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Submitted by National Race Masters on Friday, February 8, 2019 at 5:01 PM

From The National Race Masters Staff
Saturday, February 9

There is no truth to the rumor that Churchill Downs is considering changing the name of the Kentucky Derby to the Bob Baffert Stakes, but one thing is for sure, any search for articles pertaining to the 2019 edition of the Run For The Roses does create Baffert as the default position.

When JUSTIFY won last year’s Kentucky Derby, on his way to collecting the Triple Crown, Baffert toppled the legendary D. Wayne Lukas from the most Triple Crown wins pedestal with 15 total triumphs from the Kentucky Darby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

With the Kentucky Derby now a mere 13 Saturday’s away, the first question most writers, handicappers and bettors will ask…what does Baffert have in 2019? The answer, quite a lot.

First off, of the 362 early Triple Crown nominees, 17 of them are trained by the Hall of Fame Conditioner.

It is also noteworthy that as of early February, by consensus, Baffert has the two leading candidates for the Kentucky Derby in BC Juvenile winner and 2-year old Horse of the Year Game Winner plus the undefeated Grade I winner Improbable.

While Baffert might be the one with the target on his back, there is no lack of arsenals from some of the other biggest names in the training world.

When it comes to a numbers game, Steve Asmussen has the big name training colony surrounded with 27 nominations. And joining Baffert at that magic number of 17 nominations are a couple of guys you might recognize, Chad Brown and Todd Pletcher.

In addition to Game Winner and Improbable, there are a large number of 3-year olds that have shown more than enough promise at this point in their careers. And while there is still a long way to go, with the main stretch of Kentucky Darby Prep Qualifying Races about to get underway, it is time for the…

FIRST NATIONAL RACE MASTERS CONSENSUS TOP 10 DERBY LIST OF 2019.

IMPROBABLE – While the son of City Zip might be indicated for mile speed on his sire side, being out of an A.P. Indy mare (Rare Event) there are no stamina limitations. On BC weekend last fall, the colt had only a MSW debut sprint win on his resume, so Baffert obviously felt that matching up this colt with stablemate Game Winner in the BC Juvenile was a bit premature. Instead he ran Improbable in the Street Sense Stakes on the same day as the BC Juvenile (November 2) and the colt easily dispatched his rival by 8 lengths in the mile test. He closed out his 3 race juvenile campaign 5 weeks later when he went two turns for the first time and dispatched his rivals in the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity. He comes out ahead of Game Winner on this NRM Top 10 Consensus because his works, as he prepares for his 2019 debut have seemed more pronounced than his stablemate, particularly his best of 34 drill at Santa Anita February 1, when he went 5 furlongs in :58 2/5. We’ll of course know more when Baffert decides where to send Improbable and Game Winner in order to get them ready and keep them away from each other.

SIGNALMAN – As he progresses through the Derby Preps we’ll know more about the son of General Quarters. His breeding indicates he might be challenged by a mile and a quarter distance but the Ken McPeek trainee showed us everything we needed to see with is effort in the BC Juvenile. He broke from a disadvantaged 12-post, willingly moved to the rail and settled last. When asked he came off the rail, went between rivals, moved back inside for room and finshed full of run. A look at his 5 race juvenile career shows all heart and his half mile drill at GP on February 2nd was sharp.

GAME WINNER – On the positive side his commanding win in the BC Juvenile despite encountering some difficulty with a wide trip and considerable bumping through the stretch. The question that arises now, is that by Baffert standards, the colt’s recent work are at least cause or a bit of pause. Since his last race (the BC Juvenile) the trainer has only asked him for 3 and 4 furlong drills (Baffert regularly send s his charges 5 and 6 furlongs and in fast times) and his 5 furlong work in 1:03 2.5 on January 30 is noticeable. Still he is an undefeated 4 time winner, including 3 Grade I triumphs, so he stays un front on the lsit until we see otherwise.

