Bob Baffert called it last summer: the trainer told TMZ that his next Kentucky Derby winner just might be a gray colt named Roadster.
On Saturday, Speedway Stable's Roadster evolved into a Grade 1 winner with a 3/4-length triumph over his stablemate and last year's juvenile champion Game Winner in the Santa Anita Derby. The second choice at 3-1, Roadster and Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith settled off the pace and ran down 1-2 favorite Game Winner in the stretch, covering nine furlongs over the fast main track in 1:51.28. It was the first graded stakes win for the 3-year-old son of Quality Road, and guaranteed the colt a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.
“They're two good horses,” said Baffert, who recorded a record-setting ninth win in the Santa Anita Derby. “Game Winner was out there by himself and when he gets by himself . . . he needs company. It was a good, hard race for both of them, and coming in, that's what you want to see. This track is deep and slow, but it's safe, and that's what we wanted. I couldn't be happier. We knew that Roadster needed to win or run second (for Kentucky Derby qualifying points, 100 to the winner, 40 to the runner-up).”
Instagrand set the early pace and finished third, while Nolo Contesto faded to fourth.
Instagrand was very sharp out of the gate, striding out to take the early lead ahead of Nolo Contesto. Game Winner also tried to press the early pace, but was hung four wide all the way around the clubhouse turn.
Meanwhile, “Big Money” Mike Smith kept the inside-drawn Roadster against the rail and settled him back behind the pacesetters. Joel Rosario, aboard Game Winner, had to keep his mount wide down the backstretch to track Instagrand's fractions of :23.34 and :47.84, and eventually decided to send the colt four-wide to challenge for the lead.
Nolo Contesto drew alongside Instagrand nearing the head of the lane, and Game Winner was not far behind those two making his bid. Smith had Roadster moving well around the turn, and angled him out in the stretch with dead aim on his stablemate.
Game Winner put away Instagrand, but had no answer for Roadster in the final sixteenth of a mile.
“I moved a little bit soon because they weren't putting much pressure on Instagrand, but they weren't going too fast up front so I was comfortable with my position,” explained Game Winner's jockey Joel Rosario. “He got a little bit tired the last part, that's why Roadster got by me.”
Roadster rallied down the center of the course and hit the wire three-quarters of a length ahead of Game Winner, while Instagrand finished third ahead of Nolo Contesto.
“We knew before he and Game Winner started running that they both had ability,” Smith said. “They were breezing by the competition like this and putting them away. We weren't sure which one was better. The first time he ran for me he showed he had all the gears. The second time he had the problem with his wind. We fixed that and he's doing all the right things. We got a good break and then we dropped back. He took a breather, while the others were going out there quick. When I asked him again, he was gone.”
Bred in Kentucky by Stone Farm, Roadster was a $525,000 yearling purchase at the Keeneland September sale. The colt won on debut in July of his juvenile season, then finished third in the G1 Del Mar Futurity before he was sidelined for the remainder of 2018. Roadster kicked off this year with an allowance score, and the Santa Anita Derby improved his record to three wins from four starts and earnings over $700,000.
“It was a great finish,” Baffert said. “They were both finishing well, they were fighting; Game Winner is a fighter. It was a great stretch run . . . at the eighth pole I knew I was going to win, I just didn't know which one, but it was exciting. They'll both like a mile and a quarter (distance of Kentucky Derby on May 4). I think Game Winner's next race will be better. I've been bringing him along really easy.
“The fans, despite what they've reading, they showed up, they're here to watch good racing, they bring their family, they'll always remember the Santa Anita Derby. It was so comforting to see all these fans here and get behind us. They know at the end of the day we love our horses. We wake up worrying about them, we go to sleep worrying about them. To me, that's what made this a great day.”
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