Trainer Bob Baffert has already swept the Triple Crown twice among 15 victories in Triple Crown races, record totals that have established Baffert as the all-time leading trainer in the spring classics.
Five of those classic wins have come in the Kentucky Derby, which places Baffert second on the all-time wins list behind only the Calumet Farm legend Ben Jones, who trained six Derby winners. Looking ahead to the 2019 Kentucky Derby, it appears that Baffert rates a strong chance to tie Jones’ record. With four months remaining until the first Saturday in May, Baffert’s barn is stacked with talent and potential that no other trainer can boast at this point in time.
Let’s take a look at eleven horses that could potentially give Baffert his sixth Derby win, including (in the spirit of his late-starting 2018 Derby champion Justify) three unraced maidens….
The Stakes Winners
He’s never run against open company, but Cruel Intention has certainly shown promise against California-breds, breaking his maiden with authority before out-dueling the future stakes winner Galilean to win the Golden State Juvenile Stakes by a neck in a fast time. However, he hasn’t turned in a workout since then, so it’s unlikely that we’ll see him back at the races until late February or March at the earliest.
With three Grade 1 wins under his belt and an Eclipse Award certain to follow, Game Winner is easily the most accomplished of Baffert’s Derby contenders to date. The stoutly-bred son of Candy Ride should relish the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Kentucky Derby and is already proven at Churchill Downs, where he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) in November. It comes as no surprise that I have him ranked #1 in my Kentucky Derby Top 10.
Like Game Winner, Improbable is undefeated and a stakes winner at Churchill Downs, so as long as he stays healthy he should be a major player on the first Saturday in May. Check out his powerful victory in the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) last month—he left little doubt about his superiority while running fast from start to finish.
The Los Alamitos Futurity runner-up possesses excellent tactical speed, which he used to win the seven-furlong Bob Hope Stakes (gr. III) in gate-to-wire fashion. Baffert has nominated Mucho Gusto to the Louisiana Derby (gr. II), so expect to see this son of Mucho Macho Man on the road this winter/spring.
The Maiden Winners
After dominating his debut at Del Mar by 6 ¾ lengths, Coliseum was sent off as the 3-5 favorite in the Sham Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita but blew the break, got rank heading into the first turn, and failed to fire after that while trudging home sixth. He’s surely better than that run suggests, but Coliseum has long had a reputation as a headstrong, tricky horse to train, and he’ll need to settle down if he’s going to remain a serious Derby contender.
Like Mucho Gusto, this fashionably-bred son of Tapit is nominated to the Louisiana Derby and will presumably do some traveling over the next few months to avoid knocking heads with Game Winner and Improbable. His debut win at Del Mar was hard-fought, but the runner-up (Stretford End) is a decent horse and Kingly could improve when stretched out in distance.
He was a bit green in the Sham Stakes (gr. III), changing leads prematurely and blowing a large lead to finish third, but he’s stakes-placed on both dirt and turf and still has room for improvement with maturity. As a son of Pioneerof the Nile, he’s bred to succeed around two turns and might just need a little more time to up his game.
A much-hyped debut winner at Del Mar last summer, Roadster underwent throat surgery following a third-place finish behind Game Winner in the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I). He remains among the most promising youngsters in Baffert’s barn, but he hasn’t recorded a workout since December 19th and is running out of time to get back in action on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
The Unraced “Mystery Horses”
A Godolphin homebred with an impressive pedigree (he’s by Ghostzapper out of the Grade 1 winner Hysericalady), Comical Ghost has been breezing on and off since last May, and judging from his solid recent works, he should be getting close to a race. He’s shown enough speed in the mornings to suggest that he’s got talent, though whether he can be ready for the Kentucky Derby is another question entirely.
Purchased for $750,000 as a two-year-old in training and now owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum, this Florida-bred son of Union Rags has been breezing like clockwork since September, though unlike many Baffert youngsters he has never recorded a bullet workout at any distance. That might be in part because he’s been slow to get going in three recent works from the starting gate.
Owned by the partnership of Baffert’s longtime clients Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman, Loyalty Rewarded hasn’t shown much speed in recent workouts at Santa Anita, but he went a bit quicker at Los Alamitos during the fall and is among the 17 horses Baffert has nominated to the Santa Anita Derby.