Trainer Bob Baffert’s stable now has a chance in the Kentucky Derby. Some of his top-performing, highest-ceiling horses have switched barns and can earn an opportunity to Run for the Roses by finishing first or second in the handful of remaining prep races.
He transferred three of his Kentucky Derby hopefuls to trainer Tim Yakteen and one to trainer Rodolphe Brisset. The decision to move barns allows the horses to gain points to qualify to run on May 7 at Churchill Downs — the track that has banned Baffert from competing.
Last year’s Kentucky Derby horse to cross the wire first, Medina Spirit, trained by Baffert, failed his post-race drug test. While that case is pending appeals, the track’s rulings prohibit the six-time Derby winner Baffert from entering his horses in this year’s race — or any race held at the legendary track.
Yakteen debuts as a Triple Crown trainer with the addition of Baffert’s horses
Baffert announced last week that horses Messier, Doppelgänger, and McLaren Vale have all moved to Yakteen’s barn. Another, Blackadder, will ship to Kentucky and run for Brissett. Brissett is a former top assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
Yakteen is a native of Germany and moved to the United States in 1982. He began working at Los Alamitos Race Course and ultimately landed a job with Baffert, who was training quarter horses at the time. When Baffert made the jump to thoroughbreds in 1988, Yakteen went with him, reported the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Yakteen told the Louisville Courier-Journal that Messier — considered a top contender for the Kentucky Derby — and Doppelganger “came to me in good shape. They were always well cared for.”
Doppelganger is set to run in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. Messier is slated for the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on April 9. McLaren Vale’s status for a Derby prep race is uncertain.
In his last start at Santa Anita on Feb. 6, Messier won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes by 15 lengths. The two-time Grade 3 victor held steady at 7-1 at Circa in early Derby wagering and 6-1 at Caesars at William Hill.
Doppelgänger finished second on March 5 in the San Felipe Stakes behind Forbidden Kingdom. He remained well ahead of the rest of the field.
McLaren Vale finished third in his last start on Jan. 29 in the San Vicente. He has yet to go two turns.
Other horses to keep an eye on at the Arkansas Derby
Trainer and Baffert’s former mentor D. Wayne Lukas will enter his top filly, Secret Oath, in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby for a chance to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. Secret Oath is considered the top choice and the horse to beat in the Arkansas Derby.
Also, last weekend, Slow Down Andy won the Sunland Derby for trainer Doug O’Neill to grab a spot in the gate on the First Saturday in May, as did Crown Pride, bred in Japan, who won the UAE Derby at Meydan.
The Derby Dozen, Week 8
- (No Change) Epicenter (trainer Steve Asmussen): Epicenter is the standings-point leader and the early-wagering favorite after his impressive win Saturday in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. The colt, widely regarded as trainer Asmussen’s best chance to get his first Derby victory, went from 7-1 to 6-1 at Caesars Sportsbook at William Hill Nevada. He also was cut from 7-1 to 5-1 (actually plus-540) at Circa Sports.
- (NC) Smile Happy (Kenny McPeek): This son of Runhappy has two wins and a second in three career starts. “We have taken our time with him, but we see all the signs that tell us he has a chance to be special,” McPeek said. Next up is the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 9.
- (NC) Zandon (Chad Brown): Brown said that Flavien Prat would ride Zandon in the Blue Grass Stakes, becoming the fourth rider on Zandon, who won a maiden race with Joel Rosario, was second in the Grade 2 Remsen under John Velazquez, and was third in the Grade 2 Risen Star with Jose Ortiz aboard.
- (NC) White Abarrio (Saffie Joseph Jr.): Last seen dominating in the Grade 3 Holy Bull on Feb. 5, the gray colt signaled his readiness for this weekend’s race by blowing out three furlongs in :34.96 over a glib Gulfstream Park main track the morning of March 29. “He breezed phenomenal. He went super easy,” Joseph Jr. told Thoroughbred Daily News.
- (NC) Classic Causeway (Brian Lynch): Lynch will saddle Classic Causeway in Saturday’s Florida Derby. He is coming off a 2 3/4-length victory in the March 12 Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby.
- (NC) Forbidden Kingdom (Richard Mandella): Double Grade 2 winner Forbidden Kingdom remained 10-1 at Circa and 7-1 at Caesars at William Hill. He missed a workout last week because of a fever. Forbidden Kingdom is expected to face Messier on April 9 in the Santa Anita Derby.
- (NC) Morello (Asmussen): Morello has three wins in as many starts, all by at least 4 1/4 lengths. He next runs on April 9 in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, the only track he has competed on. It should be interesting because he has never competed in a race longer than one mile.
- (NC) Simplification (Antonio Sano): Simplification has been the dominant horse in 3-year-old stakes races at Gulfstream Park. He could be the betting favorite in the Florida Derby there on Saturday.
- (NC) Emmanuel (Todd Pletcher): It’s undetermined when Emmanuel will run next. Some thought it would be in the Arkansas Derby. This horse could be upstaged by Pletcher’s promising Charge It, who will make his stakes race debut in the Florida Derby. Pletcher has won five of the last eight runnings of the Florida Derby. In addition, he is the all-time leader in the history of the race with six wins.
- (NC) Early Voting (Brown): Jose Ortiz will ride Early Voting in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 9.
- (NC) In Due Time (Kelly Breen): This horse has not breezed since winning the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream on March 5. Breen said In Due Time will most likely point to the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct or the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, both on April 9. The April 16 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland also would be a later option if needed.
- (NC) Un Ojo (Ricky Courville): This New York-bred shocked the crowd at Oaklawn for the Rebel. He got a rail trip and railed to win at odds of 75-1, earning his second victory in six starts. Un Ojo was second in a strong edition of the Grade 3 Withers before racing behind Early Voting. He certainly has appreciated the longer distances and will race Saturday in the Arkansas Derby.