Jockey Garrett Gomez will ride Bob Baffert-trained Flashback in Saturday's… (Matthew Stockman / Getty…)
It will take less than 110 seconds to decide the winner of Saturday's $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, but if you pay attention to the bettors, they are almost certain to place their trust in the combination of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Garrett Gomez.
Flashback, trained by Baffert and to be ridden by Gomez, is the 6-5 morning-line favorite for the 1 1/8-mile race that is a final prep for the May 4 Kentucky Derby.
Flashback's primary competition was expected to come from Hear The Ghost, who ran down Flashback to win the San Felipe Stakes by a half-length on March 9. But Hear The Ghost suffered an injury this week and will be scratched from Saturday's race.
Eight 3-year-olds remain for Saturday's race, and strategy will once again take center stage.
All eyes will be on Gomez, the 41-year-old who's cool under pressure and was picked by Baffert to take over riding Flashback after jockey Julien Leparoux made an ill-advised decision to get Flashback involved in a speed duel with Goldencents in the San Felipe. Hear The Ghost roared from fifth place in the stretch to win the San Felipe.
"I'm just in the right place at the right time," Gomez said of his getting his new mount, Flashback. "Me and Bob have had a lot of success together. He's an excellent trainer, and when he decided to make a change, I'm glad my name popped up."
Gomez understands the wrath of Baffert. He was pulled from riding Lookin At Lucky in 2010 after a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby and was replaced by Martin Garcia, who rode Lookin At Lucky to victory in the Preakness Stakes.
In the end, the decision helped Gomez, because he ended up becoming the regular rider of Blame, who went on to win the Breeders' Cup Classic with a dramatic win over Zenyatta in November 2010.
At the San Felipe, Gomez rode Tiz A Minister to a third-place finish. Then, Baffert made a change in jockeys with Flashback, who has been considered the star of his Kentucky Derby contenders for weeks.
"I worked him two weeks ago," Gomez said. "I gave him a little test drive, and he answered all my questions. He was a pleasure. I really feel this is a good horse. He's got some engine to him. If you want him to go fast, you can go fast. Hopefully, he's learned a little from his last race."
Said Baffert: "Garrett is really good at shaking a horse up and getting him focused."
The challenge for Gomez will be making a judgment on where to place Flashback, who drew the No. 1 post position, early in the race. There are lots of potential pacesetters, including Goldencents, ridden by Kevin Krigger; Super Ninety Nine, ridden by Garcia and trained by Baffert, and Summer Exclusive, ridden by Edwin Maldonado.
"I'm a feel rider," Gomez said. "When the gate opens, I feel what's going to happen and go with it. Situations arise during the race and you have to make a split-second decision, and hopefully I'm making the right ones."
Baffert is seeking his seventh Santa Anita Derby win. Power Broker is the third Baffert horse in the field and has been training well even though he hasn't raced since Nov. 3.
And don't forget about Tiz A Minister, who was closing fast in the San Felipe and will have Joe Talamo taking over for Gomez.
The Santa Anita Derby will be race No. 9 on an 11-race card that features four other stakes races. First post is noon.