The Kentucky Derby takes place on 4th May 2019 and trainers are already mapping out their plans for this year’s leading contenders. Bob Baffert’s Game Winner currently tops the official entries in the quest to follow in the hoofprints of 13th Triple Crown winner Justify.
Game Winner earned his place at the head of the betting market when landing the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He had previously won the Del Mar Futurity and the American Pharoah Stakes and was completing a hat-trick of Grade 1 victories. He had to show his mettle that day as outsider Knicks Go gave him a hefty bump and took him wide in the home straight. The son of Candy Ride lived up to his name and went on to win by two and a quarter lengths.
Game Winner resides in the stall which used to house none other than American Pharoah and Baffert has made no secret of his admiration for the colt. His first objective is the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes on March 9th.He is then likely to head for either the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby or the Arkansas Derby as his final prep for Churchill Downs.
Although Game Winner looks a worthy favourite, there are plenty of people who believe that Baffert has an even better colt in his stable. That is Improbable, a colt by City Zip who stormed to a five lengths victory in the Los Alamitos Futurity in December. Improbable took a little time to get organised but once he straightened up for home there was only going to be one winner. He rapidly overhauled stable companion Mucho Gusto and his victory was no surprise to connections. It is no accident that he was selected by Baffert to take up residency in the stall vacated by Justify. Improbable could make his reappearance in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes on March 16th.
Mark Casse believes that he has a serious Kentucky Derby horse in War of Will, a son of War Front out of a Sadler’s Wells mare. He finished fifth behind Line of Duty in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf but has been a revelation since switching to dirt. He got off the mark with a five lengths maiden victory in November and returned to action with a four lengths win in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes. It may not be wise to get carried away with the trials early in the year, but there is no doubt that War of Will is a far better horse on dirt. He is next likely to be seen in the Grade 2 Risen Star on February 16th.
Maximus Mischief would be a first ever runner in the Kentucky Derby for Trainer Butch Reid. The unbeaten son of Into Mischief won the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes in December and is lined up for a crack at the $350,000 Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes on February 2nd. He has already secured the services of jockey Jose Ortiz for the exciting colt.
George Weaver is considering either the Fountain of Youth on February 2nd or the Gotham Stakes on March 9th for his highly rated colt Vekoma. He earned a high speed rating when winning the Grade 3 Nashua Stakes. Weaver, a former assistant to D. Wayne Lukas, has had only one previous Derby runner when Tencendur finished down the field in 2015.
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Knicks Go was a bitter disappointment next time in sloppy conditions in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. He will attempt to get his career back on track in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes on February 9th before tackling the Tampa Bay Derby. Gunmetal Gray was over 12 lengths behind Game Winner in the Breeders’ Cup but gave the form a boost when winning the Grade 3 Sham Stakes in January. He came from last to first under Mike Smith for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. The stable also have the unbeaten Instagrand, a wide margin winner over shorter distances. He may reappear in the San Vicente Stakes on February 7th at Santa Anita. You can follow the build-up to the “Run for the Roses” on TVG where new players can have their first deposit doubled up to a maximum $200.