Bob Baffert regrouping for 2020 Kentucky Derby
Just down the street from Cardinal Stadium, another Louisville tradition awaits.
Bob Baffert has become synonymous with Kentucky Derby success. The Hall of Fame trainer is responsible for five Derby winners, placing him second on the all-time list behind father and son duo Ben and Jimmy Jones. One more win and Baffert will pull level. Just a few short months ago, Baffert’s hopes of equaling that Derby record this year looked very hopeful indeed. The 67-year-old from Nogales, Arizona was well-equipped for an assault on the Run of the Roses.
Nadal led the Road to Kentucky standings after four wins in his first four starts and was ranked the No. 1 3-year-old by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Charlatan, unbeaten in his first three starts, was also right in the mix, while Authentic sat third in the Road standings. Of those three leading contenders for the Derby, only Authentic remains. Nadal was forced to retire at the end of May after sustaining a career-ending condylar fracture, while Charlatan has been ruled out of the Churchill Downs race with a minor ankle injury.
If matters could not get much worse for Baffert, the trainer was last week slapped with a 15-day suspension after Charlatan and another of his horses, Gamine, tested positive for a banned substance following their participations in the Arkansas Derby. Charlatan won the race but has since been disqualified, with the $300,000 prize money returned.
“In May, we were on a tremendous schedule with all my horses,” Baffert said. “They were peaking at the right time. I couldn’t have been any stronger than I’ve been in a while. And then all of a sudden, boom, the whole thing blows up.”
Baffert may be down, but he is certainly not out. A Hall of Fame trainer responsible for the two most recent Triple Crown winners (American Pharoah, 2015, and Justify, 2018) is made of stronger stuff. Baffert looks set to still be triple-handed at the Kentucky Derby – postponed from May 2 to Sept 5 due to the coronavirus situation – but in come Uncle Chuck and Cezanne for Nadal and Charlatan.
Authentic provided some welcome good news for his trainer after living up to his favorite tag by winning the Haskell Invitational Stakes – a key prep race for the Derby. Victory means the 3-year-old colt has won on 3 of his 4 career starts, placing runner-up in the other race to Derby contender Honor A P in the Santa Anita Derby.
Despite Authentic’s pedigree, it is Uncle Chuck that is being tipped as Baffert’s best chance of success at Churchill Downs, according to the latest Kentucky Derby odds. You can check them here: https://www.twinspires.com/kentuckyderby/odds
Authentic is being priced at around 10-1 for the Derby, while Uncle Chuck has been installed as third favorite at 8-1.
Those odds are a result of a lightning fast start to the career of Uncle Chuck, who marked his debut on June 12 with a dominant seven-length win over a mile at Santa Anita Park. The 3-year-old colt returned 22 days later at the Los Alamitos Derby-G3 and faced a step up in class and distance but cruised to a four-length win.
The first true test of Uncle Chuck’s Derby credentials will come on Aug. 8 at the Travers Stakes where he will come up against Belmont Stakes winner and strong Derby favorite Tiz the Law.
“He looks fantastic right now,” Baffert said of Uncle Chuck. “He’s got that big, long stride. I think a mile and a quarter would be right up his alley, so hopefully all goes well.”
Cezanne, meanwhile, is also unbeaten in his first two starts and is being priced alongside Authentic at 10-1 for the Derby. He looks set to next race in the $100,000 Shared Belief Stakes on Aug. 1, where Honor A P (second in the Derby odds at 9-2) will also compete.
Baffert also has an outside contender in Thousand Words (30-1 for the Derby), who started his career with three straight wins and was most recently runner-up to Uncle Chuck at the Los Alamitos Derby. Thousand Words is expected to join Cezanne in the Shared Belief.
So, after a challenging few months, the outlook appears much brighter for Baffert and his stable. The trainer looks to have regrouped and with another six weeks until the Kentucky Derby he will hope the sailing is far smoother than the past six weeks.