Bob Baffert became just the second person to train two Triple Crown winners when Justify swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont three years after American Pharoah did the same.
Justify is retired but Baffert still brings a healthy cast to this year’s Breeders’ Cup where he will aim for this fourth Classic victory in the last five years.
Baffert, who is the all-time leader in Breeders’ Cup prize money won with $27 million, pre-entered nine for the Breeders’ Cup but announced on October 26th that Dream Tree (Filly & Mare Sprint) would not run due to an entrapped epiglottis.
MUCH BETTER (Juvenile Turf): A son of Pioneerof the Nile, this ridgling won his debut on dirt going 6 1-2 furlongs before finishing second after making the lead midway through the $100,000 Zuma Beach Stakes going a mile on turf at Santa Anita.
He was placed one deep on the preference list by the Breeders’ Cup Racing Directors/Selection Panel and would need one defection to get into the race.
“He got tired at the end of that race, he went a little fast early,” Baffert said. “He got speed and he’s steady. He’s probably a dirt horse.”
GAME WINNER (Juvenile): Baffert has won the Juvenile three times and looks to have the favorite for this year’s renewal with this undefeated colt.
Game Winner, a son of Candy Ride, won the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity, just 16 days after he won his maiden by 5 3-4 lengths, also at Del Mar. Twenty-six days after that, he won the Grade 1 American Pharoah by 4 1-2 lengths in his first start around two turns.
“He thrives on training and racing and he looks the part,” Baffert said. “If you look at him, he’s a specimen of a horse. He has us pretty excited not only for the Breeders’ Cup, but for the Derby next year.
“I love the way he won the American Pharoah,” Baffert added. “He did it like it was nothing.”
MARLEY’S FREEDOM (Filly & Mare Sprint): Though Baffert lost Dream Tree, he still has a top contender in this race in Marley’s Freedom, who has won all three of her starts since being transferred to Baffert in the spring.
She shipped from California to Saratoga in August and won the Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga by 3 1-4 lengths at the Filly & Mare distance of seven furlongs.
“She’s gotten better, seven-eighths is a good distance for her,” Baffert said. “She’s got tactical speed to stay close, she’s got gears to keep on running.”
ABEL TASMAN (Distaff): The champion 3-year-old filly of 2017, she finished second in the Distaff last year to the older filly Forever Unbridled.
This year, she won the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps and Grade 1 Personal Ensign before throwing in a clunker finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Zenyatta at Santa Anita as the 1-9 favorite.
Baffert said Abel Tasman may have been trying to fight off a virus at that time and also said she was compromised by a slow break.
“She didn’t want to run that day,” Baffert said. “But she has come back and worked really well so I just can’t see her doing that again.”
VALE DORI (Distaff): On her way to being retired, this 6-year-old mare fired her best race in more than a year when she upset the Grade 1 Zenyatta Stakes at 11-1. She was equipped with blinkers for the first time in that race.
Baffert said Vale Dori can be finicky in the gate and needs a good break because “she needs to be on the lead.”
MCKINZIE (Classic): Baffert won the Classic with 3-year-olds Bayern (2014), American Pharoah (2015) and Arrogate (2016).
At the beginning of the year, he was considered Baffert’s top Kentucky Derby prospect until he was hurt after bumping with Bolt d’Oro in the San Felipe, a race in McKinzie was disqualified from first and placed second.
He came off a six-month layoff to win the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby against 3-year-olds at Parx.
He was reported to have lost weight after the race, but has come around in recent weeks, Baffert said.
“He’s not a big robust kind of horse anyway, but since then he got his weight back on, and he’s been working well so we feel like he deserves a chance at the Classic,” Baffert said.
Mike Smith sticks with this horse over West Coast.
WEST COAST (Classic): The 2017 Pennsylvania Derby finished third to Gun Runner in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and then second to him in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in January.
Following nine races in 11 months, West Coast was given an extended break and brought back in the Grade 1 Awesome Again at Santa Anita where he finished second, 2 1-4 lengths behind Accelerate.
“I sort of got him ready really quick,” Baffert said. “No way was he near his top performance and he ran a hell of race. He’s trained great since. He’ll run first or second.”
John Velazquez will ride West Coast.
COLLECTED (Classic). This horse finished second to Gun Runner in last year’s Classic but is in serious jeopardy of not making it into this field as he was placed four-deep on the preference list, meaning he would need four defections to get into the field.
Collected is winless in both of his starts this year, a seventh-place finish in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in January and a fourth-place finish in a five-horse field in a listed stakes at Parx where he was the 2-5 favorite.