Forbidden Kingdom and Messier have established themselves as leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby, recording runaway wire-to-wire victories in the San Felipe (G2) and Robert B. Lewis (G3), and the exciting colts will contest Saturday’s $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (G1). Earlier on the program, Adare Manor tops five Kentucky Oaks (G1) hopefuls in the $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks (G2).
Santa Anita Derby (G1) – Race 6 (5:30 p.m. ET)
A spectacular wire-to-wire winner of the San Felipe and San Vicente (G2) this year, Forbidden Kingdom looks like the one to catch in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby. The American Pharoah colt has displayed blazing speed from the gate in the last two outings, registering a 102 Brisnet Speed rating when making his two-turn debut in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe, and Juan Hernandez retains the mount on the early 6-5 second choice for Richard Mandella.
Messier wound up on the lead by default in the Robert Lewis, showing the way on a short advantage before drawing off to a 15-length decision, and the son of Empire Maker netted a field-best 104 Speed rating, his second consecutive triple-digit number. Formerly trained by Bob Baffert, Messier will make his first outing for Tim Yakteen, and the bay colt has proven effective stalking the pace, rallying to defeat Forbidden Kingdom in the seven-furlong Bob Hope (G3) last fall. John Velazquez rides the even-money morning line favorite.
Six will contest the major qualifier in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, and Taiba, a $1.7 million son of Gun Runner who rolled to a 7 1/2-length victory when making his career debut in a six-furlong maiden special weight on the March 5 San Felipe undercard, will jump straight to stakes competition and two turns for new trainer Yakteen. Mike Smith rides the early 4-1 third choice.
Armagnac, another former Baffert charge now conditioned by Yakteen, will try to rebound from a fifth in the San Felipe. Doug O’Neill will send out San Felipe third Happy Jack and last-out maiden winner Win the Day.
Santa Anita Oaks (G2) – Race 4 (4:30 p.m. ET)
Needing a few starts to graduate, Adare Manor has improved significantly in the last two outings, breaking her maiden by 12 lengths in early January before strolling to a frontrunning, 13-length decision in the Feb. 6 Las Virgenes (G3), and the Uncle Mo filly will be the one to beat among five fillies in the 1 1/16-mile Santa Anita Oaks.
Velazquez has the call on Adare Manor, who has been recently transferred to Yakteen.
A major qualifier for the Kentucky Oaks offering 170 points to the top four (100-40-20-10 scale), the Santa Anita Oaks has also attracted Santa Ynez (G2) winner Under the Stars, a close second as the favorite in the March 6 Santa Ysabel (G3). Smith takes over aboard the new Yakteen trainee.
Grade 2 juvenile winner Ain’t Easy, third when opening her season in the Santa Ysabel, is also part of the mix.