When Cubby Broccoli and his wife, Dana, bought this oversized 2-year-old and decided to call him Brocco, they bounced the name off their trainer, Randy Winick.
"Brocco?" Winick said. "What kind of a name is that?"
"If he wins some races," Cubby Broccoli said, "then you'll know what kind of a name it is."
Brocco was a winner the first time he got to the races, last summer at Del Mar, and he has done little else since. The chestnut colt's fourth victory in six starts came Saturday in the $500,000 Santa Anita Derby, and the three-quarter-length victory over Tabasco Cat will send the Broccolis and Winick to Churchill Downs with the favorite or second choice for the Kentucky Derby on May 7.
"Oh, I don't know who the favorite will be back there," Winick said. "Right now, I'm not worried about that. If Holy Bull ran big in the Blue Grass (next Saturday at Keeneland), I guess he could be the favorite. If my horse is the favorite, or the third or fourth choice, that's immaterial. Whatever price they make my horse, so be it. At any price, I think he'll have something to do with the outcome."
The 57th Santa Anita Derby wasn't what was advertised a week ago, and if the race had been run a day later, the attrition rate might have reduced the field to a match race.
On Wednesday, trainer Ron McAnally, whose Valiant Nature had handed Brocco one of his two defeats, in December's Hollywood Futurity, decided that his colt would be better off facing Holy Bull in the Blue Grass. Then Saturday morning, Soul Of The Matter, who won the San Felipe on March 20 as Brocco and Valiant Nature ran 2-3, was scratched because of a minor injury related to the cracked hoof that had bothered him earlier. The additional scratches of longshots Pollock's Luck, who has a fever and cough, and Wild Invader, who is going to run next Saturday in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, added up to a six-horse field.
Tabasco Cat, more experienced than any of the other starters, was beaten for the fourth time in nine starts, finishing one length ahead of Strodes Creek, who had five lengths on his stablemate, Numerous. Robannier finished fifth, and Fly'n J. Bryan, the pacesetter who started to tire at the half-mile pole, was last. Favored Brocco paid $3.40 to win, earning $275,000 for running 1 1/8 miles in 1:48 1/5, which was 1 1/5 seconds slower than the stakes record.
Wayne Lukas, who trains Tabasco Cat, and Charlie Whittingham, the trainer of both Strodes Creek and Numerous, indicated that their horses would also run in the Kentucky Derby, which is an eighth of a mile longer than Saturday's race.
Winick made no apologies for not having Valiant Nature and Soul Of The Matter to beat Saturday. "We did what we had to do," the trainer said. "We had no control over the horses that weren't here."
Gary Stevens, one of the most successful jockeys to ride in the Santa Anita Derby, was aboard Brocco for the sixth consecutive time. In 10 tries, Stevens has never been worse than fourth in the stake. He has won the race four times, including last year with Personal Hope, and has added two seconds, one third and three fourths. The last jockey to win the Santa Anita Derby in successive years was Laffit Pincay, with Solar Salute and Sham in 1972-73.
Stevens gave Brocco a canny ride, letting him settle into third place, behind Fly'n J. Bryan and Tabasco Cat. Brocco trailed by seven lengths after a half-mile and moved up steadily on the far turn. At the quarter pole, Tabasco Cat passed Fly'n J. Bryan, and even though he ran a gritty race, Brocco was able to overtake him with about a sixteenth of a mile left.
Stevens hand rode Brocco to the wire. "Tabasco Cat hung in there a little longer than I anticipated," Stevens said. "When Pat (Day) popped his horse on the shoulder at the quarter pole and got no response at all, I thought I had them any time I wanted. When I went up and eyeballed Tabasco Cat, he kind of rebroke and made a horse race out of it until the sixteenth pole. Then I went ahead and asked my horse for his best. I never did use the stick (whip), because I didn't feel there was any need to. He was holding Tabasco Cat at bay, and there was nobody coming."
The filly Winning Colors, Stevens' first Santa Anita Derby winner, also won the Kentucky Derby in 1988, as they held off Day and Forty Niner by a neck at the wire.
Tabasco Cat lost for the first time as a 3-year-old, but Day wasn't discouraged.
"It was a big effort," Day said. "I was pleased with everything except the outcome. I would think that this race would set him up perfectly for Kentucky."
Strodes Creek, making his first stakes appearance, now has two wins, a second and a third in four starts, all under Corey Black.
"I thought he was the winner on the turn," Black said. "He kind of lost his momentum when we straightened for home. Changing (lead feet), he got all imbalanced, and that's when Brocco and Tabasco Cat really got away from him."
Cubby Broccoli, the 85-year-old producer of many of the James Bond films, helped pick out Brocco at a 2-year-old sale at Pomona.
"I liked him because he was a huge horse," Broccoli said. "He was big, just enormous. He reminded (me) of some of the horses I used to watch at Del Mar, when I was around old-school chaps like Bing Crosby, Louie B. Mayer and Lin Howard. I was ill the day he won the Breeders' Cup (Juvenile), so this is a bigger thrill than that win.
"He's the best horse I've ever had, and it looks like he's on his way to bigger things. Should he be the favorite in Kentucky? That's not up to me. It's up to the people who have to make those judgments."