(Game Winner on the track at Oaklawn Park prior to Saturday’s G2 Rebel Stakes / Photo Courtesy of Oaklawn Park)
By Jonathan Lintner, HorseRacingNation.com:
Hours before his top 3-year-old colts were to kick off their seasons in the Rebel Stakes (G2), trainer Bob Baffert mentioned hopes that they’d still be 1-2 come Monday morning.
“Don’t discount the Baffert horses’ performances,” said the Buffalo News’ Gene Kershner. “The goal is to be at peak on the first Saturday in May.”
“Improbable and Game Winner lost their battles Saturday,” added Churchill Downs’ Darren Rogers, “but I still believe they are the two best prospects to win the war.”
Assembled by HorseRacingNation.com and released each Monday leading up to the May 4 race at Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby Media Poll’s voting panel features representatives of the Daily Racing Form, BloodHorse and Thoroughbred Daily News, among other racing industry trade publications and general news outlets.
While the Top 2 remained the same as in previous weeks, first-place votes and overall points distributed more evenly than before the big horses went down. Improbable came up a neck short in the Rebel’s first flight before Game Winner battled to be a nose behind in the second division.
“So far, this is one of those years where we may get a 4-1 or 5-1 Kentucky Derby favorite,” said the Southern California News Group’s Art Wilson. “Last Saturday’s two divisions of the Rebel Stakes did little to sort out the logjam of 2019 contenders.”
Rounding out this week’s Top 5 are Saturday’s Louisiana Derby (G2) favorite, War of Will; Omaha Beach, who beat Game Winner; and Code of Honor, the recent Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) hero.
Long Range Toddy, who defeated Improbable, made the biggest jump of any horse, going from unranked last week to No. 6. Bourbon War, Sunday’s Sunland Derby (G3) favorite Mucho Gusto, Tacitus and Hidden Scroll are also in the Top 10.
“What you think you might know in February all changes in March,” said Joe Kristufek, racing analyst for Churchill Downs. “Prior to their fantastic performances in the Rebel, Long Range Toddy and Omaha Beach were barely on the radar. Now they’re impossible to ignore.”
Voters differed in expressing how much they really learned from the Rebel Stakes.
Between the two Baffert horses, which colt looks better moving forward? Is Long Range Toddy of the same class as them, or did jockey Jon Court’s cunning tactics help him overachieve Saturday? And is Omaha Beach the real deal?
But TVG’s Scott Hazelton made a statement with which none argued: “I expect both Baffert runner-ups, Improbable and Game Winner, to be just fine moving forward off of those tough comeback races.”
“Now we separate the men from the boys stretching out to 1 1/8 miles in the Louisiana Derby and Sunland Derby this weekend,” said Racing Dudes’ Mike Spector.
Fair Grounds’ Louisiana Derby pays out Derby qualifying points on a 100-40-20-10 scale to the Top 4, likely sending its first two finishers on to Churchill Downs. War of Will gets a Risen Star (G2) rematch with Country House, ranked 11th this week.
Sunland Park’s Sunland Derby is a 50-20-10-5 race led by Mucho Gusto. Anothertwistafate, 21st by votes, is among his top challengers exiting an open-lengths win on synthetic in the El Camino Real Derby (G3).
|Kentucky Derby Media Poll (Week 4)|
|Horse (1st-place votes)||Points||Previous|
|1. Game Winner (12)||572||1|
|2. Improbable (7)||552||2|
|3. War of Will (5)||529||3|
|4. Omaha Beach (4)||504||19|
|5. Code of Honor (2)||466||4|
|6. Long Range Toddy||409||NR|
|7. Bourbon War||397||5|
|8. Mucho Gusto||354||6|
|10. Hidden Scroll||296||9|
|11. Country House||288||8|
|15. Instagrand (1)||171||13|
|18. Mind Control||111||17|
|19. Harvey Wallbanger||101||18|
|20. Win Win Win||79||NR|
Next 10 receiving votes: Anothertwistafate, Outshine, Gunmetal Gray, Signalman, Spinoff, Somelikeithotbrown, Much Better, Mucho, Nolo Contesto, Alwaysmining.