M.L.S. Playoff Preview: An L.A. Derby and More Questions Answered
The last time the Southern California Derby got a chance to take a big step toward its potential, it was all about the two horses running between them. The race that followed, an eight-furlong, 1 1/8-mile maiden over the dirt at Santa Anita, had a total of five runners, including eventual champion Secretariat, who had run a mile and two-and-a-half earlier, and a field that featured three runners who had qualified for the Derby by running in the California Derby earlier that year — Gatorade King and Diamante Star.
Now, with the winner of the $600,000 Pacific Classic, Sky King, in the final stretch, the field was narrowed down to three, with Jockeys World Cup champion Zabeel Stable’s Sky King in fourth, while El Paso Juvenile filly Diamante Star was running for the first time since winning the El Primero at Hollywood Park in December in pursuit of a fourth straight victory at Santa Anita.
Though it is only half the distance, this event is the most important one for the Southern California Derby, not only because of the importance of the race to its own division, but because of the importance of the two races as a measuring stick and indicator to the rest of the division. (After all, Sky King’s only other points-paying effort in the division was the California Derby, while Stable’s last points-paying effort here was the El Primero, which he won.)
The Southern California Derby has been a fixture in the schedule of most of the division’s competitors since it was first run in 1977, a year in which the race, though small, gained enough prestige to win the prestigious Los Angeles Times Hall of Fame race. In 1995, when Sky King won the Pacific Classic at Del Mar in his debut of more than five furlongs, he entered the Derby as the runner-up to Secretariat. And, if he has to make his only two runs since with only a mile and a half between them, he’ll make it in victory lane at Santa Anita.
The last time the two of those horses ran, Sky King and the Derby were the same distance.
And it was the