By Ray Wallin
Love him or hate him, he is the first name people think of when they think of horse trainers. Seemingly always clouded by controversy, this year more than others, Bob Baffert is ready to try to add to his already impressive Breeders’ Cup resume.
Baffert has won the most money at the Breeders’ Cup, netting nearly $36 million in purses, $9 million ahead of runner-up Aidan O’Brien. Baffert has saddled 125 starters and returned 17 winners, second to D. Wayne Lukas’s 20 winners. Only O’Brien, Lukas, and Todd Pletcher have sent more horses to post in the Breeders’ Cup than Baffert.
Given his success on the track, his reputation is tarnished by five medication violations in the last year, however two were dismissed and he hasn’t been charged in another. You may recall Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s positive test for betamethasone in May. This led to a two-year ban from all Churchill Downs (CDI) properties and precludes him for entering the Kentucky Derby as well. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission still has not set a hearing date or formally charged Baffert.
For Baffert though, it is business as usual. Leading up to the 2021 Breeders’ Cup he is still winning at over a 30% clip and depending how the rest of his year goes with some large purses still ahead of him, looks to have another very successful year.
Despite having added scrutiny and security measures in place for this year’s Breeders’ Cup, Baffert has some live runners as he looks to add to his already storied career.
Baffert pre-entered eight horses in the Breeders’ Cup. Here’s a ranking of his best chances to win, from longest shot to best shot.
This Into Mischief colt took three tries to break his maiden. His first two efforts were lackluster but wore down the front-runner in his last start a few weeks back. The field he faces is not conducive for a lightly raced colt despite being poised to make a big leap in form.
Given Baffert’s other two entries in this field, this one has the least likely chance of scoring Baffert another win in the Juvenile, which he last won in 2018 with Game Winner who wore down then longshot and now Classic entrant Knicks Go in the stretch to win as the even money favorite.
This colt showed promise as a 2-year-old winning at first asking before a dominant front-running win in the Grade 1 American Pharaoh. It took another two years for him to notch his next win in an allowance optional claimer a month before the Breeders’ Cup.
While there is no heavy favorite in this field, his chances don’t appear to be as good as others like Ginobili, Silver State, C Z Rocket, and Mind Control. The fact that he can contend for a minor share keeps him off the bottom of this list.
The weaker of the two Baffert entries in the Distaff, this daughter of Into Mischief has her work cut out for her. She finished second to stablemate Private Mission last out in the Grade 2 Zenyatta. Most of her success has come against short fields where class is questionable. She did lose to the heavy favorite Letruska in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign two races back, which may be indicative of how the Distaff’s pace will set up.
While she looks like she could find her way into your exotics, the likelihood of her coming away with a win here is slim. Her stablemate has a slightly better chance of taken down the class of the field.
Baffert’s second Distaff entry is also out of Into Mischief. She is still stepping up in class with only two stakes wins to her credit in Grade 2 and Grade 3 company. This will be her biggest test to date after defeating her stablemate and half-sister As Time Goes By in the Grade 2 Zenyatta Stakes.
If it weren’t for Letruska, her chances would be higher on this list. She may be the best of the also rans here which includes quality horses such as Royal Flag, Shedaresthedevil, and Malathaat. Her off the pace running style will work to her advantage if someone can pressure the strong front-runner Letruska into folding, but that is not the most probable scenario.
This front-runner has peeled off an impressive, pressured maiden win and held off early pressure to win the Grade 1 Runhappy Stakes in September to start his career. He is bred for this distance but faces a strong field which includes likely favorite Jack Christopher who made it look easy in the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont a month ago.
The Juvenile offers a lot of value as horses are trying two turns for the first time and are improving daily. Problem for this Twirling Candy colt is that others are developing as quickly, and he will likely struggle more with the expect early pace than stablemate Corniche.
This colt is a bit of a sleeper in this field. He wants to control the pace but will need to contend with Knicks Go here. People may be off Baffert for his recent medication issues so his odds may drift higher than where they should be. He has an uphill battle here with a dominant early speed foe in Knicks Go and Essential Quality who looks to pick up the pieces if the early pace falls apart.
This race looks to set up like the Preakness (G1) where Rombauer got the best of the pressured pace set by Medina Spirit and Midnight Bourbon. But you still need to respect his efforts on the frontend in both the Grade 1 Awesome Again and the Shared Belief after his disappointing third in the Preakness.
This Quality Road colt has already shown he can handle two turns when he won the Grade 1 American Pharaoh after easily besting foes Pappacap and Oviatt Class in wire to wire fashion. He broke his maiden around one turn in an uncontested wire-to-wire romp at 1-2 odds in September. His breeding suggests he can handle the distance and since he has already proven that he will likely be bet down to one of the top two betting choices in this race.
While he hasn’t been tested on the lead yet, his form signals that he is a live entry and if he can handle the pressure of a weaker early speed horse, he can take this race on or close to the lead. The presence of so many improving juvenile horses trying something new for the first time and the strong efforts of the likely favorite Jack Christopher are the only knocks against him in this spot.
Baffert’s best chance at a win in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup was also his best chance to win a Breeders’ Cup race in 2020. Gamine has not only beaten several in this field this year but has done so handily. Other than a disqualification in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) last year she has been unstoppable, winning her other nine starts which include five Grade 1s.
Last year she proved she can come from off the pace and win as she bested Serengeti Empress to notch a win in this race over the Keeneland dirt. There is no reason to doubt that she’ll be in top form to handle whoever tries to come at here in this spot this year.
Regardless of what you think of Bob Baffert, he does produce not just winners, but stakes winners. With a couple of live runners, is 2021 the year that he catches D. Wayne Lukas for most Breeders’ Cup wins?
Ray Wallin is a licensed civil engineer and part-time handicapper who has had a presence on the Web since 2000 for various sports and horse racing websites and through his personal blog. Introduced to the sport over the course of a misspent teenage summer at Monmouth Park by his Uncle Dutch, a professional gambler, he quickly fell in love with racing and has been handicapping for over 25 years.
Ray’s background in engineering, along with his meticulous nature and fascination with numbers, parlay into his ability to analyze data; keep records; notice emerging trends; and find new handicapping angles and figures. While specializing in thoroughbred racing, Ray also handicaps harness racing, Quarter Horse racing, baseball, football, hockey, and has been rumored to have calculated the speed and pace ratings on two squirrels running through his backyard.
Ray likes focusing on pace and angle plays while finding the middle ground between the art and science of handicapping. When he is not crunching numbers, Ray enjoys spending time with his family, cheering on his alma mater (Rutgers University), fishing, and playing golf.
Ray’s blog, which focuses on his quest to make it to the NHC Finals while trying to improve his handicapping abilities can be found at www.jerseycapper.blogspot.com Ray can also be found on Twitter (@rayw76) and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.