While Pletcher might have a small army of Kentucky Derby prospects – highlighted by seven Pletcher runners in 23 individual entries in the recent Kentucky Derby future wagering – Baffert served notice on Monday that he too should not be ignored on the Road to the Triple Crown.
Baffert spent his President’s Day holiday watching Super Ninety Nine notch a Bodemeister-like 11 ¼-length victory over a sloppy track in the $300,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park that made the colt’s 47-1 odds in the Kentucky Derby future wager look like quite a bargain.
“(Jockey Rafael Bejarano) called me before the race and I just told him to let him get away from there and do his thing,” said Baffert, who took time out from a vacation in Mexico to call in to Oaklawn Park officials. “Turning for home, I could see he had plenty of horse. It’s exciting. This is the time of year when these 3-year-olds start getting exciting.”
The Southwest marked Super Ninety Nine’s fifth career start and his third win. The even-money favorite had previously won an allowance race at Santa Anita in lightning-fast time and now gives Baffert a second hot new prospect on the Triple Crown trail. Earlier this month, the Baffert-trained Flashback won the Robert B. Lewis by 6 1/4 lengths.
Monday’s impressive win added to Baffert’s run of success in Arkansas preps as last year he swept both divisions of the Southwest and also won Oaklawn’s Rebel with Secret Circle and the Arkansas Derby with the aforementioned Bodemeister. Rest assured, Baffert’s stable will return to the “The Natural State” for both the Rebel and Arkansas Derby, with the Arkansas Derby a more likely target for the speedy Super Ninety Nine.
Super Ninety Nine will likely need a stellar effort in his final Kentucky Derby tuneup – wherever it happens – because he’s still on the short end of the points he’ll need to earn a starting spot in the Run for the Roses. As the final race in the “Kentucky Derby Prep Season” phase of the points chase, the Southwest provided Super Ninety Nine with his first 10 points.
Now tied with 10 other horses for fourth, Super Ninety Nine will soon lose ground in the point standings as this weekend’s preps (the Fountain of Youth and Risen Star) will usher in the first leg of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, with eight preps worth 50-20-10-5 points to the first four finishers in them. After that comes seven preps in the second leg worth 100-40-20-10 – including the Arkansas Derby - and a final two worth 20-8-4-2.
Those races will shape the Kentucky Derby field, yet after Monday it’s pretty clear the race will not be a private party for Todd Pletcher. It looks like Bob Baffert has some plans of his own for the first Saturday in May.