Photo: Benoit Photo
Not even the best thoroughbred trainers in the world are guaranteed
an entry into the 2014 Kentucky Derby. Such was
the case for Bob Baffert in 2013. After War Academy was eased up and did not
finish in the Arkansas Derby, the misfortunes for Baffert’s barn continued. At
the end of April three Baffert horses had qualified for the Derby, yet their status was still uncertain. Then on
the Sunday before the Run for the Roses, Power Broker was ruled out. On the next day a final
decision on Code West and Govenor Charlie was also made.
For the first time since 2008, there would be no horse
running in the Kentucky Derby for the legendary trainer. But, that’s just horse
racing and the result of a very challenging prep season. However, as with any
Hall of Famer you can’t count them out for too long.
This weekend,Bob Baffert features two strong contenders in a Santa Anita Derby prep when Midnight Hawk and Chitu continue their pursuit of qualifying for the 2014 Kentucky Derby in the G2
Robert B. Lewis Stakes, worth a total of 17 points (10-4-2-1).
Together, these two are a perfect 4-for-4 but Midnight Hawk
is the stronger contender as one of his two wins was in a Kentucky Derby
qualifying prep. That was when this colt by Midnight Lute and Miss Wineshine got
the best of a very small field in the Sham Stakes. After two entries scratched, the field dropped to only four starters but in the end it was really just a match
It came down to Midnight Hawk and Kristo who took the lead
going into the first turn. The two traded leads by no more than a head through
the backstretch and into the final turn before Midnight Hawk claimed the lead
in the stretch and fended off a closing bid by Kristo in the final furlong. The
two set honest fractions out front at 23.31, 46.33, 1:10.50 before Midnight
Hawk finished in 1:36.48.
Mike Smith is set to return and seems confident
about his colt’s potential for qualifying for the Kentucky Derby. After his win in the Sham Smith said, "There's room to grow here and that's really something to look forward to. For such a big, heavy horse he just floats over the ground." Baffert himself has his own ideas on how
good this 3-yr-old can be but he knows there's still a long way to go. "So far, so good but we'll just take baby steps as we go and just have fun." A big step could come on Saturday as this should be a true test against better class and
a slightly bigger field.
As for Chitu, this will be his first dose of graded stakes racing. He has been solid but his success hasn't answered a lot of questions surrounding his chances of becoming a Kentucky Derby starter. By Henny Hughes and Sea Gift,
Chitu will be displaying his racing ability through two turns for
the very first time. In two successful trips over 6 furlongs in December, one
at Hollywood Park and one at Santa Anita, Chitu clocked at or under 1:09 both
times while racing on or just off the lead in the opening quarter. Breaking
from the far outside, I expect jockey Martin Garcia to urge him out of the gate
and to the front as he does not appear to
be a horse that will tuck in and make a prevailing bid from off the pace.
That may be the probable strategy for team Baffert. Last
time out Midnight Hawk was able to get on the lead with Kristo rather
quickly but in this race here I’m looking for Mike Smith to get him in a comfortable stalking position before calling on through the final turn. As for
Chitu I think his best shot at winning this race is the old fashion wire to
As for the remainder of the field here is your starting
line-up in the 2014 Robert B. Lewis Stakes
It’s easier to make tough decisions on withdrawing your
horse from the biggest race of the year when you’ve earned the trophy before.
For Baffert he’s compiled over 20 Kentucky Derby starts that resulted in three
wins (War Emblem, Real Quiet, Silver Charm) and three runner-up finishes
(Pioneerof the Nile, Bodemeister, Cavonnier). Of those, a memorable win came in
1998 with one of his most recognized owners, Mike Pegram. With Real Quiet and their
back pocket the decision to withdraw Govenor Charlie was probably an easy one.
However, Midnight Hawk brings two other figures into the owner’s
suite that are both looking for their very first Kentucky Derby starter.
Chicago Blackhawks head Coach Joel Quenneville and Atlanta Falcons Offensive
Line coach Mike Tice are a part of the team and they are going to be a fun
story to watch this season. Since they are new to it we wish them the best of
luck because as we saw with Code West and Power Broker last season, qualifying
but having to skip can be very tough for owners.
Other notable Baffert horses that are contenders for the Kentucky Derby are Indianapolis, Tap it Rich and Bayern.
Previously known as the Santa Catalina Stakes it was renamed
in honor of Robert B. Lewis in 2007. Last year Bob Baffert joined Charles
Wittingham and Ron McAnally with four wins in this stakes race, the most by a
trainer. The last Robert B. Lewis winner to go on and win the Kentucky Derby
was I’ll Have Another in 2012. Prior, it was Ferdinand in 1986 that also won