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Submitted by John Piesen on Friday, February 14, 2014 at 12:00 AM




While 100 million or so Americans had more important stuff on their minds Thursday, such as survival, they ran eight races as scheduled at sunny Santa Anita, and, wouldn’t you know it, race seven produced a Derby horse.

And not just a Derby horse. A Derby horse from the Sheiks, who, up to this point have spent trillions for a Derby winner only to fall on their humps. And it’s not even a horse. It’s a gelding!

The name is Bayern. His sire is Offlee Wild, a multiple stakes-winner up and down the East Coast. His dam is Alittlebitearly, a daughter of 1995 Derby winner Thunder Gulch; his breeder is Helen Alexander of the King Ranch Alexanders, his trainer is Bob Baffert (who else?), and his jockey is Gary Stevens, the same Gary Stevens who won thatDerby on Thunder Gulch.

And his purchase price as a yearling? A mere pittance. 320K.

Hey, if you can get down on Bayern in Vegas, go for it. Sure, a hundred things can go wrong before Derby Day, but it’s worth the risk. It’s only money. And it’s not even mine.

And Bayern hasn’t as yet run in a stake, much less won one.

But that was the genuine article we saw on Thursday.

Making the second start of his career (he won his debut by three-plus lengths at Santa Anita with seven panels in 1:22 1/5), Bayern was 3-5 from the rail in a field of six 3-year-olds going a mile in a $58,000 allowance.

Bayern sat second for a half-mile, at which point Stevens gave him the go-sign, and the gelding responded, lopinghome by 15 widening lengths in 1:35 3/5.

"He relaxed for me down the backstretch," said Stevens, "and when I asked him at theeighth pole, he exploded."

Bafffert addedthe ultimate compliment.

"He’s fast," said Bullet Bob.

Baffert wouldn’t divulge any immediate plans, but it’s obvious Bayern needs earnings to make the Derby, so a one-two finish in the Santa Anita Derby would get him there.

As for Stevens, he has one problem. He’ll have to give up Candy Boy, who, for five days at least, was the topDerby horse in training on the West Coast, thanks to his victory in the SanFelipe Stakes last Sunday (as projected on the John Piesen Road To The Derby Prep Package (1-888-612-2283).

For a guy who was unemployment-eligible at this time last year, that’s some problem.

Since Secretariat and Lucien (Gotta Love That Man) Laurin, only two trainers have won back-to-back Derbys: Baffert and Wayne Lukas. Shug McGaughey has two shots to join Baffert and Lukas this year -- with Honor Code and Top Billing.

Of course, Baffert and Lukas have other ideas. Bob will have Bayern and god knows who else, and D. Wayne has his own Derby candidate, Hopeful winner Strong Mandate, who will make his 3-year-old debut Monday in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

Thanks to weather problems of its own, Oaklawn Park went dark for 11 days, but returned to action Thursday. The few who stayed late got the opportunity to see Bayern on the simo.

Tanzanite Cat, the winner of the Smarty Jones Stakes, was one of four Southwest horses who came out of that race to ship to Evangeline Downs to escape the Hot Springs frostbite. Smart moves by trainers Autrey and Calhoun.

Interesting that Norberto Arroyo, who is running away with the OP jocks’ title, loses the mount on Tanzanite Cat to West Coaster Nakatani.

Happens every year.

As for McGaughey, after waiting a lifetime for his first Derby (Orb), he is licking his Kentucky chops for a second.

Honor Code looked like the best 2-year-old in New York last year, but a minor (hopefully) ankle injury set him back this winter, causing him to miss the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth (Feb. 22). He’s now scheduled to take the Gotham-Wood path to the Derby.

Top Billing certainly has the pedigree to become a major Derby player. His sire is two-time Horse of the Year Curlin; his damsire, A.P. Indy, won the Belmont Stakes and the Breeders’ CupClassic, and he is ahalf-brother to Untouched Talent, the dam of Bodemeister.

Top Billing has won two of three starts, and exits a huge six-furlong allowance score at Gulfstream in which he circled from last to win by three in 1:10 3/5. He’ll get a class test in the Fountain of Youth when he faces the Pletcher speedball Commissioner, the only horse to beat him thus far.

Handicappers will note that Top Billing had a horrendous trip that race, and missed by a neck of catching the Toddster.

At this point (pool two) in Churchill’s Derby Future Book, they love the Shugster. Discounting the field, Honor Code is the favorite at 12-1, with Top Billing and Holy Bull Stakes winner Cairo Prince co-second choices at 13-1. Eclipse champion Shared Belief (14-1) and Strong Mandate (17-1) are the only others below 20-1. Commissioner, this year’s Verrazano, is 22-1.

Pletcher’s best 3-year-old prospect at this point may be Intense Holiday, a fast-closing third to Cairo Prince in the Holy Bull. He’ll face the likes of Rise Up, Bond Holder, Vicar’s in Trouble, Albano, Gold Hawk and Commanding Curve in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, an hour after the Fountain of Youth on Feb.22.

In the meantime, herewith our first Derby Top Ten list:

1.Bayern Baffert Stevens 15-1
2, Top Billing McGaughey Rosario 20-1
3. Rise Up Amoss Napravnik 20-1
4. Shared Belief Hollendorfer Nakatani 20-1
5. Honor Code McGaughey Castellano 25-1
6.Cairo Prince McLaughlin Saez 25-1
7. Candy Boy Sadler Stevens 25-1
8. Strong Mandate Lukas Rosario 30-1
9. Intense Holiday Pletcher Velazquez 30-1
10.Commissiioner Pletcher Velazquez 30-1

Thanks for tuning in. Stay warm and dry, Keep my Daily Online Best Bets at the ready, and check out my , and check back next week for a look at the Fountain of Youth and Risen Star.

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