“The Pressbox’s” KY Derby Rankings: Game Winner Stays #1 Along This Bumpy Road

(Game Winner training at Oaklawn Park before running in the Rebel Stakes / Photo Courtesy of Oaklawn Park)

1Game WinnerBob BaffertJoel Rosario2nd in the G2 Rebel Stakes – 1ASanta Anita Derby on 4/6/19Looking Better Every Day
2RoadsterBob BaffertMike Smith1st in SA AllowanceSanta Anita Derby on 4/6/19?Can He Take Big Step Forward in Next Out?
3Bourbon WarMark HennigIrad Ortiz, Jr.2nd in G2 Fountain of YouthG2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19I got him at 28-1 odds in “Derby Future Wager;” Nice
4Code of HonorShug McGaugheyJohn Velazquez1st in G2 Fountain of YouthG2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19Big Race This Week / Can He Duplicate Big Run?
5Hidden ScrollBill MottJavier Castellano4th in G2 Fountain of YouthG2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19New Rider Must Harness Speed
6ImprobableBob BaffertDrayden Van Dyke2nd in G2 Rebel Stakes 1Arkansas Derby on 4/13/19Was 2nd in Rebel Better Than Looked?
7Omaha BeachRichard MandellaMike Smith1st in G2 Rebel Stakes – 1AUndecidedGame on Front End in Rebel, But Plenty of Speed
8HaikalKiaran McLaughlinRajiv Maragh1st in G3 Gotham StakesG2 Wood Memorial on 4/6/19Gotham Set Up Perfectly / Needs a Hot Pace
9GalileanJerry HollendorferFlavien Pratt3rd in G2 Rebel Stakes – 1UndecidedWasn’t A Bad Effort Facing Open Company / Next?
10War of WillMark CasseTyler Gaffalione9th in G2 LA DerbyUndecidedLost Footing Leaving Gate / Injured in LA Derby / Next?
11Long Range ToddySteve AsmussenRichard Eramia1st in G2 Rebel Stakes — 1Arkansas Derby on 4/13/19Came Running Late / Nice Effort / Can He Duplicate?
12Sparky VilleJeff BondeJoel Rosario1st in G2 San Vicente StakesSkipped Sunland for a WorkWhat’s Next For This One? It’s Race Time.
13InstagrandJerry HollendorferJavier Castellano3rd in G3 Gotham StakesSanta Anita Derby or Wood?Could Improve Off Last Out / Then What?
14TacitusBill MottJose Ortiz1st in G2 Tampa Bay DerbyBlue Grass Stakes on 4/6/19Huge Move, but Expertly Ridden
15Harvey WallbangerKen McPeekBrian Hernandez1st in G2 Holy Bull StakesG2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19Training Very Well For This One / Can Duplicate?
16AnothertwistafateBlaine D. WrightJuan Hernandez2nd in the Sunland DerbyUndecidedRan well / Closed Strong / Better Than Advertised
17VekomaGeorge WeaverManny Franco3rd in G2 Fountain of YouthG2 Blue Grass StakesWill Need to Pop a Big One in Lexington
18By My StandardsW. Bret CalhounGoldencents1st in G2 LA DerbyUndecided / Has The PointsCame With a Run / Improving at Right Time
19Cutting HumorTodd PletcherJohn Velazquez1st in the Sunland DerbyUndecidedDon’t Know What He Beat, But Impressive in Sunland
20Standard DeviationChad BrownIrad Ortiz2nd in GP AllowanceG2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19Been Working Steadily in South Florida / Ready?
1SignalmanKen McPeekBrian Hernandez7th in G2 Fountain of YouthG2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19Stablemate Looks Better Right Now
2SpinoffTodd PletcherJohn Velazquez2nd in LA DerbyUndecidedMade Lead Late, But Couldn’t Hold / Could Improve
3SuenoJ. Keith DesormeauxCorey Lanerie3rd in the LA DerbyUndecidedPushed Pace & Held Strong / Next? Need to See More
4SomelikeithotbrownMike MakerTyler Gaffalione1st in G3 Jeff Ruby SteaksUndecidedTurf to Poly — Check / Can He Convert to Dirt?
5TaxDanny GarganJunior Alvarado1st in G3 Withers StakesG2 Wood MemorialGuts Will Be Tested in Next Out
6DessmanBob BaffertFlavien Pratt2nd in Oaklawn Park AllowanceUndecidedPart of Baffert Deep Bench / Capable of More
7RoilandTom AmossJames Graham6th in LA DerbyUndecidedStill Slow to Start / Picked Up Pieces / Next?
8AquadiniDallas StewartCorey Lanerie2nd in FG AllowanceUndecided / Blue Grass Stakes on 4/6/19?Well Bred / Developing Late / Enough Time?
9Country HouseBill MottLuis Saez4th in LA DerbyUndecidedWide Trip, But No Threat in LA Derby / Disappointing?
10Mucho GustoBob BaffertJoe Talamo3rd in Sunland DerbyUndecidedSet Fractions, But Faded Severely in Stretch…Worries

