This time each year, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert's Kentucky Derby prospects begin to flourish at tracks across the country.
Times haven’t changed.
Baffert appears loaded with talented, promising 3-year-olds again this season, and many of them will take a major step toward May in races this three-day holiday weekend.
Baffert seeks to dominate again at Oaklawn Park, where he swept the graded stakes for 3-year-olds last year and has won six of nine graded stakes for that age group since 2010. He’s shipping speedy allowance winner Super Ninety Nine to the Hot Springs, Arkansas track for Monday’s Grade 3 Southwest Stakes.
“It’s the time of year when we start separating them to gauge how the California horses stack up and how they’re shipping,” Baffert said.
In California, Baffert is likely to have top betting choices in two graded stakes races at two different venues.
At Santa Anita, he’ll start three contenders in a six-horse field in the Grade 2 San Vicente on Sunday. Shakin It Up, a son of brilliant sprinter Midnight Lute, is part-owned by Mike Pegram, who campaigned 1998 Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet. Florida-bred Belvin drew the rail post and the track’s leading rider, Rafael Bejarano, is aboard. The wild card is War Academy, who hasn’t raced since his winning debut in November.
Golden Gate Fields is the scene Saturday as Baffert sends two to the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby, a race he won in 1996 with Cavonnier. Manando, third behind Goldencents in January’s Sham Stakes, is the morning line favorite. Carving, a two-time stakes winner, is part-owned by Olympic gold medalist Bode Miller.
That’s just this weekend. Baffert also boasts the intriguing Robert B. Lewis winner Flashback, who is likely to meet up with Goldencents in the San Felipe Stakes on March 9, among several other Derby hopefuls.
Photo by J.J. Hysell