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This Final Four Points Toward Kentucky Too

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The 61st Santa Anita Derby would seem to be West Coast racing’s version of the Final Four.

“There are four solid horses in this race,” trainer Bob Baffert said Thursday after seven horses were entered for Saturday’s $750,000 race. “I can’t see anybody but the top four winning, but it’s going to be a tough race. I think it’s the toughest Kentucky Derby prep in the country.”

Baffert, winner of the 1996 Santa Anita Derby with Cavonnier and winner of last year’s Kentucky Derby with Silver Charm, who had run second at Santa Anita, is running two horses Saturday--Real Quiet, whose last victory was the Hollywood Futurity, and the undefeated but inexperienced Indian Charlie.

The other top contenders are Artax, winner of his last two starts at Santa Anita, and Orville N Wilbur’s, a five-length winner of the San Rafael Stakes in his last outing. If form prevails--favorites win the Santa Anita Derby 44% of the time--the other horses in the field, Classic Cat, Nationalore and Skeaping, will be running for the cheapest part of the purse.

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A typical Santa Anita Derby comes with a favorite, a solid contender and a herd of other horses trying to break out. This edition brings together four 3-year-olds that are close on the morning line and likely to be just as close on the tote board when the gate opens for the 1 1/8-mile chase.

“It’s the first Kentucky Derby prep this year with this much depth,” said Kent Desormeaux, winner of last year’s race with Free House and Real Quiet’s jockey on Saturday. “The Florida Derby [won by Cape Town after the disqualification of Lil’s Lad] looked like a two-horse race, with [Lil’s Lad] the one to beat. This race, there’s no use getting in one horse’s jock, because there’ll be a couple of other horses that can get away from you if you do.”

Although more favorites win the Santa Anita Derby than the Kentucky Derby, a favorite hasn’t won the Santa Anita race since Brocco in 1994. Linemaker Jeff Tufts has made Artax a nominal 2-1 favorite, but by post time, the money may shift to either of Baffert’s horses, who start at 5-2. Orville N Wilbur’s is 7-2, and after him the line goes to 15-1 and higher. The longest shot is Skeaping, recently bought by Bob and Beverly Lewis, the owners of Silver Charm. The undistinguished colt will give trainer Wayne Lukas a race starter for the 20th consecutive year.

Lukas has won the Santa Anita Derby a record four times, but has been up the track with 11 starters since the filly Winning Colors’ victory in 1988.

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“There are some horses with solid credentials in here,” Lukas said. “And then there are some other horses trying to showcase themselves. I made a mistake with Skeaping, taking him out of town. He trains well over this track and broke his maiden here. If he’s going to run a good race, it ought to be here.

“But there’s a fallacy to running well in a small field. You finish second or third, and you might think you have something, but it’s not the same as running against a larger group of good horses.”

Lukas’ best Kentucky Derby shot, Cape Town, may face only two rivals--Lil’s Lad and Halory Hunter--in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland April 11.

Here is the Santa Anita Derby lineup, with jockeys and odds, in post-position order:

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Indian Charlie, Gary Stevens, 5-2; Skeaping, David Flores, 30-1; Orville N Wilbur’s, Corey Nakatani, 7-2; Nationalore, Rene Douglas, 20-1; Classic Cat, Eddie Delahoussaye, 15-1; Artax, Chris McCarron, 2-1, and Real Quiet, Kent Desormeaux, 5-2. All will carry 122 pounds, four less than the Kentucky Derby weight.

Orville N Wilbur’s is odds-on to set the pace.

“He has the pedigree to go long,” trainer Wally Dollase said. “But whether he can sustain his speed to run a mile and an eighth or a mile and a quarter remains to be seen. When you gallop him a mile and a half, he doesn’t take a deep breath.

“I think if we tried to change his style, we’d just get in his way. The one time we tried to rate him, it turned out terrible. When they open the gate, you’ve just got to let him do his own thing.”

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Orville N Wilbur’s has a sore mouth that might be responsible for his predilection for speed.

“I’m not sure what happened, but we discovered it with a flashlight about a month ago,” Dollase said. “The bit in his mouth can irritate and agitate him when [the jockey] takes ahold of him. I think we’ve got it about 90% under control, but the sore could open up again any time.”

Orville N Wilbur’s mouth is flushed out with a salt-mercury solution four to six times a day. Dollase also has experimented with bits to reduce the pressure.

“What we’ve tried to do is harden up the sore area,” Dollase said. “We’ve tried to callous and heal it at the same time. In the race, Corey will have to finesse him the best he can.”

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It may take a win Saturday for Orville N Wilbur’s to move on to the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 2.

“If we win, we’ll be the first guys on the airplane,” Dollase said. “But if we get beat a couple of lengths, we might have to reconsider.”

Horse Racing Notes

Post time for the Santa Anita Derby, the fifth race, is 2:35 p.m. Post for the first race is noon. . . . Rain is in the forecast today and Saturday morning, with clearing expected by Saturday afternoon. Temperatures will be in the 60s. There hasn’t been an off track for the race since Sir William’s upset of Round Table in 1957. . . . Ernie Paragallo, who owns Artax, will donate 5% of the horse’s future earnings to the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund in the name of Herb McCarron, the father of jockey Chris McCarron, who died recently. . . . Free House, winner of last year’s Santa Anita Derby, has returned to trainer Paco Gonzalez’s barn at Hollywood Park. Body-sore, Free House hasn’t run since his last-place finish in the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs in September.

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Silver Charm, winner of the Dubai World Cup last Saturday, is back in trainer Bob Baffert’s barn at Santa Anita. Silver Charm was a cool customer until they played the “Star-Spangled Banner” after the race. “He’s bullet-proof, but he’s not band-proof,” said Baffert, who will give the colt a long rest. . . . The $4-million Dubai race, worth $2.4 million to Silver Charm, pushed Baffert, jockey Stevens and owners Bob and Beverly Lewis way ahead on the national money list, which includes foreign races. Baffert’s horses have earned $4.3 million, which gives him a $2.3-million lead on Jerry Hollendorfer. Stevens’ purse total is $5.4 million, $1.9 million more than Jerry Bailey, and the Lewises have $2.9, $1.3 million more than John and Betty Mabee’s Golden Eagle Farm.

Trainer Randy Bradshaw, Artax’s trainer, has another big race Saturday. Hedonist, winner of the Santa Anita Oaks, is the 7-5 favorite in the $500,000 Ashland at Keeneland. Bailey rides Hedonist. . . . McCarron will ride Daniel My Brother in the Wood Memorial on April 11 instead of Wasatch, who chipped an ankle. . . . Grand Slam, last at Santa Anita last Sunday, will run in the Lexington at Keeneland on April 19, but he’s not likely for the Kentucky Derby. . . . Comic Strip is the 6-5 favorite against seven rivals in the $200,000 Flamingo at Hialeah. . . . Alex Solis will ride Mud Route Saturday in the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap. Others entered are Phantom On Tour, Buck’s Boy, Precocity, Unruled and Lord Cromby.

Lord At War, winner of the 1985 Santa Anita Handicap, was euthanized in Kentucky after falling on a bucket and tearing a tendon in a breeding-shed accident. The Argentine-bred was 18.

SANTA ANITA DERBY

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POST: 2:35 p.m., Saturday

TV: 2 p.m. Channel 11


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