KY Derby Media Poll: Game Winner Stays On Top

(Game Winner on the track at Oaklawn Park prior to Saturday’s G2 Rebel Stakes / Photo Courtesy of Oaklawn Park)

By Jonathan Lintner,

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.

That held true in Week 4 of the 2019 Kentucky Derby Media Poll as Game Winner led Improbable atop the rankings even after both suffered their first career defeats in split divisions at Oaklawn Park.

“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 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) PointsPrevious 
 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
 9. Tacitus 312 7
 10. Hidden Scroll 296 9
 11. Country House 288 8
 12. Roadster 246 11
 13. Haikal 241 10
 14. Vekoma 177 14
 15. Instagrand (1) 171 13
 16. Galilean 160 12
 17. Tax 115 15
 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.

The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds

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