Roadster Defeats Stablemate Game Winner in Santa Anita Derby

Mike Smith celebrates aboard Roadster after the Santa Anita Derby. Photo by Terri Keith.

Trainer Bob Baffert knew he had the winner in the Santa Anita Derby by the time the horses came down the stretch. He just didn’t know whether it would be Roadster or Game Winner.

Roadster – who had started out as the No. 1 seed in the Hall of Fame trainer’s barn last summer before being sidelined with throat surgery – ended up edging out his stablemate Game Winner, the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and champion 2-year-old colt.

“Those are two good horses … They were both finishing well,” Baffert said shortly after watching the race Saturday with Game Winner’s owner, Gary West. “Game Winner is a fighter. It was a great stretch run.”

Baffert credited jockey Mike Smith with getting a perfect trip on Roadster, whom the trainer said needed to finish first or second to make it into next month’s Kentucky Derby.

“He was brilliant today. They should put him in the Hall of Fame again,” the trainer quipped.

Roadster ran the 1 1/8-mile, $1 million Grade 1 race in 1:51:28 and paid $8.40 to win, $3 to place and $2.40 to show. It was the third win in four career starts for the gray/roan son of Quality Road, but his first graded stakes victory.

Game Winner, the bettors’ 1-2 favorite, wound up a half-length back in second in what was his second close defeat in as many races. Instagrand was 1 ¾ lengths back in third.

Baffert said he believes Roadster and Game Winner each have more left in them for the Kentucky Derby.

“They’re going to be at their best,” he said of the two, noting that another of his 3-year-old stars, Improbable, still has one more race to go – the Arkansas Derby – before heading to Churchill Downs.

“What I love the best is there’s not a better feeling getting here today,” he said. “The fans, they didn’t let us down.”

He lauded the crowd of just over 30,000 fans for showing up to support one of the premier days of racing in the wake of almost daily media coverage about the deaths of 23 horses at Santa Anita since the start of the meet Dec. 26.

“It was so comforting to see all these fans here,” Baffert said. “They know at the end of the day we love our horses. We wake up worrying about them, go to sleep worrying about them. To me, that’s what made it a great day.”

Two races after Smith edged out Joel Rosario aboard Game Winner, Rosario turned the tables as he piloted Gift Box to a win by a nose over McKinzie – who was ridden by Smith – in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap.

“I was the only one who left the box,” Gift Box’s owner, Kosta Hronis, said of his reaction to the photo-finish. “I came straight down, but I did pause until it went up on the board because I kept hearing the crowd moan.”

It was the second consecutive victory in the Big Cap for trainer John Sadler and Hronis Racing LLC, but with a different horse. Last year, Accelerate won the Santa Anita Handicap before going on to win the Eclipse Award for champion older dirt horse.

“If we could follow in Accelerate’s footsteps, that would be really great,” Hronis said.

Sadler was ecstatic to win the race again.

“We’re really thrilled to win it because you’re passing up other big races,” said Sadler, who has conditioned Gift Box, a 6-year-old gray/roan son of Twirling Candy for two starts following the horse’s campaign on the East Coast with trainer Chad Brown. “We’re Southern Californians. This is where we race. We want to run the big race here so it’s good when you win it.”

The Santa Anita Handicap had been delayed for about a month after the track was closed for racing so the track could undergo extensive testing in the wake of the horses’ deaths.

Sadler said it was “nice to see everything’s going the way it’s supposed to “

“I feel the track’s in good shape. It’s goot to get back into our normal routine, which is I feel where we’re headed,” Sadler said.

While Baffert was edged out of his second stakes win of the day with McKinzie’s narrow defeat, trainers Simon Callaghan and Jerry Hollendorfer each won two stakes races.

Bellafina, a 3-year-old filly sired by Quality Road, was easily victorious in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks with a 5 ¼-length victory for Callaghan and owner Kaleem Shah.

Callaghan also won the Grade 3 Providencia Stakes on turf with Hostess, a 25-1 longshot who was making her first start in the United States after three starts in Great Britain. Another Callaghan filly, Maxim Rate, completed the $1 exacta for $145.20.

Hollendorfer won the Grade 2 Royal Heroine on turf with the ultra-consistent Vasilka, a 5-year-old mare who has won 11 races, including five graded stakes, since she was claimed for $40,000 just over a year ago.

Hollendorfer’s other stakes win came in the Evening Jewel Stakes with Sneaking Out, a 3-year-old filly who has a three-race win streak.

“Jerry’s had great luck with fillies,” one of Vasilika’s owners, Mark Schlaich, said of Hollendorfer, who has also trained Songbird, Unique Bella, Blind Luck and Hystericalady. “He’s good with the girls. He’s good with the ladies.”