ARCADIA, Calif. -- The Santa Anita Derby on Saturday has such a strong lineup that a horse conceivably could run third in a three-way photo finish with Lookin At Lucky and Sidney's Candy and not have enough money to go to the Kentucky Derby in four weeks.
"If my horse were to run a good third, with trouble and getting stopped, I'd be upset," said trainer Mike Machowsky, who will send out the once-beaten Caracortado in the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby. "But if he just runs third and is outrun, to me he wouldn't belong. We'll see how it all shakes out."
All eyes -- especially those tuned to NBC for its telecast at 5-6 p.m. ET of the Santa Anita Derby and Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial from Aqueduct -- will be looking to see how Lookin At Lucky and Eskendereya, the unquestioned leaders for the Kentucky Derby, do in their respective final prep races.
But as much as anything, the final round of major Derby preps - which this Saturday includes the Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial, and Grade 3, $500,000 Illinois Derby, all at 1 1/8 miles -- will be all about the Benjamins. With far more than the maximum Derby field of 20 horses still pointing for the starting gate at Churchill Downs on May 1, earnings in graded stakes will become paramount. Even a horse like Eskendereya, so impressive in the Fountain of Youth that he is a heavy favorite in the Wood, cannot afford a misstep or he will be cash-poor.
The issue seems acute in the Santa Anita Derby, which drew 10 runners, the largest field of Saturday's three preps, and has several horses who are in precarious positions in a year when the Derby cutoff may be close to $200,000. Caracortado ($108,000 in graded earnings) probably needs to finish at least second to be safely in. Third place Saturday, worth $75,000, would leave him on the bubble with rich races like the Arkansas Derby, Blue Grass, and Lexington still to be run in the next two weeks.
Alphie's Bet ($90,000), the Sham Stakes winner, also probably needs to finish no worse than second. And for a colt like Setsuko ($30,000), second place, even to Lookin At Lucky, might not be enough to get him into the Kentucky Derby.
"Either he makes it or he doesn't," said Richard Mandella, who trains Setsuko. "There's nothing I can do."
The Santa Anita Derby goes as the sixth race on an 11-race card that begins at noon Pacific. Gates to the track open at 10 a.m. There is a $500,000 guarantee in the pick four, and a casual dress shirt will be given away to all fans with paid admission.
Eclipse Award winner Lookin At Lucky, who was a game winner of the Rebel Stakes last month in his 3-year-old debut, is the marquee name in the Santa Anita Derby. Atop the money list, Lookin At Lucky needs nothing more than a safe trip. He has not been trained for the best race of his career, but he has so much raw talent that may not matter.
"With Lucky, I never worry about who's in the race," the colt's trainer, Bob Baffert, said.
Sidney's Candy has won the San Vicente and San Felipe stakes in his last two starts and will try to stretch his speed to 1 1/8 miles. The one horse who could give him a tussle on the front end, the comebacking Who's Up, is drawn inside him. John Sadler, who trains Sidney's Candy, knows a top effort is required to go to the Kentucky Derby.
"Absolutely. Now he's going to get a real stiff challenge, because he's running against the favorite for the Kentucky Derby," Sadler said. "I saw Lookin At Lucky breeze on Sunday, and he breezed very well. My colt is doing real good. With his pedigree, he shouldn't have a problem with the distance. He's by Candy Ride, and is out of a mare by Storm Cat. He's quick, but he's not a pulling speed horse."
Caracortado, a gelding, won his first five starts before finishing third in the San Felipe, two lengths behind Sidney's Candy.
"It looks like there's a little more speed in this race," said his trainer, Machowsky, who also owns 50 percent of Caracortado. "My horse ran real well last time. They just sprinted home. Somebody has to keep Sadler's horse honest. If not, we will."
Alphie's Bet -- who is seeking his third straight win -- and Setsuko finished one-two in the Sham at the same 1 1/8-mile distance four weeks ago. Setsuko has finished in the money in six straight races, but his lone win was against maidens.
"He's been steadily improving," Mandella said. "He's been a little green, but he's working it out. I wouldn't be as optimistic about him if he wasn't finishing in his races."
Skipshot invades from Northern California for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who has been bullish on the way Skipshot has trained coming into this race.
Posse Power was a troubled third in the El Camino Real Derby in his last start. Thomas Baines, sixth in the El Camino Real Derby, came back to win a first-level allowance at Santa Anita.
Cardiff Giant was fifth in the Rebel in his last start, but has never been worse than second in four starts at Santa Anita.