Perhaps we're all living in Bob Baffert's world. There's no denying, at least, that this is his region.
The Hall of Fame trainer, seeking to tie the all-time record for Kentucky Derby victories at six, has hopefuls up and down this West Coast rundown of prospects, with new names seemingly worth adding weekly.
These preps have run at Santa Anita Park, Los Alamitos and Golden Gate Fields. Sunland Park will have its turn, too, before the first Saturday in May. So here’s who to watch shipping in to Churchill Downs for the May 2 Derby.
(Sire – Trainer – Owner - Derby points)
Nadal (Blame — Bob Baffert — George Bolton, Athur Hoyeau, Barry Lipman and Mark Mathiesen — 0): Why not? Nadal was downright impressive drawing off by 3 3/4 lengths on debut, then backed that up by winning the San Vicente (G2) three weeks later. A two-turn test awaits in the March 14 Rebel Stakes (G2), and the manner in which Nadal worked Monday will only build the buzz. [current William Hill odds: 10-1]
Authentic (Into Mischief — Bob Baffert — SF Racing, Starlight Racing, et. al. — 10): When last seen, this colt dominated the Jan. 4 Sham Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita. In doing so, however, he ducked and weaved through the stretch. Baffert will hope a set of earplugs helps when this 2-for-2 colt runs back March 7 in the San Felipe Stakes (G2). [current William Hill odds: 12-1]
Charlatan (Speightstown — Bob Baffert — SF Racing, Starlight Racing, et. al. — 0): The Justify comparisons will follow this one into the spring. While he didn’t debut with quite as much hype, Charlatan was arguably just as impressive, notching a 105 Beyer Speed Figure (one better than Justify) when being unveiled the same Sunday after Valentine’s Day. Next race plans are pending. [current William Hill odds: 12-1]
Thousand Words (Pioneerof the Nile — Bob Baffert — Albaugh Family Stables and Spendthrift Farm — 20): He’s 3-for-3 after wins in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) and Robert B. Lewis (G3). While the $1 million purchase price indicates talent, Thousand Words won’t wow with speed like many Baffert runners. Rather, he’s displayed a grind-it-out style, doing just enough to stay unbeaten heading into the San Felipe. [current William Hill odds: 10-1]
Anneau d’Or (Medaglia d’Oro — Blaine Wright — Peter Redekop — 12): They aren’t machines, as this colt reaffirmed in the recent Risen Star Stakes (G2). Anneau d’Or had been beaten narrowly in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Los Alamitos Futurity. But blinkers added and a big-name jockey in Joel Rosario resulted in a flat effort at Fair Grounds. Now what? [current William Hill odds: 30-1]
Eight Rings (Empire Maker — Bob Baffert — SF Racing, Starlight Racing, et. al. — 10): Having flattened out late in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he was in and out of training most of the winter before popping back up on the work tab Feb. 13. The rest did him well, with a prep such as the Rebel back in play for a colt who, when right, showed obvious talent to win Santa Anita’s American Pharoah Stakes (G1). [current William Hill odds: 15-1]
Royal Act (American Pharoah — Peter Eurton — C R K Stable — 4): After a pair of one-mile races on the turf, Eurton saw this colt training well on the dirt. Royal Act took advantage when given a chance in the Robert B. Lewis, missing by just 3/4 of a length after getting away from the gate a bit slow. There’s reason to believe this $500,000 yearling has some upside with Eurton planning for one major prep appearance. [current William Hill odds: 80-1]
Storm the Court (Court Vision — Peter Eurton — David Bernsen, Exline-Border Racing, Dan Hucok, Susanna Wilson — 22): The 45-1 upset winner in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile returned to run a wide, but non-threatening fourth in the San Vicente. Thus, plans changed a bit, with two more races on his schedule before May. Next up is the San Felipe. Until then, the debate rages on over whether this horse was a fluke or a real Derby contender. [current William Hill odds: 22-1]
Ones to Watch
Azul Coast, beaten 7 3/4 lengths in the Sham by Authentic, rebounded against a weaker field to win the Feb. 15 El Camino Real Derby on synthetic. He may be a cut below Baffert’s best, or perhaps a late developer. For now, 10 points from that win puts him within striking distance of the Derby gate depending on where he shows up next. Baffert’s other name to know is High Velocity, who has finished third in a pair of graded stakes around two turns — but may ultimately prefer to stay shorter.
Two colts broke their maidens last fall at Santa Anita and haven’t been seen since in the afternoon. Start with Honor A. P., who looked like a force once stretched out around two turns. Having missed the early preps this year coming back from a foot issue, he’s on schedule for the San Felipe. Great Power has run just once for trainer Simon Callaghan but looked full of potential. He, too, could resurface in the San Felipe, though Callaghan used the Sunland Derby (G3) to get Firing Line to Churchill Downs only five years ago.
Peter Miller has a duo in play as Wrecking Crew, who has placed in a trio of graded stakes, is back to work toward a potential start overseas in Meydan’s March 28 UAE Derby (G2). Billy Batts is already in the Middle East, with the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf runner-up preparing to switch to dirt in Saturday’s Saudi Derby at King Abdulaziz Racetrack. A nice showing there could send him to Dubai, too.
American Theorem, second to Eight Rings in the American Pharoah Stakes, has maintained a steady work tab since January, and trainer George Papaprodromou says his upcoming work could determine where this colt resurfaces. Allowances will rarely fill at Santa Anita. How about the Sunland Derby? That’s the destination for Sir Rick, winner of the local prep, the Mine That Bird Derby. Robertino Diodoro trains the Paynter colt who has won four of his last five starts at lower levels in Louisiana, Texas and now New Mexico.
Remaining West Coast Division Preps
• San Felipe Stakes — Santa Anita — March 7 — [50-20-10-5]
• Sunland Derby — Sunland Park — March 22 — [50-20-10-5]
• Santa Anita Derby — Santa Anita — April 4 — [100-40-20-10]