Silver-haired trainer Bob Baffert could not have been happier this weekend after watching his two Kentucky Derby choices put in their final works prior to Saturday’s edition of the 127th Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs.
With stopwatch in hand, prior to the regular racing card, Baffert timed favorite Point Given in a rapid 58 and 1/5 seconds for the five-eighths mile work. He then caught his backup choice, Congaree, in 1:10.3 for three-quarters of a mile.
Baffert’s comment: "Pretty awesome."
Clockers watching the works were equally impressed.
Although this year’s group of three-year-olds has been described as the most talented in a number of years, Baffert seemed to have the best chances for this year’s Derby with the Thoroughbred Corporation’s Point Given, who came within a nose of winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and, thus, the Two-year-old Horse of the Year honors, and Stonerside Stable’s Congaree, a son of the illustrious Arazi, who has won his last three races in "awesome" style.
Since the two have different ownership, they will run as separate betting interests on Saturday.
Most linemakers have listed Point Given, who will be ridden by savvy Gary Stevens, as the overnight choice at 2-1. His stablemate, Congaree, who will have the riding services of Victor Espinosa, has been listed at 5-1.
But, most handicappers expect the two Baffert horses to face stiff competition. Among those receiving the most comments are Monarchos (8-1), Dollar Bill (10-1) and Millennium Wind (6-1).
Florida Derby winner Monarchos recently finished second to Congaree in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct while racing as the odds-on favorite. However, supporters note that Trainer John Ward was looking beyond the Wood toward the Kentucky Derby and had not sharpened his charge to ultimate ability. Also, they called attention to the stretch run of the Wood in which Monarchos closed the gap on Congaree while going one mile and one-eighth. The Derby will be run at one mile and one-quarter. Monarchos will have regular rider Jorge Chavez in the saddle.
Dollar Bill, trained by D. Wayne Lukas pupil, Dallas Stewart, gained prominence as a two-year-old when he won the prestigious Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes over Churchill’s sloppy track. As a three-year-old, he notched the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds and then suffered defeats at the hands of Derby nominees Millennium Wind and Fifty Stars.
Millennium Wind, whose front-running style is expected to attract a lot of competition on Saturday, will be guided by veteran Laffit Pincay who was aboard the son of Cryptoclearance in his sensational victory in the Blue Grass Stakes at Lexington last month. The effort gained him a 115 Beyer Speed Rating, highest of any of this year’s nominees.
Also to be reckoned with on Saturday will be a pair of sophomores being prepared by Todd Pletcher, another of Lukas’ former assistants. Pletcher, who had four horses in last year’s Kentucky Derby, will saddle Invisible Ink, a colt that had shown great promise while winning three straight races before failing in both the Florida Derby and the Blue Grass Stakes, and Balto Star, a gelding who won the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park by a widening 12 and Â¾ quarter lengths, and the Arkansas Derby by four and one-half lengths.
Balto Star, who has shown early speed in his victories, and seems to love running over a wet strip, has been listed at 8-1 while his stablemate is at 30-1.
Carrying the hopes of Dubai in this year’s contest will be Godolphin Stable’s Express Tour, winner by a nose over stablemate Street Cry in the United Emirates Derby. Street Cry was scratched from the Kentucky Derby because of an injury. Express Tour won the three divisions of the Florida Stallion Stakes last winter before being acquired by Sheik Mohammed Maktoum and shipped to Dubai to train for the Kentucky Derby. He’ll be ridden by David Flores, in the absence of Europe’s leading jockey, Frankie Dettori. The overnight line has him listed at 20-1,
Providing a big question mark in Saturday’s classic for popular trainer Nick Zito will be 2000 Champagne Stakes winner A P Valentine, whose owner, basketball’s Rick Pitino, sold the breeding rights to the son of A P Indy and the dam, Twenty Eight Carat, for a reported $18 million.
Zito has described the colt as the "best horse I’ve ever trained," but the colt has been a major disappointment since last year’s Breeders’ Cup event when he finished up the track. In three starts this year, A P Valentine has won once, a modest optional claiming race at Hialeah. In the more recent Blue Grass, he failed to enter contention throughout the one mile and one-eighth event.
Zito was ecstatic Monday morning when A P Valentine zipped five furlongs in 59 seconds. He described his charge as "happy at Churchill Downs”¦things are different here. You have to have the best horse (Kentucky Derby) day and I hope that’s what we’ll have," Zito said. His overnight odds were listed at 12-1.
A horse with another basketball connection is Songandaprayer, owned by Duke star, Bobby Hurley. He had a front-running victory in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream and finished second in the recent Blue Grass when he tried a stalking style to Millennium Wind’s early speed. He’s expected to go postward at odds of 20-1 or higher. Recent additions to the cast of Derby performers were Henry Pabst’s Keats, who earned a nomination with a victory in the Lexington.