Before April 3, Rock Your World occupied a very small world in Southern California horse racing. He was a good 3-year-old turf colt with a couple of nice grass wins under his hooves, including a solid, 2 ¼-length victory in the Listed Pasadena Stakes.

Rock Your World-Derby
Santa Anita Derby champion Rock Your World took the path less traveled to the Kentucky Derby. His speed on that path brought him 5/1 second-favorite status in Saturday’s run for the roses. (Image: Zoe Metz Photography)

But trainer John Sadler had a plan. Let Rock Your World get his hooves wet on the grass, let him understand what it felt like to win, then see what he could do on dirt.

In a Kentucky Derby prep. In one of the biggest Derby preps in the country, the Santa Anita Derby.

What Rock Your World did when he finally got on dirt was kick plenty of it in his rivals’ faces. His 4 ¼-length, gate-to-wire romp opened Derby watchers’ eyes on both coasts. It immediately brought racing’s equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval: plummeting Derby futures odds and front-row contender status.

Rocking your world with a 75/1 futures ticket

On March 15, you could have had Rock Your World at 75/1 on William Hill Nevada’s Derby Futures Board. He was 40/1 at Circa Sports. On March 28, when Churchill Downs closed its final Kentucky Derby Futures Wager pool, Rock Your World closed at 31/1.

On April 5, two days after Rock Your World rocked the Santa Anita Derby, he was 8/1 at both Circa and William Hill. By April 19, he was 5/1 at Circa, and 7/2 at William Hill.

Now, Rock Your World is the 5/1 second favorite, behind 2/1 Essential Quality. It might not yet be a case of its Rock Your World’s world, and the rest of us are living in it. But we’re getting close. Especially if the Candy Ride colt wins Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.

“Rock Your World is the wild card,” Santa Anita Park morning line author and Xpressbet columnist Jon White told OG News. “I liked him in the Santa Anita Derby. After he won the Pasadena, the acceleration he showed in the stretch that day was breathtaking. He galloped out like a wild horse, so far out, it was ridiculous.”

Rock Your World’s speed unchallenged — yet

What puts Rock Your World in another world these days is his speed. He’s the fastest horse in the Derby, at least on paper. His 100 Beyer Speed Figure for the Santa Anita Derby makes him the only horse in the field with a triple-digit Beyer. His 102 Brisnet is tied for the top spot with Essential Quality and Highly Motivated.

This pace is unquestioned and unchallenged – until now. Rock Your World starts in post 15. Midnight Bourbon (post 7), Medina Spirit (post 8), and Hot Rod Charlie (post 9) bring the inside speed to him. Highly Motivated (post 17) and Soup and Sandwich (post 19), the outside speed. Rock Your World and Medina Spirit are faster than their counterparts, but what happens if they all tangle early?

Put aside the pace meltdown for the moment. How does Rock Your World handle dirt kicked in his face? He’s not a need-the-lead horse, based on his two turf races. He was third coming into the stretch of the Pasadena and didn’t take the lead in his maiden-breaking debut until the half-mile pole.

Sadler’s plan always included Santa Anita Derby

“We’ve always believed this horse can run on either surface,” Sadler said on a National Thoroughbred Racing Association call last week. “I’ve watched his sister run over here in California grass. So early on, we decided if we’re going to run at the grass, (to) get a couple races in him, and then try for the big day.”

With his front-row seat at Santa Anita, White marveled at Sadler’s unconventional approach with Rock Your World. He noted the trainer dialed Rock Your World into this race from the outset. No heading to Oaklawn Park, no going to Kentucky or Florida to dodge Bob Baffert’s 3-year-old Derby armada.

Run on the grass, then run for the roses.

“Sadler said we’re running in the Santa Anita Derby even with (presumed favorite) Life Is Good,” White said. “His plan all along was to run in the Santa Anita Derby. Sadler was smart. Why? Bob Baffert. If you run on grass, you don’t have to run into Bob Baffert.”

Being unconventional built Sadler’s stable

We’ll never know what Rock Your World would have done with Baffert’s Life Is Good. The colt, regarded as one of the best 3-year-olds in the country, suffered an ankle chip in late March and won’t return until the fall.

What we do know is that Sadler’s very comfortable world training for longtime clients Kosta and Peter Hronis, who co-own Rock Your World with Michael Talla, will get rocked to its core if he wins his first Derby. Sadler gives Talla credit for naming Rock Your World.

“You always evolve as a trainer … I try not to be locked down on just one thing I do. I try having an open mind,” Sadler said about his preparation. “And I think you see that in the preparation. We took a very young, non-conventional route. And it appears to be working for us.”