“Then there was one.”
That's how Bob Baffert summed up his prospects for the Kentucky Derby on May 4 after War Academy was pulled up in Saturday's Arkansas Derby under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who at press time Sunday, was still in search of a mount in the Run for the Roses.
“The one” would be Sunland Derby winner Govenor Charlie, who has 50 points on the Derby's new qualifying system that limits the field to 20 starters with the highest point totals, earned by the top four finishers in designated Derby prep races.
“He's fine,” Baffert said of War Academy on an overcast Sunday morning interspersed with occasional sprinkles of rain. “Mike Smith said the horse's hind end kept going out on him a little bit down the backside, so he didn't feel comfortable and pulled him up. But when he got back to the barn he looked fine. We're shipping him today to Kentucky. We'll monitor him, but he looked fine.”
Daily Racing Form's chart comments on War Academy reads, “War Academy backed out of the gate prior to the start, reloaded, broke in good order, raced mid pack toward the front, broke stride just after a half, pulled up gradually, walked off.”
Baffert trainees Super Ninety Nine, Den's Legacy (sixth in the Arkansas Derby) and Code West have 30, 20 and 20 points, respectively, but Baffert said last week that how his horses were training, and not points, would be the determining factor in whether they run in the Kentucky Derby, which he has won three times.
Saturday proved to be a spectacular day in out of town riding assignments for jockeys based at or formerly based at Santa Anita.
Rafael Bejarano landed his Kentucky Derby mount when he rode Overanalyze to a 4 ¼-length victory in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park for the Repole Stable and Todd Pletcher.
At Keeneland, Santa Anita-based Mario Gutierrez won the $175,000 Commonwealth for Doug O'Neill aboard Handsome Mike; Garrett Gomez rode Havelock to victory in the $100,000 Shakertown; Corey Nakatani guided Last Full Measure to an upset win in the $300,000 Madison; and Julien Leparoux, who moved his tack to Kentucky from Santa Anita last week, won the $300,000 Jenny Wiley on Centre Court before piloting Java's War to a dramatic neck triumph over Palace Malice (ridden by Gomez) in the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes. Java's War was 14th and last after six furlongs in the 1 1/8-mile race.
The exodus opened the door for Martin Pedroza, who won four of the nine races at Santa Anita Saturday, moving him into a tie for ninth in the standings with Kevin Krigger at 24.
As for Baffert's Kentucky Derby number seemingly down to one, the Hall of Famer was philosophical.
“Only one can win it,” he said.
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