Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert had planned to run Life Is Good in the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby. The undefeated multiple graded stakes winner undoubtedly would have been an overwhelming favorite. But Life Is Good currently is on the mend from a left-hind ankle injury.
Undaunted by Life Is Good’s defection, the powerful Baffert barn still will be represented in the Santa Anita Derby by the likely favorite in Medina Spirit.
Medina Spirit, unlike Life Is Good, is not undefeated. Medina Spirit has won two of four career starts.
But Medina Spirit would be undefeated if not for finishing second twice to Life Is Good.
Medina Spirit began his racing career with a three-length maiden win in a Los Alamitos sprint on Dec. 11. The Florida-bred Protonico colt then finished second to Life Is Good in Santa Anita’s Grade III Sham Stakes on Jan. 2. Four lengths off the lead at the eighth pole in the Sham, Medina Spirit came on thereafter to lose by just three-quarters of a length. That is the closest anyone has come to defeating Life Is Good.
After the Sham, Medina Spirit won Santa Anita’s Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes in game fashion by a neck on Jan. 30. He then again took on Life Is Good in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes on March 6.
Life Is Good trounced Medina Spirit in the San Felipe. Life Is Good won by eight lengths, while Medina Spirit came in second.
Even though Medina Spirit did not win the San Felipe, he showed heart late in the race by retaking second after having been passed by Dream Shake. It’s all the more impressive that Medina Spirit finished second that day because he did so despite a throat issue.
After the San Felipe, Medina Spirit “had a little ulcer in his throat and looked like he was starting to entrap, so they did a minor procedure on it and he’s doing great now and has since turned in two works,” Secretariat.com’s Steve Haskin wrote.
One of the reasons I am not going to pick against Medina Spirit in the Santa Anita Derby is his trainer’s stellar record in this race. Baffert has won the Santa Anita Derby a record nine times (Cavonnier in 1996, Indian Charlie in 1998, General Challenge in 1999, Point Given in 2001, Pioneerof the Nile in 2009, Midnight Interlude in 2011, Dortmund in 2015, Justify in 2018 and Roadster in 2019).
Moreover, as Jeremy Plonk of Countdown to the Crown recently pointed out, check out which trainer has won almost all of Santa Anita’s 3-year-old graded stakes races going back to the 2019 Santa Anita Derby:
Trainer, Race, Winner
--Bob Baffert, 2021 San Felipe Stakes, Life Is Good
--Bob Baffert, 2021 San Vicente Stakes, Concert Tour
--Bob Baffert, 2021 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, Medina Spirit
--Bob Baffert, 2021 Sham Stakes, Life Is Good
--John Shirreffs, 2020 Santa Anita Derby, Honor A.P.
--Bob Baffert, 2020 San Felipe Stakes, Authentic
--Bob Baffert, 2020 San Vicente Stakes, Nadal
--Bob Baffert, 2020 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, Thousand Words
--Bob Baffert, 2020 Sham Stakes, Authentic
--Bob Baffert, 2019 Santa Anita Derby, Roadster
My selections for the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby are below:
1. Medina Spirit
2. Dream Shake
3. Rock Your World
4. Roman Centurian
With a furlong to go in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe, it looked like Dream Shake was going to run second after he had passed Medina Spirit. Dream Shake would go on to weaken a bit late and finished third. But the Kentucky-bred Twirling Candy colt certainly had a right to weaken some late in that it was only his second career start and it was his first race going farther than 6 1/2 furlongs.
Now, with two races under his belt, including a start in a 1 1/16-mile contest, it will not be surprising to see a big effort from Dream Shake this Saturday for trainer Peter Eurton.
Rock Your World is something of a wild card in the Santa Anita Derby. He’s two for two and appears to have a ton of talent. But both wins have come on the grass.
So, the question is, how will Rock Your World do when racing on the dirt for the first time this Saturday? He did record a bullet workout on the dirt last Sunday for trainer John Sadler, five furlongs in :59.20. Not only was it the fastest of 76 works at the distance that morning, it was two full seconds faster than the average time that day of 1:01.20.
John Sadler trains Rock Your World, whose sire, Candy Ride, set a track record of 1:59.11 when he won Del Mar’s Grade I Pacific Classic on dirt in 2003, a mark that still stands.
Roman Centurian finished fourth in the San Felipe, a race he lost by 13 1/2 lengths. But the Kentucky-bred Empire Maker colt is dangerous in the Santa Anita Derby off his effort in the Lewis when he lost by just neck to Medina Spirit.
In the Lewis, Roman Centurian nosed out Hot Rod Charlie for second. Hot Rod Charlie subsequently won Fair Grounds’ Grade II Louisiana Derby by two lengths.