Santa Anita Derby

Santa Anita Derby

Almost from the moment Gillie crossed the finish line to win the inaugural Santa Anita Derby in 1935, the race gained a reputation as a classic, and quickly became known as the most prestigious thoroughbred event on the West coast. Run at the distance of 1 1/8 miles on the dirt, the Santa Anita Derby carries a purse of $1 million. Held in early April, it is considered one of the major prep races for the Kentucky Derby.

In 1978, Affirmed found himself in the Santa Anita winner’s circle, a prelude to what was to come that spring when he swept the Triple Crown. One unique aspect of the Santa Anita Derby is that three horses share the race record time at the current distance with Lucky Debonair (1965), Sham (1973) and Indian Charlie (1998) all hitting the wire in front and stopping the clock in 1:47 flat. In 1998, Gary Stevens was in the saddle for that ride on Bob Baffert’s Indian Charlie, the sixth SA Derby win of nine (so far) for the Hall of Fame jockey. Those nine wins put him one ahead of Bill Shoemaker on the all-time list.

Perhaps one of the most famous runs of the Santa Anita Derby came in 1958. In front of a then-record crowd of 61,123, the race featured a field of 10, including Old Pueblo, who had come off a win in the Breeders’ Champion Stakes, and the one he had defeated in that race, Silky Sullivan. To that point, Silky Sullivan had established a reputation as coming from far behind, and the Santa Anita would prove no different, as he spotted the leader 28 lengths after the first five furlongs before rallying to win. [+]

In consecutive years – 1997 and 1998 – the second place finisher in the Santa Anita went on to just miss racing immortality by claiming the first two legs of the American Triple Crown, only to falter in the Belmont. First up was Silver Charm, beaten by three-quarters of a length in the Belmont to Touch Gold, followed the next year by Real Quiet, who came even closer, being nipped at the wire by Victory Gallop, officially losing a photo-finish by a heart-breaking nose.

Santa Anita Derby Betting Odds

With the conventional wisdom being that favorites win horse races about one-third of the time, sometimes the best race handicapping strategy is to find a horse in the field that might offer a good Place or Show payout. While certainly not blowing up the tote board, 8-1 Mandarin Hero paid out $4.80 for second place in the 2023 Santa Anita, more than Practical Move paid on a Win ticket. Horseplayers can add to that total with bonuses and cash back from our recommeneded online racebooks, including Bovada, our #1 choice.

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2024 Santa Anita Derby Contenders

Imagination and Stronghold, both graded-stakes victors, are poised for a showdown in the 87th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby this Saturday. The race, covering 1 1/8 miles, serves as a pivotal points prep for the 2024 Kentucky Derby and has attracted a field of eight contenders.

Trained by Bob Baffert, Imagination enters the fray fresh off a triumph in the San Felipe (G2) over 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita on March 3. This victory extended his record to 5 starts with 2 wins, 3 placings, and earnings totaling $256,800. Owned by SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Stonestreet Stables, Dianne Bashor, Bat Masterson, Waves Edge Capital, Catherine Donovan, and Tom Ryan, Imagination, sired by Into Mischief, was acquired for $1.05 million at the 2022 Keeneland September yearling sale. Notably, he secured his maiden win on January 1 at Santa Anita and followed up with a close second-place finish in a first-level allowance race on February 11, just before his San Felipe triumph. Maymun, previously anticipated for the Santa Anita Derby, was substituted with Wynstock according to Baffert.

Frankie Dettori, the renowned international jockey, retains the mount aboard Imagination for Saturday's challenge.

Stronghold, trained by Phil D'Amato, arrives on the heels of a breakthrough victory in the Sunland Derby (G3) in New Mexico on February 18. Piloted by Antonio Fresu, Stronghold led throughout the race and surged ahead in the closing stages, winning by 2 1/2 lengths at Sunland Park. The Ghostzapper colt aims to secure his spot in the upcoming Kentucky Derby. With 25 qualifying points, Stronghold currently ranks 21st on the Derby leaderboard, with four additional prep races scheduled in the upcoming weekends. A top-two finish in the Santa Anita Derby would guarantee his entry into the Kentucky Derby, while a third-place finish might also suffice.

Before his Sunland Derby triumph, Stronghold secured second place in both the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) in December and the Bob Hope (G3) at Del Mar in November.

Once again, Antonio Fresu will guide Stronghold in the Santa Anita Derby. Bred by Eric Waller and Sharon Waller, Stronghold boasts a record of 5 starts with 2 wins, 3 placings, and earnings of $337,200.

Tapalo, returning to dirt after a commendable second-place finish in the El Camino Real Derby on synthetic at Golden Gate Fields, joins the fray. Trained by John Sadler, Tapalo, a Tapiture colt, transitioned to dirt racing with a victory in a maiden race at Santa Anita on January 12. Umberto Rispoli will pilot Tapalo for the first time.

Baffert's additional contender, Wynstock, a graded-stakes winner campaigned by Dr. Ed Allred and Jack Liebau, seeks redemption after a disappointing outing at Oaklawn Park. Having won the Los Alamitos Futurity, Wynstock's recent form dipped with a last-place finish in the Southwest (G3) on a muddy track. Reunited with Santa Anita's leading rider, Juan Hernández, Wynstock aims for a reversal of fortune in Saturday's contest.

Check back closer to race day for the 2024 Santa Anita Derby contenders!