May 29, 2023

Practical Move noses out Mandarin Hero in Santa Anita Derby

Practical Move and jockey Ramon Vazquez, right, nose out Mandarin Hero, middle, and Skinner, left, for victory in the Santa Anita Derby (Photo by Benoit Photo)

Practical Move courageously withstood pair of challengers in Saturday’s $751,500 Santa Anita Derby (G1), receiving a stiff test in his final Kentucky Derby (G1) prep. The Tim Yakteen-trained colt confirmed himself as a leading challenger at Churchill Downs, recording his third consecutive graded stakes win, and Ramon Vasquez was up on the even-money favorite.

Japanese invader Mandarin Hero gave an excellent account of himself, surging boldly between rivals to miss by a nose on the wire. Skinner rallied wide off the far turn to enter the fray and had every chance to get by the final stages, winding up a half-length back in third after the thrilling finish.

The 1 1/8-mile race lost a major contender when projected pacesetter Geaux Rocket Ride, runner-up to Practical Move when making his stakes debut in the March 4 San Felipe (G2), was scratched. One in Vermillion sprinted forward at the break to show the way on a clear lead through fractions in :22.30 and :46.30, with Low Expectations tracking in second.

Practical Move broke a step slowly and stalked just behind the top two, along the inside of National Treasure, and he advanced on the rail to challenge for the lead early on the far turn. Vasquez had a stiff hold as Practical Move pulled his way to the front, and the bay son of Practical Joke powered clear into the stretch.

He soon found himself in the midst of battle, gamely persevering to stop the teletimer in 1:48.69.

“I made the move a little early because I saw (Hector) Berrios (jockey on One in Vermillion) look at me from the inside,” Vasquez said. “I knew he wanted to put me inside a little bit tight, so I just moved my horse to the outside take a new position, made him relax a little bit and when I asked him the last quarter, he responded really well. The other horse (Mandarin Hero) is a nice horse too and ran really well. I’m feeling amazing.”

Practical Move is campaigned by Leslie A. Amestoy, Pierre Jean Amestoy Jr., and Roger Beasley. A winner via disqualification in his third lifetime start last October, he finished third in the seven-furlong Bob Hope (G3) next out. Practical Move broke through at the stakes level with a resounding 10-1 upset in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) in mid-December, and he jumped up Kentucky Derby rankings when rolling to a convincing win in the San Felipe, scoring by 2 1/2 lengths as the 4-1 fourth choice.

The Santa Anita Derby awarded points on a 100-40-30-20-10 basis as a major qualifier in the Kentucky Derby series, and Mandarin Hero is on the bubble after gaining 40 points in his U.S. debut.

Skinner, third when making his first stakes attempt in the San Felipe, is better-positioned to make the 20-horse field, increasing his points total to 45. It was another 2 1/4 lengths back to National Treasure, who was followed by One in Vermillion, I Don’t Get It, Dazzlemesilver, and Low Expectations.

Bred in Kentucky by Chad Brown and Head of Plains Partners, Practical Move sold for $230,000 at the OBS April two-year-old sale, and he’s now earned nearly $900,000 from a 7-4-1-2 record. He’s the first foal to race from the stakes-placed Afleet Alex mare Ack Naughty.

Forte will go favored in the Kentucky Derby, and Practical Move looks poised to vie for second choice in the betting.

“When you ride a good horse like that, that’s your dream always to go to the Kentucky Derby,” Vasquez said.