Champion Game Winner Favored In Kentucky Derby 145
Hall of Famer, Dual Triple Crown Winner Sends Out Three In Search Of Racing History
By Margaret Ransom
Following the stunning mid-week scratch of morning line favorite Omaha Beach from the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby (GI), Gary and Mary West’s champion Game Winner, who won his most prestigious race in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) over the twin spires six months ago, inherited favoritism honors and was given odds of 9-2 when Churchill Downs linemaker Mike Battaglia had to reconstruct his morning line.
Game Winner capped a perfect 2018 campaign with a 2 ¼-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup, but also won the Del Mar Futurity (GI) and American Pharoah (GI) Stakes last year. In 2019, Game Winner was beaten a nose by Omaha Beach in the Rebel Stakes (GII) at Oaklawn Park and was second to stablemate Roadster in the Santa Anita Derby (GI). Game Winner and Roadster are two of three from Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s sophomore arsenal and are coming off of a one-two finish in the Santa Anita Derby (GI), where Roadster prevailed by a half-length.
Jockey Joel Rosario, who won the 2013 Kentucky Derby on Orb, returns to ride Game Winner who will break from post position 15 and still wear saddle towel number 16 for wagering purposes.
Speedway Stable’s Roadster, who is now the morning line’s 5-1 second choice, has won three of four career starts, his only loss coming with a third-place effort behind Game Winner in last summer’s Del Mar Futurity. Florent Geroux will be aboard Saturday and the two will break from post position 16.
Baffert’s third runner is WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International and Starlight Racing’s Improbable, who is co-second choice on the morning line at odds of 5-1. The flashy son of City Zip, who carries the same silks as last year’s Triple Crown winner Justify, won all three of his starts as a juvenile, including the Los Alamitos Futurity (GI) and the Street Sense over Churchill’s main track back in November. With his training and racing schedule altered due to a three-week shutdown of racing at Santa Anita, he shipped to finish second in a division of the Rebel Stakes (GII) at Oaklawn Park and then again for the Arkansas Derby (GI), where he finished a length behind Omaha Beach. Irad Ortiz Jr. has the mount for the first time and they will break from post position five.
If one of Baffert’s three wins the Derby, he would tie Ben Jones for the most Kentucky Derby triumphs with six and become the first trainer to win the race in consecutive years twice. His first two Derby victories were with Silver Charm in 1997 and Real Quiet in 1998. Additionally, if Improbable should win, his victory would give his ownership group consecutive Derby victories, a feat that has been accomplished four times, most recently by Meadow Stable in 1972 and 1973 with Riva Ridge and Secretariat.
Maximum Security, who was available for a mere $16,000 claiming tag when he made his debut back in December before going on to remain undefeated in four starts including the Florida Derby (GI), drew post position seven, but with the withdrawal of Haikal will now break from post position eight. Luis Saez, who was aboard for the Florida Derby victory, has the mount Saturday for trainer Jason Servis.
Claude R. “Shug” McGaughey, who trained 2013 Derby winner Orb, will send out William S. Farish’s Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) winner Code of Honor off of his third-place finish in the Florida Derby in his most recent start. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, a two-time Derby winner (Animal Kingdom, 2011; Always Dreaming, 2017), will ride Code of Honor and the pair are set to break from post position 12 while wearing the 13 saddle towel.
Always Dreaming was trained by Todd Pletcher, who seeks his third Derby victory with Cutting Humor and Spinoff. Pletcher also won the Derby in 2010 with Super Saver. Starlight Racing’s Cutting Humor qualified for the Derby with a win in the Sunland Park Derby (GIII) in his last race in mid-March. Omaha Beach’s jockey, Mike Smith, will ride after a last-minute jockey change from Corey Lanerie and the colt will break from post position 10.
Wertheimer et Frere’s homebred Spinoff, who was second to By My Standards in the Louisiana Derby (GII), will be ridden by Manny Franco and break from post position 18.
Japanese invitee Master Fencer (JPN) makes his own history this year, win or lose, as the first Japanese-bred to make the Run for the Roses. Owned and bred by Katsumi and Yasuyo Yoshizawa and trained by Koichi Tsunoda, Master Fencer has won two of four starts on the dirt and comes to Churchill Downs after spending his first few days in North America training at Keeneland. Julien Leparoux has the mount and will break from post position 14.
The ten-furlong Kentucky Derby is carded as the day’s 12th race with a post time of 6:50 p.m. ET
The complete field for the 145th Kentucky Derby, which is worth $3 million this year, with riders and morning-line odds from the rail out, is: 1. War of Will (TylerGaffalione, 15-1, post position 2), 2. Tax (Junior Alvarado, 20-1, post position 3), 3. By My Standards (Gabriel Saez, 15-1, post position 4), 4. Gray Magician (Drayden Van Dyke, 50-1, post position 5), 5. Improbable (Irad Ortiz Jr., 5-1, post position 6 ), 6. Vekoma (Javier Castellano, 15-1, post position 7), 7. Maximum Security (Luis Saez, 8-1, post position 8), 8. Tacitus (Jose Ortiz, 8-1, post position 9), 9. Plus Que Parfait (Ricardo Santana Jr., 30-1, post position 10), 10. Cutting Humor (Mike Smith, 30-1, post position 11), 11. Haikal – SCRATCHED, 12. Omaha Beach – SCRATCHED, 13. Code of Honor (John Velazquez, 12-1, post position 12), 14. Win Win Win (Julian Pimentel, 12-1, post position 13), 15. Master Fencer (Jpn) (Julien Leparoux, 50-1, post position 14), 16. Game Winner (Joel Rosario, 9-2, post position 15, 17. Roadster (Florent Geroux, 5-1, post position 16), 18. Long Range Toddy (Jon Court, 30-1, post position 17), 19. Spinoff (Manny Franco, 30-1, post position 18), 20. Country House (Flavien Prat, 30-1, post position 19), 20. Bodexpress (Chris Landeros, 30-1, post position 20). All starters will carry 126 pounds.