(Game Winner training at Oaklawn Park before running in the Rebel Stakes / Photo Courtesy of Oaklawn Park)
|1||Game Winner||Bob Baffert||Joel Rosario||2nd in the G2 Rebel Stakes – 1A||Santa Anita Derby on 4/6/19||Looking Better Every Day|
|2||Roadster||Bob Baffert||Mike Smith||1st in SA Allowance||Santa Anita Derby on 4/6/19?||Can He Take Big Step Forward in Next Out?|
|3||Bourbon War||Mark Hennig||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||2nd in G2 Fountain of Youth||G2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19||I got him at 28-1 odds in “Derby Future Wager;” Nice|
|4||Code of Honor||Shug McGaughey||John Velazquez||1st in G2 Fountain of Youth||G2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19||Big Race This Week / Can He Duplicate Big Run?|
|5||Hidden Scroll||Bill Mott||Javier Castellano||4th in G2 Fountain of Youth||G2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19||New Rider Must Harness Speed|
|6||Improbable||Bob Baffert||Drayden Van Dyke||2nd in G2 Rebel Stakes 1||Arkansas Derby on 4/13/19||Was 2nd in Rebel Better Than Looked?|
|7||Omaha Beach||Richard Mandella||Mike Smith||1st in G2 Rebel Stakes – 1A||Undecided||Game on Front End in Rebel, But Plenty of Speed|
|8||Haikal||Kiaran McLaughlin||Rajiv Maragh||1st in G3 Gotham Stakes||G2 Wood Memorial on 4/6/19||Gotham Set Up Perfectly / Needs a Hot Pace|
|9||Galilean||Jerry Hollendorfer||Flavien Pratt||3rd in G2 Rebel Stakes – 1||Undecided||Wasn’t A Bad Effort Facing Open Company / Next?|
|10||War of Will||Mark Casse||Tyler Gaffalione||9th in G2 LA Derby||Undecided||Lost Footing Leaving Gate / Injured in LA Derby / Next?|
|11||Long Range Toddy||Steve Asmussen||Richard Eramia||1st in G2 Rebel Stakes — 1||Arkansas Derby on 4/13/19||Came Running Late / Nice Effort / Can He Duplicate?|
|12||Sparky Ville||Jeff Bonde||Joel Rosario||1st in G2 San Vicente Stakes||Skipped Sunland for a Work||What’s Next For This One? It’s Race Time.|
|13||Instagrand||Jerry Hollendorfer||Javier Castellano||3rd in G3 Gotham Stakes||Santa Anita Derby or Wood?||Could Improve Off Last Out / Then What?|
|14||Tacitus||Bill Mott||Jose Ortiz||1st in G2 Tampa Bay Derby||Blue Grass Stakes on 4/6/19||Huge Move, but Expertly Ridden|
|15||Harvey Wallbanger||Ken McPeek||Brian Hernandez||1st in G2 Holy Bull Stakes||G2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19||Training Very Well For This One / Can Duplicate?|
|16||Anothertwistafate||Blaine D. Wright||Juan Hernandez||2nd in the Sunland Derby||Undecided||Ran well / Closed Strong / Better Than Advertised|
|17||Vekoma||George Weaver||Manny Franco||3rd in G2 Fountain of Youth||G2 Blue Grass Stakes||Will Need to Pop a Big One in Lexington|
|18||By My Standards||W. Bret Calhoun||Goldencents||1st in G2 LA Derby||Undecided / Has The Points||Came With a Run / Improving at Right Time|
|19||Cutting Humor||Todd Pletcher||John Velazquez||1st in the Sunland Derby||Undecided||Don’t Know What He Beat, But Impressive in Sunland|
|20||Standard Deviation||Chad Brown||Irad Ortiz||2nd in GP Allowance||G2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19||Been Working Steadily in South Florida / Ready?|
|1||Signalman||Ken McPeek||Brian Hernandez||7th in G2 Fountain of Youth||G2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19||Stablemate Looks Better Right Now|
|2||Spinoff||Todd Pletcher||John Velazquez||2nd in LA Derby||Undecided||Made Lead Late, But Couldn’t Hold / Could Improve|
|3||Sueno||J. Keith Desormeaux||Corey Lanerie||3rd in the LA Derby||Undecided||Pushed Pace & Held Strong / Next? Need to See More|
|4||Somelikeithotbrown||Mike Maker||Tyler Gaffalione||1st in G3 Jeff Ruby Steaks||Undecided||Turf to Poly — Check / Can He Convert to Dirt?|
|5||Tax||Danny Gargan||Junior Alvarado||1st in G3 Withers Stakes||G2 Wood Memorial||Guts Will Be Tested in Next Out|
|6||Dessman||Bob Baffert||Flavien Pratt||2nd in Oaklawn Park Allowance||Undecided||Part of Baffert Deep Bench / Capable of More|
|7||Roiland||Tom Amoss||James Graham||6th in LA Derby||Undecided||Still Slow to Start / Picked Up Pieces / Next?|
|8||Aquadini||Dallas Stewart||Corey Lanerie||2nd in FG Allowance||Undecided / Blue Grass Stakes on 4/6/19?||Well Bred / Developing Late / Enough Time?|
|9||Country House||Bill Mott||Luis Saez||4th in LA Derby||Undecided||Wide Trip, But No Threat in LA Derby / Disappointing?|
|10||Mucho Gusto||Bob Baffert||Joe Talamo||3rd in Sunland Derby||Undecided||Set 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.