Mike Hartnett: Baffert’s barn brimming with 2019 Derby contenders

Mike Hartnett: Baffert’s barn brimming with 2019 Derby contenders
Stop us if you've heard this before -- Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is ready for another run at the Kentucky Derby. (Source: John P. Wise/WAVE3.com)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - So, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is ready for another run at the Kentucky Derby. But hey, what else is new? Seems like he’s always smack dab in the Derby picture with a major player.

This time around though, the five-time, Derby-winning trainer (only Calumet Farms' Ben Jones has six Derby wins) might be assembling his deepest contingent of contenders for the first Saturday in May.

Game Winner heads up Baffert’s Derby threats. The undefeated colt (4-for-4) will be named 2-year-old champ in late January when the Eclipse Awards are handed out, and Game Winner indeed earned his championship. His Breeders' Cup triumph was his second major victory around two turns. He was fast in all his wins. With four really good races on his resume, Game Winner’s experience factor could prove to be very valuable come Derby-time.

Mike Hartnett is one of WAVE 3 News' expert horse handicappers.
Mike Hartnett is one of WAVE 3 News' expert horse handicappers.

Next up on the Baffert list is Improbable, who physically resembles Triple Crown winner Justify. It remains to be seen if Improbable resembles Justify in ability, but visually, this 2-year-old looks the part and seems to own plenty of upside. Baffert says Improbable has that impressive, efficient stride like Justify.

Improbable, who is undefeated in three starts, closed out his first campaign with a romp in the Los Alamitos Futurity. Prior to that smashing win, he rolled home first in the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs. Having won under the Twin Spires only boosts this colt’s credentials.

That brings us to yet another Baffert Derby contender: Coliseum. This son of the outstanding sire Tapit has run only once. In mid-November, Coliseum put together a dazzling debut as he captured a seven-furlong Del Mar maiden by nearly seven lengths. Oh and by the way, he was very fast, posting a lofty Equibase Speed figure of 104.

The trainer’s 2-year-old hit parade continues with Mucho Gusto. This runner began two-for-two before finishing second to barn buddy Improbable in that Los Alamitos Stakes.

Baffert is well-represented on the Derby Points scoreboard. Game Winner is atop the board with 30 points. Improbable is currently sixth with 10. Also, two different future-books odds for the Derby have his top trio -- Game Winner, Improbable and Coliseum -- listed as the 1-2-3 current favorites.

In addition to Baffert’s main group, he has a few more 2-year-olds who are all on most top 20 Derby Contenders lists. Magic On Tap, Roadster and Tale of the Union are a trio to keep an eye on over the winter.

The first Saturday in May is a ways off, but Baffert seems to be miles ahead of his competition on that long road to Churchill Downs.

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