Bob Baffert, who won the Kentucky Derby in 1997 and 1998 and missed by a nose in 1996, begs to differ with those who say this years 3-year-old division lacks quality.
"Its deep. Its always deep," the 48-year-old trainer said. "Its just as strong this year. Youve got Point Given and Millennium Wind in California and its still very early. Every year there are people who say the 3-year-olds are not strong. They said the same thing last year, and look at how Captain Steve has developed."
Bafferts marquee Derby horse is Point Given, beaten by a nose by Macho Uno in the Breeders Cup Juvenile. But his barn is loaded with second-stringers that could become blue-chippers between now and May 5, when the 127th Run for the Roses is run.
Included in that group are Special Times, Wild and Wise and a colt named Chandlerthehandler, named for Las Vegas casino executive Dan Chandler.
"The horse is actually developing like his namesake very slow," Baffert joked. "Dan is the son of (the late) Happy Chandler (former baseball commissioner). Dans a good friend of ours (Baffert and Chandlerthehandlers owner, Mike Pegram), so we named the horse after him.
"Dans been to the track to see him run. We thought the horse would win first out, but he didnt run well, then he ran third in his second start. We finally figured he needed to be stretched out and he won at a mile."
Chandlerthehandler doesnt rank with Point Given at the moment, but the same could have been said about Real Quiet and Indian Charlie in 1998. A lot can change in 11 weeks.
Golden Ballet established herself as the nations leading 3-year-old filly after her convincing win in the Grade I Las Virgenes Stakes. Her next objective is the March 10 Santa Anita Oaks, but already the media is asking whether shed tackle the boys in the April 7 Santa Anita Derby. Dont rush to the Kentucky Derby future book.
"After the Oaks, weve got to decide," said Jeff Siegel, nationally syndicated handicapper and vice president of Team Valor, part owner of Golden Ballet.
"Theres got to be a race for her between the Santa Anita Oaks and the Kentucky Oaks (on May 4). Well have to evaluate her performances, but I dont really think (trainer) Jenine (Sahadi) and (Team Valor president) Barry (Irwin) are looking in that direction. Thats something for other people to do, not us."
CANDACE IN ASPEN Another talented turf runner from the Simon Bray barn, this Woodman filly could make her presence felt in stakes company down the road.
CHANDLERTHEHANDLER Victory at a mile after two sprint failures suggests this could be one of the better 3-year-olds in Bafferts loaded barn.
INDIGO MYTH French invader had eventful U.S. debut was allowed to lag too far back before rallying. Can make amends for Frankel.
REBAS GOLD Alex Trebek-owned colt put favorite players in jeopardy with 10-1 win in first start after layoff of more than a year. More victories in store.
THE HOMESTRETCH: An anonymous trainer based at Golden Gate in the Bay Area says horsemen there could receive the last nail in their coffin if Californias anti-racing governor, Gray Davis, signs a bill that lets local Indians install slot machines in businesses near the Albany track.
According to a missive from the Thoroughbred Owners of California, "If Governor Davis approves a compact with the Lytton Indians, it could result in Californias first Las Vegas-style casino in an urban area.
This compact could have severe consequences for Golden Gate Fields.
Indian gamings negative economic and environmental impact on its surrounding communities as well as on the racing industry, could give TOC and Californias card clubs an opportunity to mount opposition against this casino, and others that could follow.
TOC lobbyist Rod Blonien also informed TOCs board members that three bands of San Gabriellino Indians seeking recognition in Los Angeles, and one band was doing the same in San Fernando. In light of the increased threat posed by Indian gaming, TOC Chairman Robert Lewis asked that a committee be formed to further study its impact. The committee will also look into the effects of slot machines at race tracks." . . . Despite the fact that Gary Stevens is receiving the prime mounts from Neil Drysdales barn, the trainer says Kent Desormeaux, the regular rider of retired Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, has not fallen out of favor. "Its just that Garys available," Drysdale said. "Kents riding some of the horses. Its not a question of Gary getting first call. Its just the way its come up. Gary used to ride a lot of those horses and Kent rode Live The Dream and Irish Prize for me."
