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Baffert's barn merits Derby look

By Ron Flatter  (VSiN.com) 

December 21, 2021 06:27 PM
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Maybe it’s a desert mirage. And maybe it’s just a function of dozens of other horses gradually coming into focus. But in Las Vegas, a little bit of value is creeping into the Kentucky Derby futures market for 2-year-olds trained by Bob Baffert.

Don’t take that the wrong way. The odds to back Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Corniche to win May 7 at Churchill Downs still are way too short. Since absence makes the odds grow longer, it’s no wonder the seven weeks since his victory at Del Mar have seen his price drift to 11-1. That number is available at Circa Sports, which opened Corniche early this month at 9-1. He is still 6-1 at Caesars Sportsbook at William Hill, where he opened at 15-1 a month before the Breeders’ Cup.

Baffert had 10 of his 2-year-olds on that first sheet that listed 127 horses, including three of the top five choices. Now with about twice as many names available from the two Nevada bookmakers, there are 15 Baffert horses carrying odds ranging from Corniche in the favorite’s role to Barossa and Rhetoric, each at 200-1.

More to the point of searching for value, only two of the Baffert colts — Corniche and Messier (35-1) — are best-priced shorter than 60-1. Eleven are at least 100-1.

Here is the inevitable paragraph that any woke horseplayer could see coming: Baffert and his horses are not welcome at Churchill Downs. The track banned them through May 2023. That was because the late Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone after winning the 2021 Derby, leaving that victory open to a possible disqualification. Anyone making a futures bet on a Baffert horse is counting on a change of heart from Churchill Downs, a court order or, more likely, a transfer of that horse to another trainer.

With the legalese dispensed, here are the 15 Baffert horses who are in the Nevada futures:

Corniche (11-1 Circa, 6-1 Caesars at William Hill), sired by Quality Road: His 3-for-3 record comes with two Grade 1 victories — the American Pharoah and the Breeders’ Cup. He posted a 98 Beyer Speed Figure for his debut win. Barring a wave of protests by voters, he will be the champion 2-year-old male of 2021.

Messier (35-1, 20-1), by Empire Maker: For the first mile, he looked like a winner this month in the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity. The only problem was he had to go another 110 yards. That runner-up result marked the first time since the race was moved from Hollywood Park eight years ago that Baffert lost.

Doppelganger (60-1, 35-1), by Into Mischief: As a 1-2 favorite, his debut began with a bump at the start. Then he showed he was much the best in the race that came a half-hour before the Los Al Futurity. That three-length victory over six furlongs earned this $575,000 yearling an 80 Beyer.

Rockefeller (85-1, 65-1), by Medaglia d’Oro: He finished fourth as the second choice in the American Pharoah. Then this $750,000 yearling bounced back last month in a one-turn mile at Belmont Park, leading from gate to wire to win the Grade 3 Nashua.

Murray (100-1, 75-1), by Street Sense: After a geared-down, 10¾-length win in his first start during the summer, he was made the 3-5 favorite for the seven-furlong, Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity. Knocked off stride with a bump in the stretch, he finished fifth, losing by 10 lengths. Other than an October gate work, he has been on the shelf since.

Pinehurst (100-1, 100-1), by Twirling Candy: He was the “other” Baffert horse in the Del Mar Futurity. He ended up victorious as the 4-1 second choice. Carrying a 2-for-2 record into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he was no match for stablemate Corniche, fading to finish fifth as the 6-1 third choice. Now he is a far cry from his 25-1 opening odds.

Newgrange (125-1, 100-1), by Violence: In a challenging maiden sprint Nov. 28 at Del Mar, John Velazquez took him between rivals in the turn on the way to a 1½-length score. Baffert appears to be gradually tightening him in workouts. On Saturday, he worked 1:00.4 going five furlongs in tandem with stablemate Winning Map.

Winning Map (125-1, 100-1), by Liam’s Map: This $525,000 colt works with Newgrange, so it seems appropriate that his odds are the same. He regressed from his 4¼-length maiden score in October, finishing a distant third of four horses in the Grade 3 Bob Hope sprint last month at Del Mar. His futures price opened at 35-1 in October.

Gold Rush Candy (125-1 Caesars at William Hill), by Danzing Candy: He broke his maiden on his second try during the Del Mar summer, but he has been on the bench for the four months since.

