Baffert's Derby hopes take big hit

Mar 21, 2017 3:00 AM

One week after Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert lost his best chance to win the 2017 Kentucky Derby when the impressive Mastery suffered a fracture to his left front ankle, Baffert’s second-best Derby prospect failed an important test at Oaklawn Park.

American Anthem, the betting favorite in Oaklawn’s $900,000 Rebel Stakes this past Saturday, never made a serious bid when 10th in the 1-1/16 mile test, suggesting he will be a longshot to run in the Derby, much less win it.

Meanwhile, another future Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher unveiled his second serious Derby contender when Malagacy successfully stretched out in distance from a pair of sprint victories at Gulfstream Park to score a clear cut Rebel victory.

Malagacy stalked the pace set by Uncontested before taking command under jockey Javier Castellano to win his third straight without a defeat. Pletcher’s other top Derby contender is One Liner, a colt he shipped to Oaklawn last month to win the 1-1/16 mile Southwest Stakes.

Given Pletcher’s training style, One Liner probably will go in one of the Derby preps scheduled for early April in New Orleans, New York, South Florida, Southern California or Kentucky. Malagacy will go in one of the others.

In the meantime, Baffert’s trip to Oaklawn hardly was a total loss as his 4-year-old Mor Spirit scored a clear cut victory in the $250,000 Essex Handicap under top weight of 121 pounds. Moreover, Baffert has an awful lot going for him this coming Saturday, as he will send out Arrogate in the $10 million Dubai World Cup in Meydan against an international field.

A victory in that race will push Arrogate’s career earnings to more than $19 million, which will vault him past California Chrome into first place in racing history!

Chrome retired with $14,502,650 in career earnings after Arrogate handed him a clear cut defeat in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita last Fall.

Before Arrogate goes into the World Cup as the probable betting favorite, he has earned $11,084,600 from only seven career races, including six straight victories after finishing third in his career debut last year.

Arrogate missed the Triple Crown races last year, but has been sensational ever since, scoring important victories in a series of rich stakes, including the $1 million Travers at Saratoga, the aforementioned BC Classic and the $12 million Pegasus at Gulfstream, two months ago.

West Coast horseplayers should note that post time for the Dubai World Cup is scheduled for 4:45 a.m. PDT, due to the 11 hour time difference. As a result, World Cup past performances will be published in Daily Racing Form on Thursday and wagers will be taken by many Vegas casinos on Friday.

The World Cup is to be contested at approximately 1-1/4 miles on a relatively fast dirt racing surface and Arrogate’s 13 rivals will include several European stakes winners, a few from Japan and South America, plus four from North America.

The American shippers are Neolithic, Gun Runner, Keen Ice and the Baffert trained Hoppertunity. While Arrogate’s win in the Pegasus at Gulfstream earned a sky high 119 Beyer Speed Figure, all the other American horses have earned triple-digit Beyer Figures this year, including the 110 posted by Gun Runner last month at Oaklawn, the highest at that Midwestern track this season.

By way of comparison, Malagacy’s clear cut score in the Rebel only earned a 91 Figure, 11 points below the Figure One Liner earned at Oaklawn four weeks ago.

The simple truth is – except for the injured Mastery’s 105 at Santa Anita on March 11 – this year’s 3-year-old Derby hopefuls have been scoring below average speed figures all season.

No major Derby preps are scheduled for this weekend; but, the importance of races for this year’s 3-year-olds will take a leap forward when the series of rich Derby preps begin to occur in two weeks.

Frankly, it will be in those April preps that we will need to see major improvement from one or more of this year’s contenders to believe there might be a horse capable of approaching the fine form of recent winners of our Triple Crown events.

Right now, unless Juvenile Champion Classic Empire can return to top form quickly, or McCraken can overcome his February injury in time, we might have to watch recent allowance race winners Hollywood Handsome and Bobby Abu Dhabi next time out to see if they belong in the Derby picture.

My own personal list of the best of this year’s crop places the filly Unique Belle among the top few seen so far and I would not be surprised to see her connections enter her in the Santa Anita Derby April 8.

That would help her people determine whether she should go against male rivals in the Derby, May 6, or remain on schedule to face fillies in the May 5th Kentucky Oaks.