25 Apr 19
San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Looking into our crystal ball, it might be the year when that string of Kentucky Derby-winning favorites ends at six. There are some viable longshots to be sure, including War of Will, By My Standards, Code of Honor and Long Range Toddy.
But will the parade of favorites really come to a screeching halt? Is there anyone talented enough to trump Bob Baffert’s terrific trio of Game Winner, Roadster and Improbable? Anyone able to go eyeball to eyeball with Omaha Beach in the stretch and outrun him to the wire?
It says here that either Baffert will tie Ben Jones and win his sixth Derby, or Omaha Beach, the probable betting favorite, will give trainer Richard Mandella his first Derby victory.
Here’s our final Kentucky Derby Super Six, only eight days out from the country’s most famous horse race:
1. Game Winner
Yes, last year’s 2-year-old male champion has lost both of his starts this year, but it’s not like he’s been run off the track. He lost by a nose to Omaha Beach in the second division of the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park and then fell victim to Roadster’s late rally in the Santa Anita Derby.
As Mandella himself admitted, the Candy Ride colt might be sitting on a stellar effort off his two comeback races. He’s got a jockey (Joel Rosario) who knows how to win the Derby (Orb in 2013), and Game Winner has already proved he likes Churchill Downs by winning last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
2. Omaha Beach
Mike Smith had the choice to ride either this guy or Roadster, and he chose Omaha Beach. Chances are he would have been just as comfortable if he’d opted for Roadster, but in Omaha Beach, he’s got a colt with tactical speed, which is such a valuable asset in the Derby.
Omaha Beach is by War Front, so the Derby’s 1 1/4-mile distance doesn’t figure to be a problem. He looked like a horse that had something left when, hooked at the top of the stretch by Improbable in the Arkansas Derby, he dug in and refused to be caught.
Remember this — two of the past five Derby winners, California Chrome (2014) and Justify (2018), used a victory in the Santa Anita Derby as a springboard to success in Louisville. Five of the past seven Derby winners had ties to Southern California if you add I’ll Have Another (2012), American Pharoah (2015) and Nyquist (2016).
Roadster is the only one of Baffert’s trio that has not tried Omaha Beach, and the son of Quality Road, like Baffert’s other two runners, has never tossed in a dull effort. He had a breathing problem when third in last summer’s Del Mar Futurity behind Game Winner and Rowayton, and that’s been corrected by throat surgery. He’s a must use in exotics.
It’s nuts to think a horse this talented is the lesser of Baffert’s three horses, but that just might be the case with this City Zip colt. He’s won three of five lifetime, winning all three of his starts as a 2-year-old, including the Los Alamitos Futurity, and finished second in both of his 2019 races.
If Omaha Beach didn’t figure so prominently, it wouldn’t be out of the question to envision a Baffert trifecta in the Derby if all three of his horses got good trips. Of course, how many horses get good trips in a 20-horse Kentucky Derby that so often resembles a cattle drive.
5. Maximum Security
Owners Gary and Mary West also own Game Winner, so they’re almost as loaded as Baffert. The New Year’s Day colt is the only undefeated horse running in this year’s Derby. He’s 4-0, having easily won the Florida Derby in his most recent start.
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The former $16,000 maiden claimer would give the Wests their first Derby victory in four tries. Their best finish came in 2001 when Dollar Bill ran 15th. Maximum Security’s trainer, Jason Servis, is 0 for 1 in the Derby. He finished 11th last year with Firenze Fire.
Will this be the year Juddmonte Farms breaks through in the Derby? They’re 0 for 4, finishing second with Aptitude in 2000 and Empire Maker in 2003. One big negative is that no winner of the Wood Memorial has won the Derby since Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.
Tacitus, a son of Tapit, also won the Tampa Bay Derby in March and will bring a three-race winning streak into the Derby for trainer Bill Mott, who, along with Mandella, is looking for his first victory in the Run for the Roses.
Follow Art Wilson on Twitter @Sham73