Jeff Siegel's Prime Picks for Saturday, April 4 at Santa Anita

A spectacular 11-race Santa Anita Derby program begins early (noon post) with a competitive maiden claimer that has four main contenders. #3 Latego Light, a route to sprint play following a brief freshening for Eurton, fits on figures and should be very dangerous from off the pace. #5 Runway Starlet was beaten as the choice in a similar spot last time out but she’s another who warrants a look based on her numbers and may deserve one more look. #11 Fine Time to Leave drops considerably in class for red hot trainer Mitchell, retains Bejarano, and seems sure to improve a bunch in this league. #13 Lanie’s Way was fractious in the gate in her last start yet ran remarkably well under the circumstance to finish a game third with a number that makes her a strong threat in this event. If she minds her manners today, the Kitchingman-trained filly might be hard to handle. These four are hard to separate and all seem worth using in the rolling exotics.

The 2nd race is a starter’s allowance stakes and offers the possibility of a good 3-horse exacta/trifecta play. #6 Warren’s Pepe seems to be very effective in a stalking role and if Solis can get him to relax early, the Hollendorfer-trained veteran should be very dangerous in his first try on the Southern California circuit. His form up north is solid and so are his numbers. #8 Twin Turbo is racing in good, consistent form for Sadler and the horse just beat him (Dadsalittleunusual) came back to win the other day. Bejarano should have him rolling late. #9 Crimson Star, first off the claim for Canani, adds blinkers, gets Gomez, and has reportedly been training up a storm for his new connections. You can’t really like him on form, but the evidence suggests he’s ready to improve a bunch for Julio.

The 3rd race, a maiden dash down the hill for fillies and mares, looks completely wide open. #1 Dextera must leave from the poor inside draw but her race before last puts her right there. Toss out her off-the-turf main track try and she looks pretty solid in a below par field for the level. #10 Magic Roberta, second in her last pair, should fire another good shot but a good filly will beat her. There may not be one in her, though. #12 Dreamalong is a “must use” in the exotics. Now in the Canani barn, she’s been freshened since finishing a very respectable fifth (beaten a length) in the Miesque Stakes last fall and she’s been working well enough for her comeback to expect a big try.

#6 Rail Trip figures to be the shortest priced favorite on the program when he puts his unbeaten string alive in the 4th race, the $85,000 Santana Mile on the main track. Perfect in four very impressive outings, the Ron Ellis-trained gelding should enjoy a pace-prompting trip outside just off #3 Ball Four. However, he’ll have to be at his best to withstand the late kick of #5 Dakota Phone, who exits three graded stakes and looks dangerous from off the pace, his zero-for-7 lifetime record over the Santa Anita main track notwithstanding.

#8 Vanquest looks like the best of the known element in the 5th race, a sprint for maiden 3-year-olds, but the real contention is drawn just to his outside in the form over three very well-regarded first timers. #9 Best Mon, a $390,000 Barretts 2-year-old in training buy last year, debuts for Harty and gives indication of being extremely quick in his morning trials. The presence of Bejarano in the saddle indicates he’s very likely a live item. #10 Raymorrison has consistently worked fast at Hollywood Park for McAnally and could be any kind. He’s certainly fit enough by now. #11 Hidden Blessing also has been impressing the Inglewood clockers and gets Gomez and the outside box. The barn does well with debut runners and this colt looks fit and ready.

The Santa Anita Derby, which goes as the 6th race, kicks off the Pick-6 and a strong case could be made for any of the first three choices. At 6-1 on the morning line, #1 Chocolate Candy perhaps offers the best value. His numbers are steadily improving, he’s been training amazingly well and he’s already proven at the distance. Even though he’s strictly a closer, the son of Candy Ride doesn’t have to come from too far back, and Rosario should have him within hailing range by the far turn. #10 The Pamplemousse shouldn’t have any concerns with the rabbit (#2 Z Day) and figures to take control when ready (perhaps by the far turn). His win in the Sham was superb, and a similar effort will make him hard to beat. #4 Pioneerof the Nile did not need anything close to his best to win the San Felipe ‘Cap (with a paltry 90 Beyer figure) but if that race wasn’t impressive, his come-from-behind victory in the previous Robert B. Lewis Stakes certainly was. He’s a May foal (which means he’s not even actually 3-years old yet) and Baffert is convinced we haven’t seen his best yet. He’ll need his best today.

The Arcadia Handicap for older turf milers is next on this outstanding program, and #1 Madeo deserves top billing following his impressive score in a decent overnight allowance event last month. He was beaten a neck over this course last fall in the Oak Tree Derby and had no chance when blocked most of the way in the subsequent Hollywood Derby. With clear sailing today, Gomez should have him along in time. #3 Desert Code, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint last fall, returned in winning form when taking the Daytona ‘Cap in February and has shown he can stay a mile. Clearly, he’s the one to fear most. If you can afford to use one more in your rolling exotics, you might want to toss in #5 Global Hunter, a closing fourth despite a wide trip in the recent Grade 1 Kilroe Mile.

The 8th race is the Portrero Grande, a six and one-half furlong main track sprint that surprisingly doesn’t have all that much early speed in it with the exception of the comebacking #4 Sea of Pleasure. The Mullins-trained colt has been burning up the track in the morning while getting cranked up for his first start since last June and he’s certainly capable of firing a big shot fresh. We’re just not sure if this race is a sixteenth of a mile too far for him. Still, you have to use him in your rolling exotics along with the very logical #2 Halo Najib, third in the Palos Verdes ‘Cap and then second to Georgie Boy in the San Carlos ‘Cap in February. He has the right style for this extended sprint trip and seems like the most dangerous of the closers. You can also consider #6 Six Pack Abs who should find himself in a good stalking position early behind the quicker Sea of Pleasure. The Sadler-trained gelding always gives his best and is a fit on speed figures.

The Providencia Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on turf has a ton of early speed in it, and that should provide the late charging #11 Rosy Mantle with every chance to produce the last run. She won with plenty in reserve against softer in an impressive U.S. debut last month, retains Bejarano, and showed her class when placing in listed stakes company in England last year as a 2-year-old. She’s our rolling exotic single for today.

The 10th race is a highly-competitive first level allowance sprint and our suggestion is to spread. #2 Devoted Magic had a brutal trip when finishing off the board in a similar spot last month but with clear sailing today, he’ll be very tough to contain late. #5 Hard Bill, an excellent runner up in a fast heat in his U.S. debut, retains Gomez and should make a forward move. #10 Scored overcame a slow start to break his maiden at first asking in good time while beating a subsequent winner and if leaves with his field today, the Headley-trained gelding will be a strong factor right back. These are the three that we’ll use in our exacta/trifecta box; you may want to go a bit deeper in your rolling exotics.

The nightcap is a grass grab bag and is another that has several legitimate contenders. We’ll boil it down to #5 Nitro Active, #9 Carona Time and #12 Suit Yourself, all of whom have credentials to win. Nitro Active missed by a neck under identical conditions in late February, has trained well since, and should fire another big shot while switching to Bejarano. Carona Time, second in his last pair with competitive numbers, is another who figures in the fray and with good racing luck could take it all. Suit Yourself stretches out for the first time, removes blinkers, switches to Espinoza and is wheeled back in a week after being overmatched in the Sensational Star ‘Cap. If he can successfully project his sprint form around two-turns, he could make things very interesting at 12-1 on the morning line.

Good luck and enjoy Derby Day