Santa Anita primed for historic day with Derby, Gold Cup

John Shirreffs trained the great Zenyatta, the only female to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, so he’s familiar with making history while winning big races.

The former Marine could write a page in the history book Saturday at Santa Anita if he’s able to win the $400,000 Grade I Santa Anita Derby with Honor A.P., then follow up two races later with a victory from Midcourt in the $300,000 Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup.

This is the first time the Santa Anita Derby and Gold Cup have been run on the same afternoon after the Derby was postponed from its original April 4 date because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Of course, Bob Baffert could also make it an historic double, considering he’s scheduled to saddle a pair – Authentic and Azul Coast – in the Santa Anita Derby and one of the favorites, Improbable, in the Gold Cup.

Ditto trainer Michael McCarthy, who’s got Rushie and Friar’s Road in the Derby and Brown Storm in the Gold Cup.

It’s one of the biggest days of the meet at Santa Anita. In addition to the two Grade I races, five other graded stakes are scheduled, including the $200,000 Grade II Santa Anita Oaks,  in which two-time graded stakes winner Swiss Skydiver ships in off victories in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks and Grade III Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

First post for the 11-race card is 12:30 p.m.

Shirreffs will be giving a leg up to two Triple Crown-winning jockeys in his attempt to win the day’s biggest prizes. Mike Smith (Justify) will ride Honor A.P. and Victor Espinoza (American Pharoah) has the mount on Midcourt.

“They’re two Hall of Fame riders and multiple (Kentucky) Derby winners,” Shirreffs told Ed Golden of Santa Anita publicity. “They have a résumé for the ages.”

Smith also rode Giacomo for Shirreffs during the 50-1 longshot’s victory in the 2005 Kentucky Derby.

Honor A.P. will try to get revenge against Authentic in the Santa Anita Derby after the latter scored a 2 1/4-length victory in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 7. It was Honor A.P.’s first race in nearly five months, so he figures to take a step forward Saturday.

Authentic, unbeaten at 3-0, is the 4-5 morning-line favorite and will have Drayden Van Dyke in the saddle. Honor A.P. is the 9-5 second choice.

The Derby is worth 170 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, pushed back to Sept. 5 this year because of COVID-19. The winner earns 100 points, 40 will go to the runner-up, 20 to third and 10 for fourth.

Shirreffs expects Midcourt, the 2-1 co-second choice in the Gold Cup along with Improbable, to be on the lead in the 1 1/4-mile race. The 5-year-old Midnight Lute gelding has won five of his past seven races, including a four-race win streak that was snapped by a third-place finish in the Grade II San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita on Dec. 28.

Overall, Midcourt has won five of 10 starts, including five of eight for Shirreffs since he took over training duties in February 2019.

Higher Power, the 9-5 favorite who’ll be ridden by Flavien Prat for the fifth consecutive race, is winless in three starts since his impressive 5 1/4-length victory in last summer’s Pacific Classic at Del Mar. He was a disappointing 10th as the 5-2 favorite in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park in his lone start this year.

There are four ungraded stakes races on the program, highlighted by the $150,000 Cinema Stakes for 3-year-olds on the turf course.

DERBY DAY

Where: Santa Anita.

When: Saturday.

First post: 12:30 p.m.

Stakes lineup: $400,000 Santa Anita Derby, $300,000 Hollywood Gold Cup, $200,000 Santa Anita Oaks and four ungraded races.

Big names: Authentic and Honor A.P. in the Derby, and Higher Power, Midcourt and Improbable in the Gold Cup.

TV: Derby will be televised by Fox Sports 1 and TVG at approximately 4 p.m. Gold Cup will be televised by TVG at about 5 p.m.

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