MUCHO GUSTO – So the rich get richer. Heading into last Saturday’s Grade III Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita there were still questions regarding the son of Much Macho Man. Was he a one dimensional speed horse as exhibited by his win in the Grade III Bob Hope and head strong front un in the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity before settling second to Improbable’s stretch rush to victory? The colt settled that question in the Robert Lewis when he settled easily off the pace over the sloppy Santa Anita oval and withstood the conditions to take hold of the reigns before moving fluidly through the lane to draw off impressively by 4 ¾ lengths.

MAXIMUS MISCHIEF – We are not willing to send him to the end of the shed row based on his failure in the Grade II Holy Bull this past Saturday. In fact, that loss might actually create some value in his next test. On one hand he might turn out to be another in a long list of colts who didn’t like the Gulfstream surface. It was also the first time he was tested head-to-head after an unblemished 3 straight on-the-lead wins. And despite his “war” with Epic Dreamer on the front end, he did dig in and get beaten only a little over a length for it all. The son of the highly productive emerging sire Into Mischief definitely bears watching.

HIDDEN SCROLL – Now that Justify has relegated that “can’t win if unraced as a two-year old” mantra to a dusty cave monastery somewhere in Tibet, it is safe to add this sleeper to the list. The son of Hard Spun made his career debut in a One Mile MSW on January 26 at Gulfstream Park. Under mild urging he simply annihilated his completion as he drew off by 14 lengths in 1:34 4/5. The colt’s breeding has 1 ¼ miles flowing through his veins as not only is he stamina form Hard Spun but is out of the Empire Maker mare Sheba Queen. In fact, the MSW win was impressive enough to land this Bill Mott trainee as 4th best on Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager at 12-1 behind the field at 5-2, Game Winner (6-1) and Improbable 12-1.

WAR OF WILL – How the Fair Grounds competition shakes out remains to be seen, but so far so good with his two dirt start wins were impressive enough to draw interest. After beginning his career on the grass the move to the main track by trainer Mark Casse has been a tonic for the son of War Front. And if you believe in breeding look no further than this guy, On his sire side the winning average distance is 7.3 furlongs and on the all-important female side (out of the Irish bred mare Visions Of Clarity by Sadler’s wells) is an astonishing 10.7 furlongs. We’ll know a lot more as he moves through the expected Fair Grounds route.

KNICKS GO – If he gets to the post as expected in this Saturday’s Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and wins as the morning line suggests he will, he will continue to be the under-dog from the under-the-radar Ben Colebrook stable. A son of Paynter, who is himself a somewhat under-the-radar sire, the colt woke up the racing world when he went wire-to-wire at 70-1 to win the Grade I Breeders Futurity at Keeneland on opening weekend of their fall meet. He followed that up by going off at “only_ 40-1 in the BC Juvenile and verifying his talent with a strong runner up to Game Winner. Next came the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and a disastrous performance. However, that was his only off-track race from 6 starts and his works heading into Saturday are most promising. He might be this good.

INSTAGRAND – It is difficult to ignore the first two career starts of the son of Asset Of War. He romped in each and even before Game Winner and Improbable was the buzz horse. The Jerry Hollendorfer trained son of Into Mischief was then sidelined due to some minor issues so was shuffled to the background. Well, his second best 5 furlong drill in :59 flay on February 2 was just behind the best by Improbable so we’ll soon learn if he is ready to move along, get to two turns and reclaim the buzz he acquired with his 10 length MSW win and 10 length Grade II best Pal Stakes.

NOT THAT BRADY – Yes he’s a New York bred, but he is a son of Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown and it could be argued that he turned in the best performance of the runners in the Grade III Withers Stakes at Aqueduct last Saturday. After breaking his maiden by 11 widening lengths in wire-to-wire fashion at Aqueduct in early December the colt returned to wire the field in the NYSB Damon Runyon Stakes 23 days later (each at a one turn mile. In the two turn 9 furlong Withers he once again set the pace despite getting hung very wide for a significant part of he race, would up getting squeezed between rivals in the stretch and still gave way grudgingly to Tax, the Pletcher trained favored winner who got a dream trip along the inside. His heart is evident, let’s see where he goes from here.

That is our Consensus Top Ten for now.

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