by DICK POWELL
After winning the Triple Crown in 2015 with American Pharoah, it took Bob Baffert only three years to do it again with Justify. To raise the ante, Justify did it while undefeated, joining Seattle Slew. If you think Baffert is going to “bounce” off two big efforts, think again. He’s loaded for 2019 with at least four exciting colts that will draw attention in the run-up to the “First Saturday in May.”
GAME WINNER won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) in a wide trip coming from farther off the pace then expected to win going away. He ran, according to Trakus, 42 feet farther than the second-place horse and will be a deserving Eclipse Award winner of the two-year-old male division.
Now four-for-four, Game Winner goes into next year with high expectations and being trained by Baffert only adds to them. The son of Candy Ride only cost $110,000 as a Keeneland September yearling and being a March 6 foal with a Dosage Index of 2.33 makes him a solid, early favorite for the “Run for the Roses.”
On Saturday at Del Mar, Baffert won the Bob Hope S. (G3) with second-time starter MUCHO GUSTO. Sent off as the 4/5 favorite in the field of five, Joe Talamo sent him to the front and rationed his speed to repel each challenge. The final margin for the seven furlongs was 1 1/2 lengths over Savagery who had to do all the chasing.
Mucho Gusto was a four-length first-out winner at Los Alamitos in fast time going six furlongs. The son of Mucho Macho Man cost an amazing $625,000 this year as a two-year-old and even though the purse of the Bob Hope was only $100,000, Mucho Gusto is now worth way more than his purchase price. The other day at Keeneland, a maiden winner by Gemologist named FEDERAL CASE sold for $650,000 through the auction ring. And that was off a win at Keeneland by a half-length without a lot of pedigree so Mucho Gusto has to be worth seven figures now.
Sometimes the stars are in the main event and sometimes they show up on the undercard.
On the day that Game Winner won the Juvenile, Baffert won the Street Sense Stakes with IMPROBABLE. Off a narrow maiden win at Santa Anita at the end of September as the 2/5 favorite going six furlongs, Baffert shipped him to Churchill Downs and he won the Street Sense going a one-turn mile on the dirt by over seven lengths in very good time. He doesn’t have to be on the lead and finishes his races with authority. His pedigree might be too speedy for 10 furlongs but in the hands of Baffert, who can say he can’t.
Two weeks ago, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al Maktoum won the Melbourne Cup (G1) for the first time. His trophy case is full with one, glaring exception – the Kentucky Derby (G1). In the past, he tried to win it by training his young horses in Dubai during the winter but that has not worked out. Now, he has seen the light and he has two-year-old males trained by Baffert. The first ran on the undercard Saturday at Del Mar.
In the royal blue colors of Godolphin, Baffert sent out COLISEUM in Saturday’s first race. A seven-furlong maiden special weight on the main track, Joe Talamo put the odds-on favorite on an easy lead and set a modest pace. Without much encouragement, his lead widened at every pole with the final margin almost seven lengths.
Having trained like a monster for the past two months, Coliseum was no secret and all you had to do was take one look at the home-bred gray roan colt by Tapit and see what all the fuss was about. He has a loping stride that covers ground effortlessly and it will be fascinating to see how Baffert moves his chess pieces around the board next year to get these four to the Derby.
And think about this: last year at this time, it was three months before Justify even made his first start. Who knows what else Baffert has that he hasn’t unveiled yet?
Bob Baffert photo by Rickelle Nelson/Horsephotos.com