Lead Up to the Kentucky Derby

As the Kentucky Derby picture comes more into focus, a familiar name has two horses that figure to receive lots of attention at the betting window on the first Saturday in May. Following his victory in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby, Bob Baffert’s Roadster finds himself as the 6-1 favorite in the fourth and final Derby Future. The Hall of Fame trainer has won America’s most storied race five times, most recently in 2018 as Justify crossed the wire first at Churchill Downs en route to capturing the elusive Triple Crown.

A short and talented field headed to the starting gate in the Santa Anita Derby, with the 2018 juvenile champion Game Winner, a Baffert trainee, installed as a 1/2 favorite.  A co-second choice, Jerry Hollendorfer’s Instagrand, needed to win or finish second to punch his ticket to Louisville. He led until the top of the stretch, when Roadster and jockey Mike Smith took control and won by a half-length over stablemate Game Winner to pay $8.20, $3.00 and $2.40.

“They’ll both like 1¼ [miles, the Derby distance],” Baffert told the Los Angeles Times’ John Chewra following the victory. “Game Winner’s the kind of horse that’s going to get better. His next race will be even better. Roadster is a light horse that has always shown the brilliance.”

Whole Lotta Baffert
Five horses find themselves at single-digit odds in the final Derby Future, including a trio trained by Baffert. Roadster (6-1), Game Winner (7-1) and likely Arkansas Derby favorite Improbable (8-1) are joined by Florida Derby winner Maximum Security (7-1) and the Bill Mott’s Wood Memorial victor Tacitus (8-1) as horses that the public has backed. With just 25 Derby points, Improbable likely needs a first or second place finish at Oaklawn on Saturday to give Baffert three Kentucky Derby starters, something that has not happened since 2006 when he sent Point Determined, Sinister Minister, and Bob and John into the gate.

New Names Abound
To hardcore racing fans, Danny Gargan, Bret Calhoun, and Brendan Walsh are well known, but to casual observers who hone in just on the big races, they may not be. All three find themselves poised for their first Kentucky Derby trip. The most accomplished of the group, Calhoun boasts over 3,000 career trips to the winner’s circle as well as a Breeder’s Cup win in 2010 with Chamberlain Bridge. Walsh conditions UAE Derby winner Plus Que Parfait, Calhoun has Louisiana Derby champ By My Standards and Gargan has Wood Memorial runner-up Tax in his barn.

Shorter Sometimes Better
Trainer Gregg Sacco spent the fall and winter focused on making Mind Control his first Kentucky Derby starter.  A win in the Hopeful at Saratoga last summer has visions of Churchill Downs’ twin spires running through the lifelong horseman’s head. Mind Control’s two-year-old campaign concluded with a 7th place finish in the Breeder’s Cup juvenile. Freshened and ready to go, the son of Stay Thirsty prevailed in the Jerome at Aqueduct before finishing second in the Gotham. Saturday, Mind Control ran on the Wood Memorial undercard, crossing the wire first in the 7 furlong Grade III Bay Shore.

“My brother, Rick Sacco, is our racing manager and he thought that, in his development, that this race would be the right choice for him. My brother was right for once. Usually, I’m right,” joked Sacco to the NYRA press office, after taking his horse off the Derby trail and focusing on short races. “With all that being said, my brother realized how talented he is up to a mile, and they just didn’t want to churn him up in the Derby fever. There was serious consideration for the Wood and to try and make it to the Derby, but he’s just so talented at this distance.”

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