Rain figures to be a factor in Santa Anita Derby

Santa Anita mud

Horses turn for home in the mud a race at Santa Anita Park on Jan. 31. Wet conditions are expected again Saturday.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

As Santa Anita readies for its biggest day of the meeting Saturday, the race track finds itself in the unenviable position of watching the weather with little good news on the horizon.

The forecast on Santa Anita Derby day calls for a 90% chance of wet weather, preceded by two days of rain. Despite the obvious effect on attendance, it can also change the strategies and performances of the horses.

Some horses perform better over a wet track, others hate to run in it. but all of them despise having mud tossed in their face by the horses in front of them. Being on the lead is a smart place to be.

The rain is expected to subside around midafternoon Friday but start back up around the first race at noon Saturday.


The 12-race card is highlighted by six stakes races, including two Grade 1s: the $1-million Santa Anita Derby for 3-year-old colts going 1 1/8 miles, and the $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks, featuring Songbird, the undefeated and unchallenged 3-year-old filly, at 1 1/16 miles.

Songbird is likely to be the favorite for the May 6 Kentucky Oaks, the female equivalent race of the Kentucky Derby. The winner of the Santa Anita Derby possibly will sit behind undefeated Nyquist as the second favorite in the Kentucky Derby.

If the weather is as predicted, it will be only the fifth time the Santa Anita Derby has been run over an off track and the first time in 15 years. He Did (1936), Porter’s Cap (1941), Sir William (1957) and Point Given (2001) were the previous winners on a track listed as either muddy or heavy.

Mor Spirit, a hard-charging second in the San Felipe Stakes last month for trainer Bob Baffert, is the morning-line favorite at 8-5. Danzing Candy, winner of San Felipe, is the second choice at 9-5.


“I hope it’s sloppy,” Danzing Candy’s trainer, Cliff Sise Jr., told Ed Golden of Santa Anita. “I hope it’s raining when the race is run, because you can get to the bottom [of the surface] better. … He might not even like the slop, but I think he would.”

The Santa Anita Oaks will be run as the seventh race about 3:10 p.m. and the Derby will follow that.

Other stakes include two turf races: the $150,000 Providencia for 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/8 miles and the $100,000 Thunder Road for 4-year-olds and up over one mile. What A View, winner of his last three, including the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe at Santa Anita, and Texas Red, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 2014, are favored in the Thunder Road.

There are two ungraded stakes for Cal breds: the $200,000 Echo Eddie for 3-year-olds, going 6 1/2 furlongs, and the Evening Jewel for 3-year-old fillies over the same distance.

Follow John Cherwa on Twitter: @jcherwa

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