Colonel John in charge of Santa Anita Derby
Susan Casner's homebred Colonel John solidified his spot in next month's Kentucky Derby with an impressive victory in Saturday's Santa Anita Derby GI with jockey Corey Nakatani in the irons. Going off as the 5-2 second choice, the bay colt broke sharply but was rated well back in sixth position as the field of eleven raced down the backstretch. He was shuffled around in heavy traffic on the far turn and a patient Nakatani waited for room on the inside turning for home before asking the colt to run. Colonel John responded with an explosive turn of foot to catch Bob Black Jack and Coast Guard, with his longer strides outmatching his opponents' to get up by a half-length at the wire. The Tiznow son widened his margin galloping out well in front of the field, indicating that more distance will suit his style nicely.
Colonel John was led into the winner's circle by his principal owner, Susan Casner, wife of WinStar Farm's co-owner Bill Casner. Credit is given to Susan for finding the dam of Colonel John, Sweet Damsel, on the back lot of Keeneland's sales grounds and persuading her husband to purchase the mare privately after she failed to bring her reserve. She was bred to WinStar Farm's Tiznow and Colonel John is her second foal. The Turkoman mare has since produced a full brother two-year-old and a full sister yearling, who both reside at WinStar Farm.
The Casners were joined in the winner's circle by WinStar Farm Vice President Elliott Walden, the Casners' daughter and son-in-law, Kayce and Clark Anderson, and Bill Casner's niece Libby O'Malley.
Connections have had faith in Colonel John since the beginning and he has not disappointed in six starts, with four wins and two seconds. He was second by a half-length in his debut going six furlongs and came back to win by 4 1/2 lengths at seven furlongs. He captured the 1 1/16 mile Real Quiet Stakes by three lengths in November and in December he just missed winning the CashCall Futurity GI after encountering trouble in the stretch run. Trainer Eoin Harty was not disappointed with that race, as he felt the colt gained a valuable learning experience navigating traffic and responding to an opening on the rail, showing heart and confidence. He proved himself again in the Sham Stakes GIII on March 1st after a layoff of more than two months and has shown versatility with regard to positioning with each of his races.
"He's always very professional, never turns a hair," Harty said. "He's got the mind for it (the Derby.)"
Nakatani seconded that assessment saying, "Now I've got something to get really excited about. There is no question in my mind that this horse has the ability to win the Kentucky Derby, and he underscored that today."