Eight Rings winning the American Pharoah Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita - © BENOIT PHOTO

Eight Rings winning the American Pharoah Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita – © BENOIT PHOTO

Eight Rings has an abundance of talent. That much has never been disputed. The question is whether Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert can convince the promising colt to produce his best on a consistent basis.

When Eight Rings feels like running, he can be spectacular. He dominated his debut at Del Mar during the summer to earn an eye-catching 100 Brisnet speed rating, and he was tons the best in the American Pharoah Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita, where he led all the way to score by a half-dozen lengths.

But along the way Eight Rings has endured some setbacks. He was favored to win the Del Mar Futurity (G1), but took a sharp left turn out of the starting gate and collided with Storm the Court, which caused both colts to lose their riders. Then in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), Storm the Court took his revenge and led all the way to win at 43-1, while Eight Rings faded badly from a pace-tracking position to finish sixth.

Eight Rings’ Juvenile debacle was especially surprising, because he’d defeated Storm the Court by 8 1/4 lengths in the American Pharoah. This disappointing effort left Baffert puzzled, but on the bright side, the high level of form Eight Rings has demonstrated on his best day suggests he has the talent to be a major factor on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

As unpredictable as Eight Rings has been, he has all the components of an elite Derby contender. His breeding is strongly geared toward stamina. Sire Empire Maker won the 2003 Belmont Stakes (G1) and is the grandsire of Baffert’s 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, while Eight Rings’ damsire—Pure Prize—was a capable two-turn runner who has produced stout competitors at stud.

Eight Rings has also demonstrated the competitive spirit of a high-class racehorse. When he lost his rider in the Futurity, he could have galloped aimlessly around the track. Instead he stayed focused on his task and came back from at least a 15-length deficit to catch the field and pass all his rivals on the gallop out.

In many respects Eight Rings is still a work in progress. As Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez told the Santa Anita publicity department after the American Pharoah, “He’s still not 100% confident in what he needs to do. Obviously he’s very talented, but he needs to put it together and go on. … If he can put his mind to running, he’ll be a dangerous horse.”

Take it from Velazquez. If Baffert can unlock Eight Rings’ potential, we’ll be looking at a serious contender for the 2020 Kentucky Derby.