Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is seeking to make history on the first Saturday of May, looking to join Ben Jones as the only trainers to have won the Kentucky Derby (G1) six times.
Jones did it with just 11 starters, winning his first with Lawrin in 1938 and his last with Hill Gail in 1952.
Baffert has started 29 runners in the Run for the Roses, coming up with the winner five times and he is locked and loaded with three major contenders for this year’s edition.
Three of the top four in early Kentucky Derby wagering at USRacing will be sent out by Baffert—Roadster, Game Winner and Improbable.
With Baffert fans possibly split on which one to wager on, it appears likely that Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Omaha Beach could end up going off as the betting favorite when the gate opens.
Baffert has started three runners twice in the Run for the Roses. In 1999 he saddled Prime Timber, Excellent Meeting and General Challenge, the latter two sent off as the 9-2 betting favorite as an entry. General Challenge was the more highly regarded of the duo and managed just a 11th place finish, while the other two ran fourth and fifth.
In 2006 he also saddled three contenders —Point Determined (ninth), Sinister Minister (16th) and Bob and John (17th).
Baffert has sent out the betting favorite in the Kentucky Derby six times in his career, and he comes into the 2019 edition in an enviable position despite possibly not having the actual betting favorite.
However, he has lost both of his starts this year, runner up finishes in the Rebel (G2), which was run in two divisions, and the Santa Anita Derby (G1).
Santa Anita Derby Replay
Horseplayers have not lost faith despite the losses. The colt is currently the third choice in early Kentucky Derby wagering at USRacing at 7-1.
Roadster has emerged as the early favorite at USRacing at 5-1. The colt showed plenty of ability last year with a third in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) in his first start against winners. He was sent to the sidelines and had minor throat surgery.
He returned to beat first level optional claimers on March 1 in his first start off a six-month layoff, then beat his stablemate Game Winner by a half-length in the Santa Anita Derby (G1).
His regular jockey Mike Smith had a tough decision to make and hopped off the colt, sticking with Omaha Beach, the Arkansas Derby (G1) winner.
Improbable like his stablemate Game Winner had an undefeated juvenile season and is 0 for 2 this year, both runner up finishes.
The colt won three times last year, taking the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) in December. He was beaten a neck in his return effort in the Rebel (G2) by Long Range Toddy and then was second beaten a length by Omaha Bach in the Arkansas Derby.
His price has drifted upward, currently at 9-1 at USRacing in early Derby betting.
Which Baffert Trainee is Best?
So, which is the most likely winner among the Baffert trio?
Roadster seems logical off his Santa Anita Derby victory, a race Justify used as his final prep last year, as did California Chrome in 2014 and I’ll Have Another in 2012.
His BRIS line of speed figures is 96-95-96-98 while his Beyers are 81-89-91-98, the latter looking to me as the more legitimate figures and showing an upward swing that seems to line up with what I have seen visually.
However, how much do we downgrade this colt since Smith made his decision to ride Omaha Beach?
Game Winner’s two losses this year leave him exposed, and his Beyers of 96 and 97 in his last two starts are not an improvement over his 97 he earned last year winning the American Pharoah. His Beyer in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was a 93.
BRIS has his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at a career best 103 while his two figures this year are 97 last out and 98 two back off the bench.
Has he not progressed from last or is Baffert having him set to peak on the first Saturday of May?
Improbable is likely going to be the higher price among the Baffert trio. He earned a Beyer of 96 for his Los Alamitos Futurity. This year in his two losses he earned a 95 off the bench in the Rebel and a career best 99 in the Arkansas Derby.
Arkansas Derby Replay
His BRIS numbers do tell a slightly different story. His number in the Los Al Futurity was a 100 while his last two numbers are a 97 and a 98.
Is another Baffert runner that makes his third start of his current form cycle and could be sitting on a big one?
Three major players, who will be fairly close in the betting, all sent out by a Hall of Fame trainer that has saddled five Kentucky Derby winners, two of which went on to win the Triple Crown.
Perhaps we see something this week in the mornings that help us separate the trio.
Even if we do come up with the best of the three, we then have to decide if he is good enough to beat the likes of Omaha Beach, Tacitus, Maximum Security or several others that appear to have a shot in this wide-open field.
Plenty of questions I need to answer over the next couple of days.