Medina Spirit a Heavy Favorite in SA Derby

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The Santa Anita Derby has undoubtedly been one of the most productive paths to the Kentucky Derby in recent memory. Over the past nine years, four horses have exited the Santa Anita Derby and gone on to win the Kentucky Derby in Louisville. Although the presumptive favorite, Life is Good, has been sidelined and will not only miss this race, but will miss the entire Triple Crown, the field assembled for this year’s Santa Anita Derby is likely the strongest that will be seen for any of the Kentucky Derby preps. By default, the defection of Life is Good leads to another Bob Baffert trainee, Medina Spirit, taking the honor as the horse to beat in Saturday’s Grade 1 event for three-year-olds.

The Most Likely Winner

There is a case to be made that had Medina Spirit (#7) not run against Life is Good in two of his four lifetime starts, he would be undefeated. Now, with no Life is Good to spoil the party, Medina Spirit becomes not just the most likely winner in Saturday’s race, but among the likelier winners of the Kentucky Derby in four weeks at Churchill Downs. The son of Protonico has demonstrated the ability to win on the lead as well as perform well while perched off a target. Given his post position and the presence of a speed horse to his inside, it stands within reason that Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will position Medina Spirit just off Parnelli during the early portions of the race before making his move around the second turn. Odds of 2/1 (roughly 34% chance of victory) would be acceptable to make a win wager on Medina Spirit in a 10-horse field, however he is likely to go off at considerably shorter odds (somewhere near 6/5).

The Value

It is rare that a Bob Baffert trained three-year-old could be interpreted as a “value” play, but Defunded (#10) is worth considering as an alternative to the favorite. Making just his third lifetime start Saturday beneath Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith, Defunded broke his maiden (won his first race) in his most recent start going three-quarters of a mile on March 6 in emphatic fashion. Breaking toward the outside, the son of Dialed In was kept in the clear for much of the run before bumping a rival at the top of the homestretch; once he gathered himself, he split foes and finished full of run, leaving the impression that he will appreciate additional distance. There are many factors working against Defunded on Saturday; he is facing winners for the first time, stretching out to a route of ground for the first time, and tackling a two-turn race for the first time. Despite all these concerns, it speaks volumes that Baffert enters him here, especially considering he trains the horse to beat in Medina Spirit. He is not the likeliest of winners, but odds of 4/1 (roughly 20% chance of victory) or better would make Defunded worthy of a win wager.

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The Longshot

Roman Centurian (#1) is a long-winded type of racehorse, one who will lag behind the bulk of the field before doing his best running at the end of the race. This would not be considered an ideal running style when racing on a dirt surface, however it does lend itself to seeing horses finishing second, third or fourth, as they tend to pass tired runners who were more forwardly placed throughout. A son of Empire Maker, Roman Centurian was only defeated by a neck when matched up against favored Medina Spirit in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on January 30, so it is not as though this three-year-old colt has never run a race fast enough to make him competitive. He will likely have too much work to do to emerge victorious, but he could easily round out exotic wagers at a square price, with odds of 9/1 or better representing fair value.

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