The Kentucky Derby (G1) picture on the West Coast experienced a seismic shift Saturday, as unbeaten turf performer Rock Your World seamlessly transferred his game to dirt in the $752,000 Santa Anita Derby (G1). The John Sadler trainee beat Bob Baffert’s 9-10 favorite Medina Spirit to the lead, set fast fractions, and widened his margin under a jubilant Umberto Rispoli. His 100 Derby points will bring co-owners Hronis Racing and Talla Racing to Louisville for the first Saturday in May.
Adding to the storyline, Rock Your World was bred by Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally and his wife, Deborah. McAnally sent out 10 Kentucky Derby runners and never cracked the top three, but he has a chance to improve on that record in the breeders’ category.
The son of Candy Ride and the McAnallys’ multiple Grade 1-placed stakes winner Charm the Maker, by Empire Maker, impressed in a Jan. 1 sprint maiden and stretched out successfully in the Feb. 27 Pasadena back on the Santa Anita turf.
“We have been laying in the weeds,” Sadler said in a double-entendre. “I thought it would be good to start this horse off on the turf, much like Omaha Beach, and develop. The plan was to run him a couple of times on the turf and now it was time to get the points.
“We gotta get the points to think about going to Kentucky. We knew we had to be either one or two today to have enough points to go. Umberto Rispoli has been a great addition to our jockey colony here.
“The post (2) dictated our strategy,” Sadler added. “I saw Umberto in the paddock this morning at 8 a.m. and I told him go big or go home. We had to get out of there with the scratch (of Roman Centurian) inside of us. It worked out great and I’m very excited.”
Rispoli made sure to ask Rock Your World to show speed from the gate and put himself in the mix. The Italian exercised his judgment when neither Medina Spirit, the newly blinkered Parnelli, nor The Great One was able or willing to outfoot him.
Entering the clubhouse turn, Rock Your World capitalized on his inside position to assert through an opening quarter in :22.42. The 5.20-1 chance remained just a half-length ahead of Parnelli at the half in :46.11, with Medina Spirit looming in third.
But Rock Your World gave his pursuers the slip when reaching the six-furlong mark in 1:10.64. Medina Spirit, in his trademark game fashion, was the only one trying to take another run at him upon straightening.
As soon as Rock Your World switched to his right lead, however, the race was over. The dark bay drew off again to cross the wire 4 1/4 lengths clear, completing 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.17.
“We told Umberto to be aggressive,” co-owner Kosta Hronis said, “but if somebody was going to go, let them go. But I think he just felt comfortable. It was just kind of the thing you had to come out and compete right off the bat and he did. He rode a great race, think he knew he had the horse to do it.”
Medina Spirit soldiered on for second, adding 40 points to bring up his total to 74.
“The horse ran well,” Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez said, “but the winner took the lead on a fast track and kept running. My horse kept coming and kept coming but couldn’t catch up.
“He did have some left in the tank at the end and he kept coming, but the other horse got away pretty well and opened up again. It was too hard to catch up.”
Dream Shake, always within range of the leaders, checked in another 2 1/4 lengths astern. The 9-2 second choice was replicating his third in the March 6 San Felipe (G2), behind sidelined Life Is Good and Medina Spirit. With 20 more points to his credit, Dream Shake has 30 in all.
Defunded, Baffert’s other runner, kept on for a well-beaten fourth. A last-out sprint maiden winner, he earned 10 points in this stakes and two-turn debut. There was a 6 3/4-length gap to fellow graduate Law Professor, trailed by Parnelli; The Great One; Sadler’s new recruit Back Ring Luck; and Ottothelegend.
Kentucky-bred Rock Your World, a $650,000 Keeneland September yearling, has amassed $546,600 from his 3-for-3 record.
“Things came together,” Hronis summed up, “and thank God, John Sadler has done a great job, Juan Leyva and Alex Bisono – everybody on the backside, they made all this happen. They did a great job with the horse.”