Mastery’s unfortunate injury following his win in March 11’s San Felipe Stakes left no clear leader among Southern California’s three-year-olds hoping to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. This was especially evident when multiple entries were made for Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby by trainers Doug O’Neill (Iliad, Term of Art, So Conflated, and Milton Freewater), Bob Baffert (Reach the World, American Anthem, and Irish Freedom), and John Shirreffs (Gormley and Royal Mo). In the end, Shirreffs strategy paid off, as both of his entries for owners Jerry and Ann Moss crossed the finish line in the money.

When the starting gates for the Santa Anita Derby opened, the trio of Shirreffs’ Royal Mo, Baffert’s American Anthem, and Jerry Hollendorfer’s Battle of Midway immediately took the lead. Mick Ruis’ Midnight Pleasure and Shirreffs’ Gormley (ridden by Victor Espinoza) settled back in 4th and 5th respectively, content to let the front runners match each other stride for stride.

The field remained that way until the far turn when Gormley and Midnight Pleasure started to move up just as American Anthem began to lose steam. In the final stretch for home, the Moss’ green and pink silks dominated the lead as Gormley and Royal Mo battled it out. If Royal Mo and jockey Gary Stevens had been sent to the early lead to be a “rabbit” for Gormley, they certainly weren’t acting that way in the final lengths. In the end, Gormley emerged the victor while Battle of Midway took second and Royal Mo finished third.

The win gave Gormley 100 Kentucky Derby points which, added with his previous 25 points from his performances in the Frontrunner, Sham and San Felipe Stakes, guarantees him a trip to The Run for the Roses on May 6.

Three-year-old fillies hoping to compete in the Kentucky Oaks on May 5 ran in Saturday’s Santa Anita Oaks. The betting favorite, Baffert’s Abel Tasman, had a bad start and stayed near the back of the pack for the majority of the race. Trainer Richard Mandella’s Paradise Woods went immediately to the lead under guidance from Flavien Prat and remained there for the entire 1 1/16 mile race. Jeff Bonde’s Princess Karen tried to catch the leader but was not successful, especially once Paradise Woods entered the final stretch for home. According to handicapper Brad Free, Paradise Woods scored the largest margin of victory in the history of the Santa Anita Oaks, winning by 11.75 lengths over late-running Abel Tasman and It Tiz Well. The previous record was Silver Spoon’s 1959 10.5 lengths win.

Another filly who had a great performance was Sircat Sally. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, she entered the Grade III Providencia Stakes as the undefeated favorite after four wins- two on turf, two on dirt. Under an excellent ride by jockey Mike Smith, Sircat Sally jumped immediately out of the starting gate and led the way on the turf course. Princess Roi and Emphatically were the closest challengers but were never successful in their attempt to catch the leader.

Smith did not need to urge Sircat Sally at all as she added a fifth win to her record in a wire to wire victory. At 1 1/8 miles, this was her longest race to date. As track announcer Michael Wrona noted, “Every time the bar is raised, she jumps.”