Bob Baffert celebrates his 66th birthday today.
The two-time Triple Crown winning trainer will highlight the occasion this afternoon by attending the wedding of fellow Hall of Fame member Mike Smith, who rode Horse of the Year finalist Justify to a Triple Crown sweep for Baffert last year and has been a reliable and trusted ally in the saddle for the most recognizable trainer on the planet.
Baffert, who has won the Kentucky Derby five times, currently is in good stead to win No. six with Game Winner, undefeated Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and a slam dunk to be named two-year-old champion male of 2018.
A daylight winner of his four career starts, three in Grade I stakes, the bay son of Candy Ride based at Santa Anita likely will use the venue as a steppingstone to the May 4 Run for the Roses, as Baffert said Sunday morning he plans to run Game Runner in the Grade II, $500,000 San Felipe Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 9 “if all goes well.”
It would seem to be a prudent strategy. In the past seven years, from 2012 through 2018, five of the Kentucky Derby winners were based in Southern California, four of them at Santa Anita: Justify (2018), Nyquist (2016), American Pharoah (2015) and I'll Have Another (2012). California Chrome (2014) was headquartered at Los Alamitos
As for additional rejoicing on his birthday, Baffert wasn't pushing the envelope. “The only thing I'm going to do today,” Baffert said, “is go to Mike Smith's wedding.”
McKinzie's status for the $9 million, 1 1/8-mile Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 26, meanwhile, was still undetermined, with the Grade II San Pasqual Stakes at the same distance on Feb. 2 a primary option.
“He's doing well and it's tempting,” Baffert said of McKinzie, impressive winner of the Grade I Malibu Stakes at seven furlongs on Dec. 26, “but the Pegasus still would be a little quick back off of a seven furlong race, so we'll see.”
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