Knowing that Bayern is to run in the Arkansas Derby and that the Daily Racing Form’s Jeff Taylor is an unbiased expert on thoroughbreds, I’m re-evaluating Bob Baffert’s rave review of his lightly-raced 3-year-old.
The first time I read Baffert’s mid-February gush, I thought this trainer is media savvy. Reacting to Bayern’s 15-length victory, Baffert said: "When he kicked away, I got goose bumps."
Considering Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby three times, the Preakness four times and the Belmont once, it is easy to understand why the quote still has legs.
Last weekend, when Churchill Downs offered wagering on the May 3 Kentucky Derby, Bayern was 15-1 with $11,496 wagered to win although his qualifications consist of a victory in a maiden race in January and the allowance race in February.
Ahead of him in the wagering are the winners of two stakes races in California, a stakes race in Florida, the one-two finishers in the Rebel at Oaklawn Park and Social Inclusion, the favorite Saturday in a $1 million race in New York.
Taylor, a fixture in the Oaklawn pressbox for almost 30 years, is on record as enthusiastic about Bayern so I e-mailed him for the why.
Turns out, Taylor happened to see Bayern’s Jan. 4 race in California and was impressed. For one thing, Taylor puts extra stock in a horse that can win at seven-eighths of a mile the first time out. Most horses begin their careers at shorter distances.
He also noted that despite a fairly modest pedigree, Bayern brought more than $300,000 at auction, a sure sign he is a looker. "Built like a ’68 Chevelle and runs like it," Taylor said.
A couple of weeks later, a friend of a friend of Taylor’s was in Las Vegas and they all wagered a few bob on Bayern at 65-1 to win the Kentucky Derby. During the next few weeks, the investors experienced the roller coaster ride that is part of a future wager — they were ahead of the game when Bayern’s odds in Vegas dropped in February, they had doubts when he was scratched from a stakes race in March because of a foot bruise and they’re upbeat again now that he’s back on track in April.
The cash-backed enthusiasm for Bayern’s chances on the first Saturday in May is a bit ironic since the colt must finish no worse than second in the Arkansas Derby to be certain of one of the 20 spots in the starting gate at Churchill Downs. He has zero points and 20 horses have at least 20. However, Taylor pointed out Bayern’s resume is almost identical to that of Florida Derby winner Constitution.
The Arkansas Derby is one of the final four races worth 100-40-20-10 and Bayern is not the only participant shy on points. Trainer Todd Pletcher, who won the 2013 Arkansas Derby with Overanalyze, is sending Commissioner who has 10 points. Third in the Rebel, Ride On Curlin has 15; fourth-place finisher Strong Mandate has 11. Conquest Titan, who has 9, is also expected to run, along with a few others.
Mathematically, the squeeze is on.
Looking at the message in lights on the Oaklawn tote board tote board immediately after the Rebel, there was no doubt that second-place finisher Tapiture, Ride On Curlin, and Strong Mandate would try again in the Arkansas Derby. The board read:
5 — Inquiry. Objection
3 — Inquiry. Objection
4 — Inquiry.
After more than 10 minutes, the stewards decided not to change the finish, declaring the Baffert-trained Hoppertunity the winner. The first four finishers in the Rebel were separated by only 2 1/2 lengths and trainers of Nos. 2-3-4 immediately envisioned their thoroughbreds making up that margin with a clean trip.
Baffert split his Kentucky Derby hopefuls, keeping Hoppertunity in California for Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby. Taylor convinced me Bayern will be more than an adequate sub on April 12 in Hot Springs.