When the nominations for this race were released and we learned that Bob Baffert trained 14 of 16 runners, the possibility of an “All Baffert” race became a distinct possibility. When the field was drawn earlier in the week, that possibility became a reality as only four horses entered, owned by three of Baffert’s biggest clients.
As a result, no Derby points will be awarded for this race, since horses that are trained by Baffert are currently ineligible to earn points toward entry in this year’s race. It will be interesting to see the contingency plan for Baffert’s runners over the next few weeks. This will likely be the final start prior to switching barns for any of these four that hope to advance to the Derby. February 28th is the deadline for those details to be sorted out.
Santa Anita, Saturday 2/4/23, Race 3: The Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes
1 – Arabian Lion (7-5 ML, 60-1 Circa): He’s a son of Justify that fetched $600K at the OBS Sales in April of 2022, the same sale where Zedan Racing Stables also purchased the recent winner of the Southwest Stakes, Arabian Knight, for $2.3 million. He showed a lot of promise in his first two starts, dominating in his debut at Santa Anita and then shipping to Keeneland to run a competitive second in an allowance race there on the Breeders’ Cup undercard. Giant Mischief, who was recently a troubled-trip second in the Remington Springboard Mile, defeated him that afternoon. He tried graded stakes company for the first time at Los Alamitos in the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity, where he finished last of five that afternoon. That performance was inexplicably bad, with seemingly no real excuse for his dull effort. He’s been working well over this course, and his rail draw should give him a fast track to the lead,. We’ll see if John Velasquez learned anything from his dull effort when riding him for the first time last out that might be able to help him improve today.
2 – Newgate (8-5 ML, 100-1 Circa): He’s coming off a strong runner-up finish to his stablemate, Reincarnate, in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes on this course last month. Frankie Dettori rode him for the first time that day. He waited patiently as Reincarnate and Spun Intended set ambitious fractions on the front end. He came with a bold bid, sweeping up three wide, but could never quite catch the winner, who was dead game along the rail. It’ll be interesting to see the tactics that Dettori will employ today. In his first four races, he ran much closer to the pace than he did last out. He looked very comfortable sitting off the pace that afternoon, and ran his best race to date. His move on the turn was visually impressive and he hit a new career top of a 95 Beyer Speed Figure, which is the high water mark for this group. However, with only three rivals here, all trained by the same person, I don’t see a cutthroat speed duel developing.
3 – Worcester (9-5 ML, 70-1 Circa): This son of Empire Maker is coming off a runner-up finish to his highly regarded stablemate, Hejazi, in maiden special weight company three weeks ago. He is owned by the same group that owns Newgate, so I’m wondering if he was entered in this spot to make sure the race filled. On the other hand, his future book odds in Vegas are shorter than the future book odds on Newgate, who is a more accomplished and experienced runner. The dam was a stakes winning sprinter in New Mexico whose other two runners on the track were nothing special. He sold for $185K at the Keeneland September Sale in 2021, and he’s looked better on the track than either of his half-siblings ever did. This will be his first route today, which follows the two sprints to a route pattern that Baffert likes to do with his young runners. He’s not impossible in this race.
4 – Hard to Figure (8-1 ML): The longest price of the Baffert quartet is this aptly named son of Hard Spun. After losing to a pair of his stablemates in his first two starts, Baffert put blinkers on him for his third try, which came in the restricted Capote Stakes at Los Alamitos. However, he wasn’t having any of it at Del Mar in the Bob Hope Stakes, where he was lugging out badly and fighting Flavien Prat early and often. Ramon Vazquez, who rode him to his only win, reunites with him today, where the blinkers will go back on. The best runners that his dam, Ani La, has foaled, have had more success on the grass, so with the Danzig influence from Hard Spun, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Baffert try him on the grass in his next start. I feel he’s up against it today against this group.
The Verdict: 2
The only certainty here is that Bob Baffert is going to get his picture taken in the Winner’s Circle for the 5th consecutive time in this race and the 11th time overall. As a gambler, I’d have a hard time betting on anything else in this race, including the multi-race wagers. I like the progress that I’ve seen from Newgate, so I’d make him a tepid top choice. While he’s very different from the 2021 winner of this race, Medina Spirit (He cost $850K, whereas Medina Spirit cost his connections $35K), he reminds me of him in the way that he’s a hard trying horse that is improving with more races. He has more experience than his rivals here, and while sometimes that isn’t the best thing for young horses, I think it matters in a race like this.
I assume the goal for this race is to see if any of these four runners are Derby material, so I’d imagine the instructions for the riders would be to let the horse tell them what to do early on, and try to win the race late. While Worcester is still a maiden who is owned by the same the connections as Newgate, I believe he is entered here as protection for the more accomplished runner. That being said, it is hard to create value in a four horse field when there are four different trainers. Under these circumstances, where all four runners are from the same barn, this race is a pass for me.
We’ll have coverage of every North American Derby Points Race, along with plenty of coverage leading up to the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6th, 2023. Current futures odds from Circa or Caesars-William Hill will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.
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