Stronghold edges Bob Baffert’s favored Imagination to win Santa Anita Derby, earns Kentucky Derby berth

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Stronghold defeated favored Imagination in a furious duel to the finish to win the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby by a neck on Saturday and earn a spot in next month’s Kentucky Derby.

It will be the first Derby starter for trainer Phil D’Amato and first Derby mount for jockey Antonio Fresu.

Stronghold ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.98 under Fresu, who earned his first career Grade 1 victory in the United States. He kissed the brown colt’s neck in the winner’s circle.

“I love this horse from the first time I sat on him,” the Italian jockey said. “I was very confident that he could do it, and he did it.”

Stronghold paid $6.40, $3 and $2.40 at 2-1 odds.

Imagination, the even-money favorite trained by six-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert, returned $2.80 and $2.20. His other entry, Wynstock, finished sixth in the eight-horse field in front of 32,089 on a sunny, cool and windy day.

“In the stretch I was vulnerable for a closer,” said Frankie Dettori, who was aboard Imagination. “When he passed us, my horse kept fighting back. We were head-and-head and he was too strong for me down the lane.”

Santa Anita Horse Racing

Stronghold and jockey Antonio Fresu, outside, overpower Imagination, with Lanfranco Dettori, to win the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby horse race Saturday, April 6, 2024.

Benoit Photo via AP

E J Won the Cup, trained by two-time Kentucky Derby winner Doug O’Neill, was another 3 1/4 lengths back in third and paid $4.60 to show.

Stronghold earned 100 qualifying points for the May 4 Derby. He now has 125 total points and is fourth on the Derby leaderboard. Imagination didn’t earn any points because Churchill Downs has banned Baffert for a third consecutive year.

“It was a nice little speed battle there, and he handled it well,” D’Amato said. “This was a great education for him, and a nice test that he’s going to need to win a race like the Kentucky Derby.”

Earlier on the card, Dettori won six straight races – the second through the seventh – with mostly long shots. He tied the record for most consecutive victories in one day at Santa Anita set by Flavien Prat on March 12, 2021.

In other Kentucky Derby preps:

Sierra Leone rallied from last to overtake Just A Touch down the stretch and win the $1 million Blue Grass Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths at Keeneland.

With Tyler Gaffalione aboard, Sierra Leone covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.08 and paid $5.32 to win.

The 8-5 favorite, one of three Chad Brown-trained entries in the 10-horse field, overcame several challenges.

Sierra Leone didn’t want to enter the starting gate and after multiple attempts went into the No. 10 hole. He lagged behind for much of the race as 15-1 long shot Top Conor, another Brown pupil, and Just A Touch set the pace.

Epic Ride was third.

Brown said Gaffalione told him the colt got stirred up being in the far outside post next to the large crowd.

“He’s still polishing off his experience and his skills,” Brown said. “I just think a mile-and-a-quarter (in the Kentucky Derby) won’t be a problem going forward. We’re looking forward to it.”

The bay colt surged through the final turn to catch the leaders and earn 100 points on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. Sierra Leone moved into first place with 155 total qualifying points.

In the $750,000 Wood Memorial, Resilience won by 2 1/4 lengths at Aqueduct.

Ridden by John Velazquez, who earned his fifth Wood victory, Resilience ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.28 and paid $11 to win. The colt earned 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points and moved into fifth on the leaderboard with 110 total.

Society Man was second and Protective was 1 1/2 lengths back in third.

The victory, worth $400,000, increased Resilience’s career earnings to $494,603, with two wins in six starts.

Deposition fell while trying to make a move between horses in mid-stretch and unseated jockey Dexter Haddock. A New York Racing Association veterinarian said the colt stood up on his own, walked onto an equine ambulance and was taken to a clinic for further evaluation. Haddock was taken to a hospital for further evaluation.

AP Sports Writer Gary B. Graves in Lexington, Kentucky, contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2024 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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