loaded pedigree also come with good recent workouts, including a bullet 59.2-second five-furlong final workout. He should enjoy the extra distance.

Honor A.P. offers more upside from not only a racing standpoint, but from a value one. Authentic’s low odds make him more of a defensive pick in multi-race wagers. Along with that, Honor A.P.’s trainer John Shirreffs is 4-of-12 (33%) with a meet-leading $1.88-$1 ROI in stakes races during Santa Anita’s winter/spring meet.

After Authentic, Honor A.P., the Talent Drops Off Sharply

As for the rest of the field, well, barring anything unforeseen, they’re all racing for third. And they’re all racing for third with some glaring flaw. For example, Shooters Shoot (8/1) won his last two races at Oaklawn Park, but his pace-setting early speed won’t work well against Authentic or at this distance.

Anneau d’Or (15/1) has regressed since his stellar 2-year-old campaign – losing by a combined 22 ¼ lengths in his two 2020 starts — and needs one of Victor Espinoza’s best rides to break through his ceiling. He’s probably bound for turf after this race. Baffert’s other horse, Azul Coast (15/1), owns a stakes victory in the El Camino Real at Golden Gate Fields. But from a pure speed standpoint, he is clearly in over his not-enough-speedy skis in this field.

The pick: Honor A.P. The gap between him and Authentic has narrowed and the price is better.