USA: Chief focus of interest on a packed Stateside Saturday schedule comes via the latest appearance of leading Kentucky Derby contender Authentic, out to give his trainer Bob Baffert an extraordinary tenth success in the Santa Anita Derby (Sun 12.09am BST).
The west-coast legend has taken a couple of serious knocks in recent weeks with the retirement of Nadal through injury and news that Charlatan’s initial post-race sample after the Arkansas Derby tested positive.
As such, plenty is on the line as Authentic (Drayden van Dyke) – only 7-1 for Kentucky with British bookmakers – bids to justify odds-on favouritism in a six-runner field for the Santa Anita Derby, postponed for two months owing to the coronavirus suspension.
Already a winner of two Graded stakes, the son of Into Mischief has been described by Baffert as his “number one seed” among his stacked Classic contingent.
His main rival on paper looks to be Honor A.P. (John Shirreffs/Mike Smith), the horse he beat by 2¼ lengths when they met here in the G2 San Felipe in early March. The extra half-furlong should suit him.
Of the others, Shooters Shoot (Peter Eurton/Abel Cedillo) was added to the Triple Crown at this week’s $3,000 late entry stage.
Saturday’s card also features one of the most storied races on the calendar in the shape of the Hollywood Gold Cup (Sun 1.12am BST), the inaugural edition of which was won by the legendary Seabiscuit in 1938.
The last two winners, Accelerate (2018) and Vino Rosso (2019), went on to win that year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. Morning-line favourite is Pacific Classic winner Higher Power (John Sadler/Flavien Prat).
Kentucky Oaks favourite Swiss Skydiver (Kenny McPeek/Mike Smith) is the main attraction in a small field for the G2 Santa Anita Oaks (10.32pm BST), which also features flashy maiden winner Merneith (Bob Baffert/Drayden van Dyke).
Swiss Skydiver comes here rather than crossing the Atlantic for a tilt at the 1,000 Guineas. Like Coolmore-owned Cezanne (Bob Baffert/Flavien Prat), a $3.65 million son of Curlin who makes his debut in a maiden (11.03pm BST) on the same card, she was added to the Triple Crown at this week’s entry stage.
On Sunday’s card at Santa Anita, three-time G1 winner McKinzie (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith) has his first outing since a dismal effort in the Saudi Cup. The five-year-old cuts back to 7f for the G2 Triple Bend (12am BST).
G1 action returns to New York on Saturday at Belmont Park for the first time since the coronavirus resumption with the Carter Handicap (10.36pm BST), postponed from Aqueduct when that meeting was suspended.
The highest-profile name on a stakes-filled card at Belmont, though, must be Travers Stakes winner Code Of Honor (Shug McGaughey/John Velazquez), who makes his four-year-old debut in the G3 Westchester (9.32pm BST). He was also runner-up in last year’s Kentucky Derby and was elevated to first in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in September at this venue.
Shall we talk about it?
“He would have been ready for the Kentucky Derby and I think by September he’ll be even better. I backed off him a few weeks after the postponement and I think it helped him a little bit. He came back and jumped right back into the training like it was nothing. I think he’s pretty fit.”
Bob Baffert (trainer, speaking to Blood-Horse)
“I think how the race unfolds in a small field will be the big thing – Authentic getting an easy lead again would be a concern – but I think he’s ready for a big effort. He has a really nice, long stride. He really doesn’t get in a hurry with his stride, so you think just watching him that distance is going to be his friend.”
John Shirreffs (trainer, speaking to Blood-Horse)
“She’s a really good filly. I think they overlooked her a bit in her last couple, but since we’ve been able to stretch her out to two turns, she’s done exceptionally better.”
Kenny McPeek (trainer)
Code Of Honor
“He had a very good winter and we’re really looking forward to getting him started. He’s always been very athletic and now he’s had some time to grow up. I liked the distance for him – I think one of his best races last year was the Dwyer going one mile. It’s just about getting him started. We’re in it to win but as long as we can get a good effort out of him where we can move forward, we’ll be happy too.”
Shug McGaughey (trainer)
“I think she’ll love seven-eighths. She’s a horse I’ve always had extremely high hopes for and she’s won some races, but I’ve always felt like there was more there.”
Mark Casse (trainer)
“Mind Control is doing well and training lights out. He’s had about nine works since the Tom Fool. The last work was super. He has two races under his belt this year and he’s a very fit animal. He’s just a super talented colt with a desire to get there first.”
Gregg Sacco (trainer)
“She’s been training really well. It’s a good distance to start her back, we’ll look at stretching her out to a mile and not go past that distance.”
Chad Brown (trainer)