Authentic was just sold. Honor A. P. is out for revenge. Their rematch in the $400,000 Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby looks like the main attraction of the southern California racing weekend.
That feature is a win-and-you’re-in for the Kentucky Derby. But the outcome of another race on Saturday’s card at Santa Anita might have its own influence on what happens Labor Day weekend at Churchill Downs.
In one of the most anticipated debuts of the year, $3.65 million colt Cézanne is a 4-5 morning-line favorite for trainer Bob Baffert in the sixth race, a $50,000 maiden sprint covering 6½ furlongs. Frankly, 4-5 would be an overlay. Even though it has taken a while, this could be an emphatic first step on the way to Churchill Downs.
“One thing about a Sept. 5 Derby is that if it had happened with Arrogate, he could have been a Derby winner,” Baffert said last month. “If it happens this time I think it would be Cézanne.”
He was making a direct comparison with his late-developing, 3-year-old champion from four years ago. As cruel fate and coincidence would have it, Arrogate had to be euthanized this week after developing an illness at his stud farm in Kentucky.
Baffert’s recent string of slow bloomers started with Arrogate. Then came West Coast, the top 3-year-old of 2017, and Justify, the Triple Crown winner in 2018 that had just a 112-day racing career.
Now comes Cézanne. He is hardly a secret to horseplayers who have not taken their eyes off the Baffert barn since most of them were late getting to the 300-1 futures party two years ago with Justify.
Sired by Curlin out of a Bernardini mare, Cézanne attracted a lot of buzz when the multi-national thoroughbred giant Coolmore led a partnership that bought him 15 months ago and sent him to Baffert. That was before he was even named for the 19th century French painter Paul Cézanne.
What was termed a minor injury last fall delayed his debut. So did the rescheduling of races and the seven-week suspension of competition at Santa Anita because of the coronavirus. Morning workouts resumed during the winter, and they continued with clockers paying close attention and putting out glowing reports. A 47.6-second bullet work over four furlongs last weekend signaled that Cézanne was ready for Saturday afternoon with Santa Anita’s leading jockey Flavien Prat getting the ride.
Two weeks ago Circa Sports here in Las Vegas posted Cézanne at 55-1 shortly after opening its first-ever Derby futures. With bettors swooping in, that price lasted less than 24 hours. It quickly became 25-1. Now Cézanne is a bullish, 18-1 eighth choice.
“I could see the horse potentially floating back up,” said Paul Zilm, risk supervisor at Circa Sports. “Will we see 55-1 again? Probably not. You might see him at 30-1 or a little bit higher. Or you might see him drop if we see a superstar effort first time out.”
Cézanne will face four other first-time starters Saturday, including stable mate Brazen, and a pair of 4-year-olds that are a combined 0-for-5 with just one in-the-money finish.
No matter how he does this weekend, Cézanne will still need a big points race to qualify him for the Kentucky Derby. Baffert has not thought that far ahead, at least not publicly. Whatever the case, a daylight win Saturday will shorten Cézanne’s odds at Circa.
The same applies to his stable mate Authentic, whose controlling interest was sold this week to Spendthrift Farm. His Circa price to win the Kentucky Derby is 725. An in-the-money finish Saturday added to his earlier points should get him in the gate Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs.
It would not be a stretch to think that Baffert would send either Authentic or Cézanne to Monmouth Park, New Jersey, for the July 18 running of the Haskell Invitational, a race that will be a win-and-you’re-in for the Derby. It is also a race that Baffert has won a record eight times.
The linchpin, though, is Saturday. Actually, linchpins. Both adding to what is already an intriguing, unmapped road to Louisville.
Racing notes and opinions
The Grade 1 Travers Stakes will remain a 1¼-mile race. New York Racing Association senior vice president Martin Panza confirmed that to VSiN on Thursday evening after XBTV’s Millie Ball Yakteen first said so in a recorded conversation for Friday’s Ron Flatter Racing Pod. But when will the Travers be run – and for how much? In a normal year it would have been Aug. 29. But normal flew away with the pandemic. Now expected to be a top-level, win-and-you’re-in Derby qualifier, the Travers would be the first formal prep to be as long as America’s biggest race since Churchill Downs put its points system in place seven years ago. As it stands the 9½-furlong Louisiana Derby and UAE Derby are the longest points preps; the latter was canceled this year. Speculation has been that the Travers would be run either July 25 or Aug. 1 at Saratoga. Specifically asked about those dates by VSiN, Panza reiterated that the calendar had not been set.
There is no shortage of good graded stakes around the world this weekend. And I have no shortage of picks. Whether I have a shortage of money afterward is another story.
$314,906 G1 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket
10:35 a.m. EDT – 3-year-olds, mile (turf)
It seems silly to bet against Pinatubo (5-6). The Godolphin home-bred by Shamardal is 6-for-6 going into his 2020 debut. Why so late? It is the same answer for almost every British and Irish horse. Flat racing was shut down for the winter and then nearly three more months because of the pandemic. So everyone there must endure rust. This is a race best left to watch but not wager.
