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Odds and Ends

Takeaways from 2021 Santa Anita Derby

by Matt Bernier
Updated On: April 6, 2021, 3:55 pm ET

When Life is Good was sidelined due to injury at the end of March, the 2021 Santa Anita Derby appeared to become a much more competitive race, potentially allowing a fresh face to burst onto the scene and perhaps announce themselves as a contender for the Kentucky Derby. As Rock Your World crossed the wire more than four-lengths in front of eight of his three-year-old peers, he had done just that – stamped himself as a horse to be reckoned with in the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby.

Trained by John Sadler, Rock Your World was making his third lifetime start in Saturday’s Grade 1 event at Santa Anita Park, and his first ever start on a dirt surface. Despite the new surface and hike in class, the son of Candy Ride delivered a scintillating performance, leading the field throughout en route to the emphatic score. The Southern California path to the Kentucky Derby has seemed like the strongest of them all in 2021, and Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby only continued to lend credence to that claim.

Observations following the 2021 Santa Anita Derby:

-    The 100 Beyer Speed Figure earned by Rock Your World makes him one of the fastest horses headed into this year’s Kentucky Derby. Although there is still one 100-point Derby prep to be run this coming weekend, it seems unlikely there will be more than one horse capable of eclipsing that triple-digit mark. Should Concert Tour (or anyone else) not crack the 100 Beyer Speed Figure mark, Rock Your World will become an even more compelling case as far as Derby contenders are concerned; he is fast, he is likely to be on or near the early lead and he is bred to relish any additional distance he gets.

-    If one is worried about mechanics and professionalism, then Rock York World may provide cause for pause, as he was late to change leads at the top of the lane before hopping back to his left lead late. In the grand scheme of things, it did not appear to hinder his ability to finish, especially when seeing his massive gallop-out following the race. That being said, handicappers are supposed to nitpick and look for things that could potentially be red flags, especially when talking about horses who are likely to be among the favorites in a race.

-    Although he was soundly defeated on Saturday, Medina Spirit is still a horse to consider in the Kentucky Derby. Trained by Bob Baffert, the son of Protonico endured an exceptionally wide trip before being asked to attempt to run down Rock Your World who led throughout. The good news for fans of Medina Spirit is that he is likely to go off as a slightly higher price in the Kentucky Derby than he would have had he won Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby. On the flipside, the bad news for his fans is he needs to find a way to make up more than four-lengths on a horse like Rock Your World.

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-    Dream Shake ran another solid race in defeat, but it seems as though he flattens out down the stretch going two-turns. Given the spectacular fashion in which he won his only one-turn race to date, it is fair to wonder if the connections involved with the horse will consider a return to that configuration for the time being. That is not to say he may never try two-turns again in the future, but for now a return to one-turn racing may prove most effective for the son of Twirling Candy.

-    Based on his fourth-place finish, beaten by more than 11-lengths, it may not seem as though Defunded is a horse to consider exiting this race. However, when put into context, the Bob Baffert trainee presents a fascinating horse for the future. Saturday’s race entailed multiple “firsts” for this three-year-old gelding: his first-time racing against winners, his first time going two-turns, and his first time stretching out in distance from a sprint race. Combine all these factors, along with an impossibly wide trip, and there’s reason to be optimistic when looking at Defunded’s prospects down the road. He will not be running in a race like the Kentucky Derby, but there is no reason he cannot continue to improve and be a presence in some of the other three-year-old restricted races over the summer and into the fall.

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Matt Bernier

Matt Bernier is a betting analyst for NBC Sports and host of "The Matt Bernier Show" podcast. His work has been showcased in the Daily Racing Form, on ESPN, as well as on TVG. Matt can be followed on Twitter @bernier_matt.