Better known as the Bob Baffert Division, the 2019 Kentucky Derby trail’s case of California characters revolves around the race’s defending winner who’s seeking to make history heading into next year.
Baffert’s sixth Derby win would tie the all-time mark set by Ben Jones, whose winners spanned from 1938 to 1952 and included Triple Crown winners Whirlaway and Citation.
Here’s an early look at the West Coast’s top 2-year-olds who, going into next year should carry weight in some of the more meaningful Derby preps. Consider that of the 18 juveniles mentioned below, 11 are trained by Baffert.
(Sire – Trainer – Owner)
Game Winner (Candy Ride — Bob Baffert — Gary & Mary West): Baffert speaks of this one in the same vein as he has his other recent Derby winners, citing natural talent, a big frame and a willingness to lay it down in his races. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and soon-to-be 2-year-old champ remains at Santa Anita Park in light training. His next start will be in 2019.
Coliseum (Tapit — Bob Baffert — Godolphin): Sheikh Mohammed’s operation sent this homebred to Baffert while looking to win a Derby, one of the few races left in the world the famous blue silks haven’t claimed. Of course, a son of Tapit has never worn roses, either. Coliseum is an impressive 1-for-1, though he’s been noted as a challenge to train. No next start has been announced.
Improbable (City Zip — Bob Baffert — WinStar, China Horse Club, SF Racing): He battled an expensive rival to a neck win on debut, then turned around to win a mile-long stakes, the Street Sense, on Breeders’ Cup weekend. A likely favorite in Saturday’s Los Alamitos Futurity (G1), this one is already a proven shipper, and he arrived over the summer with lofty expectations, occupying Justify’s stall at the Baffert barn.
Instagrand (Into Mischief — Jerry Hollendorfer — OXO Equine): The original California “big horse” won both his races by at least 10 lengths, then in a controversial move by owner Larry Best exited training before an anticipated run at the Del Mar Futurity (G1). Best wants a fresh horse for the long haul, and Instagrand is back in light training for a third start to be announced.
Mucho Gusto (Mucho Macho Man — Bob Baffert — Michael Lund Petersen): Another set for the Los Alamitos Futurity, his owner also campaigned that race’s 2015 winner, Mor Spirit. Mucho Gusto impressed on debut and returned for a gutsy score in Del Mar’s Bob Hope (G3). The thinking here is he’s good, but not great. We’ll find out more Saturday.
Dueling (Violence — Jerry Hollendorfer — Michael Stinson): This $475,000 purchase hadn’t missed the exacta in three starts before sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. His run leveled off in the stretch, but Dueling also dealt with the inside post in a big field that day. Hollendorfer will consider running him in the Los Alamitos Futurity.
Gunmetal Gray (Exchange Rate — Jerry Hollendorfer — Hollendorfer, Pearl Racing and West Point Thoroughbreds): One spot better than his stablemate in the Juvenile, this charge is booked to run in the Futurity. He has already bumped heads twice with Game Winner, also running second by 4 1/2 lengths to him in the American Pharoah (G1) back in September.
Roadster (Quality Road — Bob Baffert — Speedway Stables): Baffert calls him “the TMZ horse,” given an interview with the tabloid website termed him the next Triple Crown threat to watch from the barn. Those hopes diminished a bit after Roadster ran third in the Del Mar Futurity. But the colt’s ceiling remains high, as he was treated for a breathing problem and is back in training.
Ones to Watch
More Bafferts and Hollendorfers? Yep. State-breds Cruel Intention and Galilean were separated by just a neck at the wire of Santa Anita’s Nov. 3 Golden State Juvenile Stakes, with the next-closest competition another 16 lengths back.
Baffert also successfully debuted Kingly, the full brother of multiple graded stakes winner Mohaymen, on Saturday at Del Mar. He had to battle a bit but faced the same horse, Stretford End, that Improbable fought to beat narrowly in his own debut. Plus, Kingly continued running well past the wire on his gallop out.
The last few years, trainer Keith Desormeaux has showed up at Churchill Downs with a runner. Maybe Sueno is the one in 2019. The son of Atreides won Golden Gate Fields’ Gold Rush Stakes over the weekend in what should set him up for something bigger next time.
Second crop sire Graydar isn’t known for his distance runners, and it took Gray Magician four starts to break his maiden, but the colt showed improvement Nov. 24 in his first start for trainer Peter Miller, winning by 9 1/2 lengths going a mile. It would be no surprise to see that one hit the Derby trail soon.
On the Shelf
Each year, a number of Baffert trainees seem to appear, then go to the sidelines for a few months after their debuts. The list includes four notables who are all 1-for-1 but with no recent works: Count Di Luna, Magic On Tap, Metropol and Tale of the Union.
Metropol entered the Bob Hope Stakes but missed the race due to a fever. As for Magic On Tap and Tale of the Union, both were included in Churchill Downs’ recent Kentucky Derby Future Wager, indicating there are no long-term ailments bugging either. They closed at 43-1 and 46-1, respectively.
Remaining West Coast preps
Saturday, Dec. 8: Los Alamitos Futurity (G1)
Sunday, Dec. 16: Springboard Mile
Saturday, Jan. 5: Sham Stakes (G3)
Saturday, Feb. 2: Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3)
Saturday, March 9: San Felipe Stakes (G2)
Sunday, March 24: Sunland Derby (G3)
Saturday, April 6: Santa Anita Derby (G1)
Horse Racing Nation