“The Pressbox’s” Ky Derby Rankings: Game Winner Is Back

(Game Winner and assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes get off the van at Oaklawn Park for the Rebel Stakes earlier this year / Photo Courtesy of Oaklawn Park)

We started this year with Game Winner atop our ticket for the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby. He was the reigning 2-year-old Champ. He was undefeated. He was the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner. He was a champ over the Churchill Downs main track.

It all seemed to add up nicely.

It all seemed to make sense.

All seemed right with the world.

Then, life happened.

We maintained our belief after Game Winner missed a race due to the Santa Anita track issues.

We stayed with him when he lost by a nose hair to Omaha Beach in a division of the Rebel Stakes.

And, we stood firm going right into the Santa Anita Derby.

We were committed. We had conviction. We had belief. We would never waiver.


Well, we have to admit, “never” doesn’t last as long as it used to.


After teammate Roadster blew by Game Winner in the deep stretch to win the Santa Anita Derby, we suddenly jumped ship and jumped on the bandwagon of the “other” horse from the barn of Bob Baffert. We jumped on the “hot horse.” We leaped over to the “backup Quarterback.” We switched to the newest, shinny penny in the barn, who is worth a zillion’s zillion worth of pennies.

We buckled.

We gave.

We flipped.

Not proud of it, but we suddenly decided that Roadster would be our top horse in “The Pressbox’s” Kentucky Derby Rankings. Such is the world these days. Fickle, I guess. “What have you done for me lately,” mentality.


After some deep thought and reflection, we are back.

Embarrassed that we ever doubted and shocked that we could ever give in, we are back.

Game Winner — ole’ buddy, ole’ pal — we are back.

After succumbing to the pressure of the moment and elevating Roadster to the top spot for just one week, we have come back home. To the green, green grass of home. To the 2-year-old champ of 2018. To the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile over the Churchill Downs’ main track. To Game Winner.

And, we aren’t going anywhere now. No matter what happens. We are here to stay. Forever. And, ever.

Trust me. This time.

Blush II.

Yet, there is some solid reasoning (at least by our standards, Blush III) for our switch back, and recharge of heart.

Just a week after we elevated Roadster to the top spot, we were sent reeling by some serious mixed emotions and second-guessing.

First, Game Winner’s rider, Joel Rosario, suddenly became one of the hottest riders in the world. And, he openly discussed how he may have moved Game Winner a bit prematurely in the Santa Anita Derby, compromising his horse’s chances of winning that major, G1 prep for the Derby.

Secondly, Roadster’s rider, “Magical Mike” Smith, suddenly announced that he was going to jilt his former lover and pick Omaha Beach to ride in the Kentucky Derby, instead.

Third, trainer Bob Baffert then announced that he was going to select Florent “French” Geroux to rider Roadster in the upcoming Kentucky Derby.

It was enough to make the head spin.

And, it was enough to make us spin. Again.

Let me just say, I would have preferred Mike Smith to ride Roadster. If he had so decided, we may have held and stayed with the Santa Anita winner.


Let me just say, though, with Smith bolting, we went bolting, too.

And, let me just say that I much, much, much prefer Joel Rosario — with all his judgment issues and faults — to the riding style of Geroux — whose most famous Triple Crown ride to date was in last year’s Belmont Stakes, when he drew criticism for his blocking and tackling routine on Restoring Hope for his teammate Justify. (As if Justify needed any help.)

Game Winner is game. Game Winner is a winner. And, Game Winner it is.

For good reasons.

For now.


Blush IV.

Here’s a look at our latest KY Derby Rankings:

RankPoints / RankHorseTrainerRiderLast RaceComment
185 / 8Game WinnerBob BaffertJoel Rosario2nd in G1 SA DerbyMy “Old” Top Pick Is My “New” Top Pick / 3rd Off Layup?
2137.5 / 2Omaha BeachRichard MandellaMike Smith1st in G1 Arkansas Derby“Magic Mike” Picks This One / Something Up?
3100 / 5RoadsterBob BaffertMike Smith1st in G1 SA DerbyLooks To Be Improving, but Smith Jilts This Lover
4150 / 1TacitusBill MottJose Ortiz1st inG2 Wood MemorialWood Memorial Jinx May End This Year
560 / 12War of WillMark CasseTyler Gaffalione9th in G2 LA DerbyCasse Determines This One Now Ready Off Recent Works
638 / 23AnothertwistafateBlaine D. WrightJavier Castellano2nd in the G3 Lexington StakesNot Likely to Get In / Bummer
752 / 14TaxDanny GarganJunior Alvarado2nd in G2 Wood MemorialGutty, Grinding Sort / May Be The Year of the “Former Claimer”
870 / 10HaikalKiaran McLaughlinRajiv Maragh3rd in G2 Wood MemorialNeeds Hot Pace to Set It Up
931 / 25Bourbon WarMark HennigIrad Ortiz, Jr.4th in G1 Florida DerbyNot Likely To Get In, Either / Bummer II
1074 / 9Code of HonorShug McGaugheyJohn Velazquez3rd in G1 Florida DerbyNice Work Over Slop at Keeneland / Could Move Up on “Off”
1165 / 11ImprobableBob BaffertJose Ortiz2nd in G1 Arkansas DerbyCity Zip Pedigree? Maybe
12110 / 3VekomaGeorge WeaverJavier Castellano1st in G2 Blue Grass StakesBack to Florida After Blue Grass? Interesting Approach
1350 / 16Win Win WinMichael TrombettaIrad Ortiz, Jr2nd in G2 Blue Grass StakesCould Be “The Closer” In This Year’s Derby
1438 / 22SignalmanKen McPeekBrian Hernandez3rd in G2 Blue Grass StakesCould Move Forward Off Blue Grass
15100 / 6By My StandardsW. Bret CalhounGabriel Saez1st in G2 LA DerbyI Still Have Questions Here
1650 / 15Cutting HumorTodd PletcherJohn Velazquez1st in Sunland DerbyMore Questions
1732 / 24SuenoJ. Keith DesormeauxCorey Lanerie3rd in G3 Lexington StakesWon’t Get In / Bummer III
1830 / 26InstagrandJerry HollendorferFlavien Pratt3rd in G1 SA DerbyWon’t Make It In / Bummer IV
1940 / 19SpinoffTodd PletcherJohn Velazquez2nd in G2 LA DerbyWill Need to Add Stamina Before This One
2053.5 / 13Long Range ToddySteve AsmussenJon Court6th in G1 Arkansas DerbyI Can’t See It
2104 / 4Plus Que ParfaitBrendan WalshJose Ortiz1st in G2 UAE DerbyNo Way
3100 / 7Maximum SecurityJason ServisLuis Saez1st in G1 Florida DerbyNo Way II
450 / 17Country HouseBill MottJoel Rosario3rd in G1 Arkansas DerbyHas to Improve
541 / 18Gray MagicianPeter MillerJoel Rosario2nd in the UAE DerbyNo Way III
619 / 20Master FencerK. TsunodaHiroyuki Uchida2nd in Fukurya StakesNo Way IV
740 / 21BodexpressGustavo DelgadoNik Juarez2nd in the G1 Florida DerbyNo Way, No Way, No Way




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
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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