$200,000 Grade 2 Santa Anita Oaks
5:32 p.m. EDT – 3-year-old fillies, 8½f
The global favorite in Kentucky Oaks futures, Swiss Skydiver (6-5) comes in for trainer Ken McPeek off a 2½-length win last month in the Grade 3 Fantasy at Oaklawn Park. She was 16-1 that day and had never been shorter than 8-1 in a graded stakes. Yet she has won two in a row. Despite having only four starters, there is quality in the field. Speech (8-5) has been second three times in a row, including a Grade 3 in March at Santa Anita. The American Pharoah-sired Merneith (2-1) makes a class jump for Baffert after a 10-length maiden, sprint victory in the Oaklawn slop. Presuming she does not go out like a bat-out-of-hell sprinter, Merneith is the play here. But at these prices, it will only be on the nose.
$400,000 Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby
7:09 p.m. EDT – 3-year-olds, 1⅛ miles
Honor A. P. (9-5) is healthier than he was when he lost to Authentic (4-5) in the Grade 2 San Felipe. But they have both been off in the three months since. Not that I will exclude those two in exotics, but the win-place play here is with Anneau d’Or (15-1). She was slow getting out of the gate last month in the Charlton division of the Arkansas Derby. The thinking here is that jockey Víctor Espinoza gets her going quickly this time, that he gets first run on the leaders turning for home and that Anneau d’Or breaks through after coming up a head short on the same course last fall in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
$300,000 G1 Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita
8:12 p.m. EDT – 3 & up, 1¼ miles
Higher Power (9-5) did not have any of my money on him when he won at 9-1 in the Pacific Classic last summer. He did have my money on him when gate issues contributed to his finishing a distant third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Maybe he was homesick when he was an even more distant last in the Pegasus World Cup, where he also carried my money. Midcourt (2-1) should be out on the early lead, but I am not convinced that he gets all 10 furlongs. Improbable (2-1) should be named Inscrutable. What is the definition of insanity? Hoping he literally answers the bell this time at his home track, I am staying with Higher Power.
$2.58 million G1 Yasuda Kinen at Tokyo
2:40 a.m. EDT – 3 & up, mile (turf)
I get that there have been extenuating circumstances in her losses. That is a boiler-plate way of saying that seven-time Grade 1 winner Almond Eye (2-3) has had excuses. And while I know that Japan’s most popular horse – a 5-year-old filly racing against the boys – is the best in this race, two things scare me away. One is the price. The other is the fact that while she is 5-for-5 in starts limited to fillies and mares, she is 4-for-7 in races that include males. Indy Champ (7-1) beat her in this race last year at 18-1, and he is a bona fide miler. But the play here is with Admire Mars (14-1). He is 3-for-3 in Grade/Group 1s at this distance, including last December’s Hong Kong Mile. Almond Eye will be boxed with him on an exacta play, but the win ticket is with Admire Mars.
$314,906 G1 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket
10:35 a.m. EDT – 3-year-old fillies, mile (turf)
Square bettors will make 3-for-3 Quadrilateral (9-4) the favorite here. (See what I did there?) Trained by John Gosden and ridden by Frankie Dettori, Shimmering (14-1) is an overlay. She was not meant to be a sprinter, but she was still a strong-closing third last fall in her debut at seven furlongs. Last winter she stayed closer to the lead over a mile and won by 1¼ lengths. Making the switch from synthetic tracks, the distance looks right for her. So does the price.
$200,000 G2 Triple Bend at Santa Anita
7 p.m. EDT – 3 & up, 7 furlongs
Back from finishing 11th to new stable mate Maximum Security on Feb. 29 in the gazillion-dollar Saudi Cup, McKinzie looks for his first victory for Baffert since last summer’s Whitney at Saratoga. He was a non-threatening second to Vino Rosso in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but a return to that form would still be a good sign for his connections. Fashionably Fast and his six-race winning streak are tempting, but this represents a class jump into company that could as easily be considered Grade 1. Coming from off the pace, Dark Vader may be lying in wait. He certainly has the “wait” part down having been off for nearly a year. The cut back to a sprint off a month of sharp workouts suggest that trainer Peter Eurton has this Tale Of Ekati 5-year-old wound up for a big dash with Prat. Dark Vader gets my across-the-board play.
In addition to picks from South Point’s Chris Andrews and Japan racing expert Kate Hunter on the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, see Dave Tuley’s Thoroughbred Takes at VSiN.com.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning – more frequently for big races – at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. On the current episode, XBTV’s Millie Ball Yakteen discusses the Triple Crown trail, trainer John Shirreffs talks about Honor A. P.’s rematch with Authentic in Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby, and Chris Andrews and Kate Hunter handicap weekend races in the U.S. and Japan. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is available via Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify, Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts and is sponsored by 1/ST BET.