Bob Baffert is a Hall of Fame trainer best known for conditioning North American Triple Crown winners American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018).
He ranks 3rd time all-time in North America in purse earnings with $292 million. He is the leading money-earner in Breeders’ Cup history with $28.8 million having won 15 races including three editions of the Classic and four runnings each of the Juvenile and Sprint.
Baffert only has four runners in this year’s meeting, but all figure to be among the top three in the betting for their respective races.
Watch the 2019 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd November.
BAST (Juvenile Fillies): After finishing second in a 5 1-2-furlong maiden race at Del Mar on August 11th, this daughter of Uncle Mo came back 20 days later to win the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante by 8 3-4 lengths as a maiden.
On September 27, she held on by a neck to win the Grade 1 Chandelier Stakes at Santa Anita at the same 1 1-16-miles as the Juvenile Fillies.
Baffert said the Santa Anita surface that day, opening day, was deep and tiring.
“She gutted it out. With these fillies it’s a little tougher on that kind of a surface,” Baffert said. “She handled it well, she won, she’s a good filly and she’s been working well.”
Baffert added blinkers to Bast’s equipment after her debut.
“I did that because she likes to look at things,” Baffert said. “She’s got a lot of quality. She looks fast and she is fast.”
EIGHT RINGS (Juvenile): This son of Empire Maker won his debut by 6 1-4 lengths at Del Mar on August 4th. Sent off the 1-2 favorite in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity, he ducked in at the break, bumped with another horse and unseated his jockey, Drayden Van Dyke.
He came back 25 days later, with new jockey John Velazquez aboard, and romped to a front-running, six-length victory in the Grade 1 American Pharoah, run at the same track and distance as the Juvenile.
“He’s a light bodied horse, he’s got a little American Pharoah-type tendencies that I see,” Baffert said. “He moves like a leopard, he goes over the ground so nice and he handled that race pretty well. He got tired, Johnny asked him pretty good to get him running.”
Baffert noted he added blinkers to Eight Rings for the American Pharoah as a way to ensure he wouldn’t duck in like he did in the Del Mar Futurity.
“One thing about it, he probably doesn’t need them but after he did that move I don’t want to take any chances,” Baffert said.
IMPROBABLE (Dirt Mile): A Grade 1 winner at 2, he was the favorite in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but finished fourth and sixth, respectively, in those races.
In this race, he is cutting back in distance after a fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby at 1 1-8 miles in which he had his head turned at the start. At a mile, Improbable is 2 for 2 winning the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs last year on Breeders’ Cup Day and the Shared Belief Stakes against next-out winner King Jack at Del Mar on August 25th.
“I think a mile is what he wants to do,” Baffert said.
Improbable has been his own worst enemy in the starting gate, acting up or being unprepared when the doors open.
“He’s not really bad in the gate, he just gets restless in there,” Baffert said. “If he can get away with the field, with his speed he’s going to be very, very tough.”
Baffert has booked Rafael Bejarano to ride. Bejarano has worked him in recent weeks.
MCKINZIE (Classic): Has two wins and four seconds this year. He won the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga but finished a disappointing second to longshot Mongolian Groom in the Grade 1 Awesome Again where he was sent off the 3-10 favorite.
“I never liked the position he was in, he was never engaged in the race,” Baffert said of McKinzie’s trip in the Awesome Again.
Baffert felt McKinzie was trip compromised in both the Awesome Again and Met Mile at Belmont, the latter where he finished second to Mitole and in front of Thunder Snow. Baffert has replaced Mike Smith with Joel Rosario.
“I love the guy to death, but he’s had some tough trips on him,” Baffert said of Smith. “Joel has had success out here.”
Baffert said he likes how McKinzie is training up to the Classic and has no qualms with his ability to get 1 1-4 miles, a distance at which he is winless in two tries including a 12th-place finish in last year’s Classic.
“I really like the way he’s coming into this race,” Baffert said. “He needs to break well too and get out of there. If Bayern could handle a mile and a quarter this guy can too.”