(Trainer Bob Baffert / Photo by Gene McLean)

From the Oaklawn Park Media Team:

Bob Baffert has had to hit the reset button in pursuit of his record-tying sixth Kentucky Derby victory.

Fortunately for the Hall of Fame trainer, he still has the same buttons to push. The first comes Saturday afternoon at Oaklawn when he sends out 5-2 program favorite Thousand Words in the $200,000 Oaklawn Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles.

Thousand Words, a $1 million Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase, is among four highly regarded Kentucky Derby prospects for the Southern California-based Baffert, the others being Nadal, Authentic and Charlatan, who are all undefeated.

But instead of preparing the foursome to run on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, Baffert’s task is now getting them to the first Saturday in September since the Kentucky Derby has been postponed because of the Covid-19 crisis.

Thousand Words, for example, had been scheduled to run in last Saturday’s $1 million Santa Anita Derby (G1) at Santa Anita before the Arcadia, Calif., venue announced March 27 that it would temporarily cease live racing in response to the crisis.

Nadal and Charlatan, Baffert said Wednesday afternoon, are scheduled to be sent to Oaklawn for the $750,000 Arkansas Derby (G1) May 2 – the original date of the Kentucky Derby. The 1 ¼-mile race, the first leg of the Triple Crown, is now scheduled to be run Sept. 5.

“Authentic, he’s the only one I’ve backed off of, and I’ve got some other ones that were a little late and could be around,” Baffert said of the new-look Kentucky Derby trail. “If we can get some races into Nadal and Charlatan – then after that we can sort of just go on cruise control for a little bit. This business right now, this life that we live in, it’s hour-by-hour, day-by-day. It’s nice that you guys are still open.”

Nadal (3 for 3) already has experience at Oaklawn. The Blame colt, named after tennis great Rafael Nadal, won the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) March 14 – traditionally the final major local Arkansas Derby prep – in his two-turn debut. Baffert has won the Rebel a record seven times, all since 2010. Charlatan, by Speightstown, would be making his stakes debut in the Arkansas Derby after winning his first two career starts by a combined 16 lengths.

“We’ll have those in there if all goes well,” Baffert said. “We’re pointing those two for it.”

Thousand Words won his first three career starts, including a pair of graded events, before finishing a well-beaten fourth behind Authentic in the $400,000 San Felipe Stakes (G2) March 7 at Santa Anita.

“I think he’s a good horse and he got beat by a good horse,” Baffert said. “He didn’t show up that day.”

Oaklawn officials, in response to Covid-19’s impact on racing, flipped the dates of the Arkansas Derby and the Oaklawn Stakes. The top three finishers in the Oaklawn Stakes (last year’s inaugural running was known as the Oaklawn Invitational) receive an automatic berth into the Arkansas Derby, a 1 1/8-mile race that Baffert won in 2012 with Bodemeister and 2015 with future Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

Baffert won the Kentucky Derby in 1997 (Silver Charm), 1998 (Real Quiet), 2002 (War Emblem), 2015 (American Pharoah) and 2018 (Justify). Ben Jones won the Kentucky Derby a record six times between 1938 and 1952.

Thousand Words, campaigned by Albaugh Family Stables LLC and Spendthrift Farm LLC, is by the late Pioneerofthe Nile, also the sire of American Pharoah. Thousand Words and stablemate Improbable were flown Wednesday to Arkansas, with the latter entered in Saturday’s $150,000 Oaklawn Mile for older horses.

A Knockout Punch

Pirate’s Punch did just that last Friday, knocking out the competition in a five-length allowance victory for trainer Grant Forster, who said Tuesday afternoon that the gelding is scheduled to run next in the $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses at 1 1/8 miles May 2.

Pirate’s Punch, who was ridden by Tyler Baze, sat just off a stout early pace early before accelerating away from the field turning for home. The 4-year-old son of champion Shanghai Bobby covered 1 1/16 miles over a fast track in a meet-best 1:42.48.

“It was very similar to his allowance win (at Fair Grounds) this winter,” said Forster, who trains Pirate’s Punch for an ownership group headed by Southern California resident and handicapper Phil Bongiovanni. “He’s just a really talented horse. He’s got so much speed that he ends up on the lead all the time, but he’s very ratable.”

Pirate’s Punch began his racing career in Southern California with trainer Bill Morey, competing against promising 2-year-olds like Gunmetal Gray, Rowayton, Dueling and Parsimony. Then with trainer Jeff Mullins, Pirate’s Punch broke his maiden for a $30,000 claiming tag July 6 at Ellis Park.

Forster said he received Pirate’s Punch last summer after Mullins was moving his Kentucky string to Southern California for the Del Mar meeting.

“It just worked out that Billy Morey, who bought the horse and trained the horse as a 2-year-old initially, is a good friend of mine,” Forster said. “He recommended me to the owners. It just worked out that I ran in a race at Ellis Park the same day that Pirate’s Punch broke his maiden and I got to meet the primary owner, Phil Bongiovanni, and we kind of hit it off. Very fortunate for me they elected to give the horse to me, and I just kind of got him at the right time. He had just broken his maiden and got a little confidence. He’s just been on an absolute straight upward trend ever since.”

In seven races for Forster, Pirate’s Punch has allowance victories by 8 ¾ lengths at Indiana Grand, 11 ½ lengths at Fair Grounds and five lengths at Oaklawn, run third in the $300,000 Super Derby (G3) at Louisiana Downs and $200,000 Mineshaft Stakes (G3) at Fair Grounds and never finished worse than third.

Overall, Pirate’s Punch has a 4-2-3 record from 13 starts and earnings of $191,551. He is a half-brother to graded stakes winners Cocked and Loaded and Girvin, the latter a career earner of $1,624,392.

Finish Lines

Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel escaped serious injury after being unseated shortly after the start of Sunday’s sixth race… Jockey Jareth Loveberry said in a text message Wednesday that there is a chance he will return before the meet’s scheduled end, May 2. Loveberry suffered a fractured pelvis when a horse flipped on him during training hours March 17. Loveberry said no surgery was required and he is “progressing nicely.” “There isn’t much pain at all in the hip, just in the muscles around it from not being used for a while.” Loveberry said. The jockey said he’s planning on riding this summer at Arlington Park … Millionaire Grade 1 winner Tom’s d’Etat is the 3-1 program favorite for Saturday’s $150,000 Oaklawn Mile for older horses. … Nominations to the $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles and the $350,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) for older horses at 6 furlongs closed Thursday. Both races are scheduled to be run April 18.