Creative Cause and jockey Joel Rosario won the Grade II, $300,000 San Felipe… (Associated Press / Benoit…)
There were expressions of relief instead of elation in the Santa Anita winner's circle Saturday by 70-year-old trainer Mike Harrington even though his talented 3-year-old, Creative Cause, emerged victorious in the Grade II $300,000 San Felipe Stakes, beating Bodemeister by three-quarters of a length in the 1 1/16-mile race.
That's because Harrington has much bigger prizes in his sights — the April 7 Santa Anita Derby and the May 5 Kentucky Derby.
And Creative Cause, a son of Giant's Causeway, is very much in the upper echelon of Derby contenders. He was put through a tough, challenging race, having to rally under strong left-handed urging from jockey Joel Rosario to run down the Bob Baffert-trained Bodemeister, who was making only his third start.
Another 21/4 lengths back was another inexperienced but improving 3-year-old, Midnight Transfer, in third place. The race was considered one of the best Derby preps of 2012, filled with promising 3-year-olds, and Creative Cause has been the best on the West Coast since winning the Grade I Norfolk Stakes as a 2-year-old.
"It's a real relief to get these kinds of things over with," Harrington said.
As good as a horse might be, getting Creative Cause to the Kentucky Derby healthy is Harrington's main priority.
Baffert has lots of Derby hopefuls, but he's in the same situation as Harrington, trying to both develop his horses and keep them on the Derby trail. Bodemeister, coming off a 91/4-length maiden win, turned in a performance that pleased Baffert, leaving him with more options ahead.
American Act set the pace, with Bodemeister grabbing the lead entering the stretch and refusing to yield until Creative Cause finally took the lead near the finish.
"The race set up perfect," Rosario said. "There were a couple horses with speed up front, and when I saw that I just let him find his stride and go from there. My horse was a little green at the top of the lane, but I wanted to make sure that he didn't wait for another horse to come beat him. He galloped out good after the wire, which helps to show he may be the right horse for the Derby."
Said Harrington: "I guess any win is good. They got to work if they win it."