Overcoming the challenge of another paceless race, Pioneerof the Nile Saturday enhanced his status as a leading contender for the Kentucky Derby on May 2 with a one-length victory in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby,

It’s on to Churchill Downs for the son of 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker and Bob Baffert, who has won the Run for the Roses three times, but who has not had a participant in the mile and a quarter classic the past two years.

“He came out of the race very good, and he’ll probably leave for Kentucky on the 14th,” Baffert said Sunday morning, as he watched his two-time Eclipse Award winner Indian Blessing jog. “He’s still pretty fresh at the barn this morning. He never had to lay his body down.”
In winning the Grade I CashCall Futurity last Dec. 20 in his final start at two; the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes in his 3-year-old debut on Feb. 7; the Grade II San Felipe Stakes on March 14, and yesterday’s Santa Anita Derby, Pioneerof the Nile has rarely if ever experienced a pace scenario that would benefit his come-from-behind style.

“I’m figuring out his style as we go along,” Baffert said. “I learned a lot from that horse yesterday. You get a little bit out of each race, and it prepares me for the Derby, so I’m really happy with my situation right now. The only time he really hooked top-caliber horses was in the Robert Lewis. But we know what he can do when he does hook them, and he’s improving.”

Garrett Gomez has ridden Pioneerof the Nile in each of his four victories, but the nation’s Eclipse Award winner the past two years as outstanding jockey also has ridden Florida Derby runner-up Dunkirk for Todd Pletcher, who hopes to make the Kentucky Derby with the son of Unbridled’s Song, despite marginal graded earnings at this time.

“I haven’t even given that any thought,” Baffert said when asked if he had Gomez for the Derby.

The atmosphere was understandably much more subdued at the barn of The Pamplemousse, where Saturday morning trainer Julio Canani scratched the 9-5 morning line favorite for the Santa Anita Derby when tendon issues flared.

“We’re going to find out today or tomorrow, what to do,” Canani said. “A scan will be done,” said Alex Solis II, son of jockey Alex Solis, the colt’s regular rider. Alex II also is part owner of the gray son of Kafwain. “He’s comfortable; he’s fine,” Alex II said. “He’s walking right now. He’s going to run again. He’s not finished, but he will not run in the Kentucky Derby. We’ll evaluate and see how much time he needs.”

FINISH LINES: Dan Ward, assistant to Jerry Hollendorfer, said Santa Anita Derby runner-up Chocolate Candy “couldn’t be better” Sunday morning. “He’s sound, and he ate up,” Ward said. “He’ll be staying at Santa Anita until he leaves for Kentucky, but we don’t have a ship date yet.” . . . Corey Nakatani was encouraged by Mr. Hot Stuff’s third-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby. “If he has enough graded earnings to run in the Kentucky Derby, a mile and a quarter should be ideal for him,” Nakatani said. “I think my horse and Dunkirk have the right running style for the first Saturday in May, but they might need graded earnings to qualify. Being by Tiznow, Mr. Hot Stuff has the breeding to get the distance. Tiznow won two Breeders’ Cup Classics back to back at a mile and a quarter, so the Derby might be right in Mr. Hot Stuff’s wheelhouse.” . . . Mike McCarthy, assistant to Todd Pletcher, reports their stock in Southern California leaves Tuesday for points east. “But we’ll be back for the Breeders’ Cup at Oak Tree,” McCarthy said, adding that Take the Points came out of his fourth-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby “very well, but we have no plans for the horse right now.” . . . Darrell Vienna said Feisty Suances, fifth in the Santa Anita Derby, is a likely starter in the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes at Hollywood Park on April 25 . . . Jockey David Flores finished first among horsemen in Santa Anita’s 5K Walk and Run competition Saturday, with Guy Lamothe fourth and jockey Isaias Enriquez fifth. Notable finishers among women were trainer Kristin Mulhall, second, and Mary Forney and Lucinda Mandella of the TOC, fourth and 15th, respectively . . . Probable for next Sunday’s Grade III, $100,000 Las Cienegas Handicap for older fillies and mares at about 6 ½ furlongs on turf: Dawn After Dawn, Joel Rosario; Gorgeous Goose, Rafael Bejarano; Gotta Have Her, Tyler Baze; and Tuscan Evening, Garrett Gomez. Gomez needs two stakes victories to surpass the Santa Anita meet record of 19 shared by Laffit Pincay Jr. and Nakatani . . . John Shirreffs reports Tiago is back to the track after missing the Santa Anita Handicap March 7 due to a loss of appetite. Shirreffs did not reveal a comeback race for champion filly Zenyatta, who worked five furlongs on Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track Friday in :59.80, but has yet to run since win the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic last Oct. 24 . . . Michael Baze has been suspended three days (April 12, 15 and 16) for causing interference on Classic Demand in Friday’s eighth race . . . Two players remained alive in Santa Anita’s on line handicapping contest, ShowVivor II, going into Sunday’s races. On Saturday, each selected victorious Rail Trip in the fourth race.