We are at that time of year where things should begin to clear up, along this long and tumultuous “Road to the Kentucky Derby.” We are at the stage in the path where the “pitch forks” in the road start to turn into just curves. We are at the point where the potholes should begin to be filled in. We are at the point where the questions turn into answers.

It must be a late Spring.

So much for answers, right? Welcome to “Questsionsville.” Which is a suburb of “Whattheheckisgoingon Town.” Which is just North of “Igiveup City.”

Each week, it seems, we take another detour, side road, and U-turn as we speed toward that destination known as the “First Saturday in May.”

And, each week, it seems, we are driving faster and faster down a one-lane highway at midnight — with the lights off.

Several weeks ago, on March 2, the 30-to-1 longshot Harvey Wallbanger upset the bandwagons along with the apple cart in winning the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Things have only gotten crazier since then.

Later on the card and on the same day as the Holy Bull (on March 2), Code of Honor — who had made more news by the races that he had missed more than the races that he had made and was a one-time winner — got a perfect trip to win the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park at odds of nearly 10-1.

A week later, on March 9, Tacitus — who had only broken his maiden — won the Tampa Bay Derby at odds of nearly 9-1.

The very same day, Haikal — a relative unknown — upset the highly-acclaimed Instagrand in the Withers Stakes at odds of nearly 5-1.

A week later, on March 16, Long Range Toddy — who had previously been underwhelming, to say the least — upset the previously unbeaten Improbable in one of the divisions of the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. He was sent off at nearly 9-to-1 odds.

Later the same day, in the second division of the Rebel, the undefeated 2YO Champ Game Winner — a perfect 4-for-4 — lost to the front-running, free-wheeling Omaha Beach. He was nearly 5-1 in the oddsmaker’s eyes at post time.

Throw in the mix that Santa Anita just cancelled the San Felipe Stakes, altogether, sending Derby prospects scattering all over the country in search of a prep race and reeling for the lack of a venue to practice.


Now, this past weekend what do we see?

We see the most consistent horse of 2019, War of Will, do his best imitation of the “Twist and Shout” leaving the starting gate in the Louisiana Derby, and watch him stumble to a disappointing 9th place finish in the 11-horse field. At the end of the race, a 22-to-1 longshot, By My Standards, had captured the key, G2 Stakes event and major Derby prep. And, at the end, the biggest question was not whether War of Will would be a main contender for this year’s Kentucky Derby, it was whether or not he would be a contender at all. Only time and healing hands will give us that answer.

Then, on Sunday, Mucho Gusto — another major contender from the barn of Team Baffert and the odds-on favorite to capture the Sunland Derby — raced like a horse searching a sprint rather than one prepping for a 11/4-mile distance. After setting the early fractions, as if on a suicide mission, jockey Joe Talamo was left with a wilting violet in the stretch of the 11/8-mile event. Along came Cutting Humor and Anothertwistafate to overtake the lead nearing the wire. Going into the Stakes, Cutting Humor had won a total of one race, and had finished a dismal 7th in the Southwest Stakes. Anothertwistafate’s resume going in? His only previous run over dirt had resulted in a 9th place finish.

In other words?

This has been a Winter and Spring of discontent along this “Road to the KY Derby.”

So, what do we do?

I go down this dark path with the only flashlight that I know.

That is Game Winner.

Just Game Winner.

Despite missing some training time and having to ship, unexpectedly, to Arkansas for the Rebel Stakes, the talented son of Candy Ride missed winning the Rebel Stakes by a whisker and a prayer. A stride past the wire, he was in front. He was just that close to being 5-for-5 and still unbeaten.

He is my flashlight.

He is my roadmap, or, in this day and time, my Google Map.

He is my hope.


Until this week, when we get to watch the Florida Derby. Until, this week, when we hope that logic may prevail. Until this week, when we hope that the lights will get turned back on.

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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