Flying Drummer (150-1, 125-1), by Gun Runner: The most telling result for this 0-for-3 maiden was his runner-up finish Aug. 27 in a two-turn mile at Del Mar. As the 4-5 favorite, the $850,000 colt held the lead until the eighth pole. Then he was passed by Oviatt Class, whose victory marked his coming of age among horseplayers.

Kamui (150-1, 125-1), by Quality Road: Stretching from a 5½-furlong maiden triumph, he proved to be no match for the others in the Bob Hope, finishing last. He has been off the work tab for the last six weeks.

Enbarr (175-1, 125-1), by Brody’s Cause: He drifted out in the stretch of his Aug. 1 debut, losing by a half-length to stablemate Pinehurst. Even though he won next time out Sept. 18 in the Capote Stakes at Los Al, he actually regressed in his speed optics. After eight straight weeks on the work tab, he has been rested this month.

Montebello (175-1, 150-1), by Curlin: He finished second to Enbarr in the Capote, giving him back-to-back runner-up finishes in black-type stakes after winning his first start at Del Mar. Last week he had his first workout since Thanksgiving weekend.

Barossa (200-1, 150-1), by Into Mischief: His long futures odds appear to be good value, especially considering his $775,000 yearling price. But bettors have never really fancied this colt. The only time he was favored, he won, and that was on his third try to break his maiden. Most recently he was third in the Los Al Futurity.

Rhetoric (200-1 Circa), by Quality Road: A $600,000 yearling, he was demoted from second to third in his only start. He has been idle since that bumpy Aug. 21 sprint at Del Mar.

Most of these horses may be candidates for graded stakes next month at Santa Anita. Don’t be surprised to see one or more in the Sham on Jan. 1, even if they are not allowed to collect their qualifying points.

It is worth noting that the last two Derby winners — Authentic and Medina Spirit — made their 3-year-old debuts in the Sham. They were among the seven Baffert horses to wear the roses at Churchill Downs.

Even if Baffert and his stable are not represented in Louisville on May 7, horseplayers would be wise to pay attention to his horses beforehand, especially if they perform well enough to be moved elsewhere in time to run for the roses.

WHO’S HOT?

Rocket Dawg (20-1 Circa, 60-1 Caesars at William Hill): This Classic Empire colt from the Brad Cox barn has been cut this month from 100-1 at both books. He won his debut by 5½ lengths last month at Churchill Downs, and his closing style seems ideally suited for his start Sunday in the inaugural Gun Runner Stakes at Fair Grounds.

Slow Down Andy (50-1, 60-1): The upset winner of the Los Alamitos Futurity was cut again by Circa, which had him at 150-1 before the victory and 80-1 right after. His connections — owner Paul Reddam, trainer Doug O’Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez — teamed to win the 2016 Derby with Nyquist, who sired Slow Down Andy.

Make It Big (100-1, 110-1): The Neolithic colt trained by Saffie Joseph Jr. may have won the Remington Springboard Mile on Friday night, but that points prep has never been a bellwether for the Derby. It was appropriate, then, that Caesars at William Hill only cut him from 125-1 to 110-1, while Circa held him at 100-1.

WHO’S NOT?

Chasing Time (80-1 Circa): A big bet last week would be the only reason for his odds to be cut from 135-1. It took him three starts to break his maiden for trainer Steve Asmussen. As an even-money favorite, the Not This Time colt lost by six lengths Friday in a 6-furlong allowance at Oaklawn.

Brigadier General (250-1 Circa): Trainer Dallas Stewart put this Street Sense colt through his first breezes in December after a 2½-month break. He surprised bettors when he finished second at 8-1 odds in his first start. He has since disappointed them by finishing fifth at 6-5, third at 5-2 and sixth at 5-2.

Aquitania Arrival (350-1, 350-1): After he won his debut last spring at Churchill Downs, he has regressed, most recently coming up an empty seventh Friday in an Oaklawn allowance race. The Carpe Diem gelding is a cast-off from Peter Miller, who took an indefinite break from training after the deaths of six of his horses in the past year.

In addition to this weekly report, Ron Flatter’s racing column is available Friday at VSiN.com. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is also available Friday morning at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week’s episode features a Christmas conversation among friends. Japan Thoroughbred liaison Kate Hunter, Racing Post correspondent Scott Burton from Paris and turf writer John Cherwa from the Los Angeles Times discuss the year in racing and look ahead to 2022. The RFRP is available for free subscription at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.

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