If Bob Baffert is to complete his third Triple Crown sweep with Kentucky Derby champion Medina Spirit, he will find that his biggest competitor is himself.
“Can he complete the Triple Crown? I’m not sure. But he won the Derby, and that’s all that matters “Baffert made the announcement Sunday morning at Barn 33 on the Churchill Downs backstretch, where he was celebrating his historic seventh Kentucky Derby victory.
A day after the Kentucky Derby, few other trainers were actively talking about going on to Baltimore for the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 15. That might leave a bigger-than-usual opportunity for so-called “new shooters” — horses who did not run in the Derby.
And chief among those is another from the Baffert barn — Concert Tour, a colt who might have been among the favorites Saturday in Louisville were it not for a puzzling third-place finish in the Arkansas Derby. That was his first career loss and prompted Baffert to take him out of the Kentucky Derby mix.
Concert Tour worked 5 furlongs Sunday morning at Churchill Downs and Baffert said he “worked well.” But he added that owner Gary West “wants the horse to develop and don’t get in a rush with things. We know he’s a really good horse so we’ll talk to him and see how he is next week.”
Baffert would not even confirm a Preakness slot for Medina Spirit, who led virtually all the way in the Derby en route to a gutsy 12-1 upset win. But he clearly would have to find some reason not to give the colt a chance at Pimlico.
“He came back [from the Derby], and he was handling it pretty well. He wasn’t as tired as I thought he was,” Baffert said. “So far, he came out of it well. It usually takes about a week. I’ll just watch him closely. Right now, I don’t see anything that would discourage me.
“I really can’t make a call right now on anything.”
Transportation has also been a concern, when Baffert announced that the air charter company that usually flies Derby horses to Baltimore for the Preakness has been briefly shut down.
“We’ll have to take a van there. We’re always putting the finishing touches to it. This is fresh off the press “He said.
The future of the remaining Derby candidates seemed to be much more uncertain than average.
Brad Cox, who trained runner-up Mandaloun and fourth-place finisher and favourite Essential Quality, may have plenty of opportunities for Baltimore, but he wasn’t specific.
Caddo River, who missed the Derby after coming second in the Arkansas Derby, is a potential Derby contender for Cox. Fulsome, an unbeaten Juddmonte Farms homebred who claimed the $300,000 Oaklawn Stakes in Arkansas on Saturday, is another.
“We’ll regroup and talk to Juddmonte, Garrett O’Rourke, about possibly running [Fulsome in the Preakness], and also Mandaloun could be a question mark, as well,” Cox said from Churchill Downs. “I’m not sure [about Caddo River]. If we’re going to consider it for him, we’ll probably know more by the middle of next week.”
Doug O’Neill, who trains Hot Rod Charlie, the third-place Derby finisher, said he and the colt were returning to California with an eye on the third leg of the Triple Crown at Belmont Park on June 5.
“We’ll look to run him next in the Belmont Stakes,” O’Neill said. “We’ll get him back to California and start planning for that.”
Todd Pletcher started four of the 19 Kentucky Derby candidates, finishing ninth with Known Agenda, eleventh with Sainthood, thirteenth with Bourbonic, and last with Dynamic One.
He mentioned that they all left the Derby in good condition and would return to New York with no imminent plans in Baltimore.
“That’s not my M.O.,” Pletcher said. “We’ll get back to New York and regroup. Then we can think about some major decisions with those horses.”
Pletcher did indicate the door is not shut on the chance Friday’s Kentucky Oaks winner, Malathaat, might take a shot at the Belmont Stakes.
“We’re not sure about that one yet,” he said. “She’s a special filly and appears quite capable of running the [1 1/2-mile] distance. At some point this year, she’s likely to take on the boys, but we’re still not sure where or when that might be.”
Rock Your World, another well-liked Derby contender, was bumped and shuffled back in the Kentucky Derby and never got a chance to race. “Disappointing is the word” trainer John Sadler said of the event, particularly after Medina Spirit finished second to Rock The World in the Santa Anita Derby.
“We’ll get him home and regroup,” said the trainer. “I’m not sure what we’re going to do with him at this stage. So we’ll devise a strategy.”
With so many horses trying to regroup or devise a strategy, the Preakness field may resemble or differ greatly from the Derby field.