(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.
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.
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.
Here’s a look at our latest KY Derby Rankings:
|Rank||Points / Rank||Horse||Trainer||Rider||Last Race||Comment|
|1||85 / 8||Game Winner||Bob Baffert||Joel Rosario||2nd in G1 SA Derby||My “Old” Top Pick Is My “New” Top Pick / 3rd Off Layup?|
|2||137.5 / 2||Omaha Beach||Richard Mandella||Mike Smith||1st in G1 Arkansas Derby||“Magic Mike” Picks This One / Something Up?|
|3||100 / 5||Roadster||Bob Baffert||Mike Smith||1st in G1 SA Derby||Looks To Be Improving, but Smith Jilts This Lover|
|4||150 / 1||Tacitus||Bill Mott||Jose Ortiz||1st inG2 Wood Memorial||Wood Memorial Jinx May End This Year|
|5||60 / 12||War of Will||Mark Casse||Tyler Gaffalione||9th in G2 LA Derby||Casse Determines This One Now Ready Off Recent Works|
|6||38 / 23||Anothertwistafate||Blaine D. Wright||Javier Castellano||2nd in the G3 Lexington Stakes||Not Likely to Get In / Bummer|
|7||52 / 14||Tax||Danny Gargan||Junior Alvarado||2nd in G2 Wood Memorial||Gutty, Grinding Sort / May Be The Year of the “Former Claimer”|
|8||70 / 10||Haikal||Kiaran McLaughlin||Rajiv Maragh||3rd in G2 Wood Memorial||Needs Hot Pace to Set It Up|
|9||31 / 25||Bourbon War||Mark Hennig||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||4th in G1 Florida Derby||Not Likely To Get In, Either / Bummer II|
|10||74 / 9||Code of Honor||Shug McGaughey||John Velazquez||3rd in G1 Florida Derby||Nice Work Over Slop at Keeneland / Could Move Up on “Off”|
|11||65 / 11||Improbable||Bob Baffert||Jose Ortiz||2nd in G1 Arkansas Derby||City Zip Pedigree? Maybe|
|12||110 / 3||Vekoma||George Weaver||Javier Castellano||1st in G2 Blue Grass Stakes||Back to Florida After Blue Grass? Interesting Approach|
|13||50 / 16||Win Win Win||Michael Trombetta||Irad Ortiz, Jr||2nd in G2 Blue Grass Stakes||Could Be “The Closer” In This Year’s Derby|
|14||38 / 22||Signalman||Ken McPeek||Brian Hernandez||3rd in G2 Blue Grass Stakes||Could Move Forward Off Blue Grass|
|15||100 / 6||By My Standards||W. Bret Calhoun||Gabriel Saez||1st in G2 LA Derby||I Still Have Questions Here|
|16||50 / 15||Cutting Humor||Todd Pletcher||John Velazquez||1st in Sunland Derby||More Questions|
|17||32 / 24||Sueno||J. Keith Desormeaux||Corey Lanerie||3rd in G3 Lexington Stakes||Won’t Get In / Bummer III|
|18||30 / 26||Instagrand||Jerry Hollendorfer||Flavien Pratt||3rd in G1 SA Derby||Won’t Make It In / Bummer IV|
|19||40 / 19||Spinoff||Todd Pletcher||John Velazquez||2nd in G2 LA Derby||Will Need to Add Stamina Before This One|
|20||53.5 / 13||Long Range Toddy||Steve Asmussen||Jon Court||6th in G1 Arkansas Derby||I Can’t See It|
|2||104 / 4||Plus Que Parfait||Brendan Walsh||Jose Ortiz||1st in G2 UAE Derby||No Way|
|3||100 / 7||Maximum Security||Jason Servis||Luis Saez||1st in G1 Florida Derby||No Way II|
|4||50 / 17||Country House||Bill Mott||Joel Rosario||3rd in G1 Arkansas Derby||Has to Improve|
|5||41 / 18||Gray Magician||Peter Miller||Joel Rosario||2nd in the UAE Derby||No Way III|
|6||19 / 20||Master Fencer||K. Tsunoda||Hiroyuki Uchida||2nd in Fukurya Stakes||No Way IV|
|7||40 / 21||Bodexpress||Gustavo Delgado||Nik Juarez||2nd in the G1 Florida Derby||No Way, No Way, No Way|