Probably the most important Kentucky Derby prep race of the season takes place today in Arcadia, Calif., as nine 3-year-olds run in the $500,000 Santa Anita Derby.
The race will be simulcast to Pimlico Race Course and the Laurel inter-track outlet. It can be seen live on "Wide World of Sports" on ABC-TV (channels 7, 13), with post time set for 5:43 p.m.
Dinard, to be ridden by Chris McCarron, heads the 1 1/8 -mile Santa Anita Derby. McCarron had a choice between Dinard and Sea Cadet after winning on both in their most recent starts.
"Obviously, it was a tough decision," McCarron said at a track breakfast Thursday. "I knew [Dinard] was going to be the favorite, and I like to ride the favorite. He's been the best here this winter."
Dinard, 3-for-4 in his career, won the San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita Park. In the next major California prep, the San Felipe Stakes, Sea Cadet led wire-to-wire, with Dinard skipping the race.
"I'll track Sea Cadet very closely," McCarron said. "No matter how the race comes up, I'm in the garden spot with Dinard. [Sea Cadet] runs his best races when he's in front."
California has been a haven for Kentucky Derby winners in recent years. Four of the past five winners wintered there, and three of the past five ran in the Santa Anita Derby.
The race is the 11th on a 12-event card at Pimlico/Laurel. Also included are the $40,000 Hirsch Jacobs Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters, and the simulcast of the $200,000 Preview Stakes from Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla.
Although the 1 1/8 -mile Preview has only a field of five, Pimlico officials chose it over the $250,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct for one simple reason: Cahill Road.
A full brother to last year's Derby winner, Unbridled, Cahill Road has impressed onlookers in Florida when winning three races this year. If he wins, or runs well, trainer Scotty Schulhofer probably will enter him next in the Kentucky Derby.
pTC Schulhofer, who also trains Derby favorite Fly So Free, is represented by a third colt in the Santa Anita Derby. Scan has raced twice at Santa Anita while under the care of Randy Schulhofer, assistant to his father.
"He's really feeling good," the younger Schulhofer said. Regarding a trip to Kentucky: "He has to win or finish a close second."
Best Pal, the West's top 2-year-old last year, finished a close third behind Dinard in the San Rafael. He makes just his second start of the year today.
"We didn't want to tighten him up too soon," said trainer Ian Jory. "He is very fresh. He had a very heavy campaign last year, so we gave him three months off. Now he's at his peak."
The sleeper of the Santa Anita Derby could be Compelling Sound, a lightly raced son of Seattle Slew. The colt is trained by Charlie Whittingham, who has won two of the past five Derbys (Ferdinand, 1986, and Sunday Silence, 1989).
"Unfortunately, this horse is a little behind the others," Whittingham said. "He's a very big horse, so we've taken our time with him. He's only had three races. We'll have no excuse, though."
NOTES: The one-mile Gotham can be seen on a one-hour, tape-delayed program on ESPN that begins at 4. Stately Wager is a solid favorite. . . . The English Grand National will be shown on tape on "Wide World of Sports." . . . Ameri Run, Nasty Hero or Smart Alec could be the favorite in the six-horse Jacobs Stakes. . . . Rick Wilson got his third winner of the card when Bluemont Fair was awarded first place in the $18,500 Pimlico feature yesterday. The stewards ruled that King's Testamony, longest shot in a field of eight, drifted over on Bluemont Fair in the early stretch. Mario Pino also notched a riding triple. . . . Dale Capuano saddled one winner yesterday, giving him an 8-7 lead over King Leatherbury and Ben Perkins Jr. in the Pimlico trainers' standings.