Desormeaux may have lost the mount on multiple graded stakes winner Ladies Din. On an owners call, Chris McCarron has been aboard for the turf specialists last two workouts, but no matter who rides, Ladies Din may not be ready for the March 3 Kilroe Mile
Simon Bray says Startacs next race will be in the March 10 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate. Alex Solis, who rode the son of Theatrical to an impressive win in the Turf Paradise Derby, retains the mount
Dwildcat, third behind Early Flyer in the San Vicente Stakes, is headed to Gulfstream for the March 10 Swale Stakes. "Theres less competition back East," says trainer Bob Hess Jr. "I think Early Flyer and Lasersport are better than any they have back there." Lasersport has been sidelined indefinitely with a fractured knee, while Early Flyer is pointing to the March 3 San Rafael Stakes
The horse shortage makes getting mounts scarce, even for top riders. Promising Isaias Enriquez had no rides on last Thursdays eight-race card at Santa Anita. Desormeaux had only one, in the last race, a $32,000 maiden claimer. He finished second. Desormeaux got the ride of his life last Monday, however, when he flew with the Blue Angels precision flying team. "Man, my heart was in my stomach," Desormeaux said. "I have so much respect for those guys. They are truly great athletes." Would he do it again? "In a heartbeat," he said
Victor Espinoza, after working Aptitude six furlongs in 1:13 for Bobby Frankel: "It was like driving a new car." Frankel plans to get the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes runner-up ready for the March 3 Santa Anita Handicap at a mile and a quarter on works alone, no easy feat after a 14-week layoff. "It depends on the weather," Frankel said. "But the Big Cap is our objective, not Dubai."
SO-CAL SOPHS ON THE DERBY TRAIL By Ed Golden
Horse Trainer Next Start, Comment
BILLS PAID Kruljac Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, Feb. 18
CRAFTY C.T. Zucker March 3 San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita
DA BREEZE Duncan Undecided, finished sixth in Jan. 13 San Miguel Stakes.
DR. PARK Sadler Could move to dirt. Won mile allowance race on turf Feb. 9
DWILDCAT Hess Jr. Swale Stakes at Gulfstream March 10
EARLY FLYER McAnally San Rafael March 3; won San Vicente
FLAME THROWER Baffert Resumed training after knee surgery. Not nominated to Triple Crown
GLOBAL GAIT Baffert Fountain of Youth on Saturday, Maryland-bred bought privately by Bob and Beverly Lewis, who won Derby with Silver Charm and Charismatic
GOLDEN BALLET Sahadi Santa Anita Oaks March 10. Top filly unlikely to test males
GOLD TRADER Lukas "Well find a race for him in early in March, the San Rafael, San Felipe, Louisiana Derby, Florida Derby or El Camino Real Derby," Lukas said. Impressive front-running winner of Golden Gate Mile
GOLDEN TICKET Mitchell Undecided. Disappointed in Sham Stakes
HIGH CASCADE Lukas Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream
I LOVE SILVER Greenman El Camino Real Derby, Swale Stakes, San Rafael or San Felipe. Trainer mulling them over for late-running colt
INDY LEAD Baffert Distant fourth behind Dr. Park in allowance grass race
LASERSPORT Vienna Sidelined indefinitely with fractured right knee
MILLENNIUM WIND Hofmans San Felipe March 17
NEW PROGRAM Sahadi Undecided. Won downhill turf race Feb. 8
PALMEIRO Sadler San Rafael on March 3. Pushed Millennium Wind in Santa Catalina
POINT GIVEN Baffert San Felipe March 17
PROUD TOWER Silva Sidelined indefinitely with fractured left sesamoid
SPECIAL TIMES Baffert "Not going to Derby," Baffert said. Closed well for third in Sham
STARTAC Bray El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate on March 10
SWORDFISH Craig Lewis Undecided. "Larry the Legend-type" was game second to Wild and Wise in Sham Stakes
UNBRIDLED TIME Lukas "Well find a two-turn race for him," Lukas said. Fourth in Sham Stakes
VICTORY ROAR Greely Allowance race. Broke maiden on Jan. 20
WILD AND WISE Baffert "Hes not on the road to the Derby," Baffert said. Cal-bred won Sham Stakes for third straight victory. Not nominated to Triple Crown