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Kentucky Derby Daily

Kentucky Derby 2018 Daily: Odds maker Battaglia weighs in

Welcome to Horse Racing Nation’s Kentucky Derby Dailywhich will each day leading up to the May 5 race at Churchill Downs detail all the news and notes related to contenders in one convenient space.

Heading into the final round of 2018 Kentucky Derby prep races, the man who has set the morning line at Churchill Downs for more than 40 years says “there’s too much racing left to make any solid judgments” about the contenders.

But concerning this crop as a whole, “I don’t think there’s going to be a short-priced favorite," Mike Battaglia said Tuesday.

Preps that award points to the Top 4 finishers on a 100-40-20-10 scale begin with Saturday’s Louisiana Derby and run through the April 14 Arkansas Derby. The win and place spots are essentially worth automatic Kentucky Derby qualification, while horses who enter with substantial points already could make their way into the field by just cracking the superfecta.

“You’ve got to look for progression,” Battaglia said. “That’s what I look at. I don’t pay hardly any attention to 2-year-olds.”

With that in mind, Battaglia’s eyeing one of trainer Bob Baffert’s top contenders, McKinzie, who was first across the wire in the March 10 San Felipe Stakes but disqualified from the win for moving out into Bolt d’Oro late.

“You’ve got the Baffert factor with him,” Battaglia said. “He’s by Street Sense, and you know he loved that track. It really just comes down to the Santa Anita Derby with Bolt d’Oro. It’s just so wide open right now. I’m leaning with McKinzie over the ones who have just had a couple races.”

With those “ones,” Battaglia means Rebel Stakes winner Magnum Moon and Justify. Both didn’t race as juveniles, but are unbeaten at 3. They could meet in the Arkansas Derby.

“We’ve had years like this before,” Battaglia said. “Remember when Curlin came around and hadn’t raced at 2? He was the real deal, and I think these horses are the real deal, too. It’s just hard. It really is hard for them to only have a couple of races. But you have Baffert training one of them, and Pletcher training the other. These are a couple guys who know what they’re doing.”

Battaglia’s job of setting the morning line for a 20-horse field grows more difficult when the stars, such as Bolt d’Oro and champion Good Magic, run just twice as sophomores leading up to the Derby. Should Bolt d’Oro or McKinzie deliver a dominating performance in the Santa Anita Derby, it’s likely either would be the morning line Kentucky Derby favorite.

Battaglia only had to go back to 2015 to put that in perspective, however.

“You look at American Pharoah and how good he was,” he said, “but going into the Derby, it was, ‘This is kind of wide open. Look at what Dortmund’s done. Look at what Frosted’s done.’

“…There’s not going to be too many of those short-priced favorites anymore — not with 20 horses.”

Baffert, Garcia reunite

Martin Garcia, who had relocated to New York this winter, has moved his tack back to Southern California, where he’s again working with the Hall of Famer Baffert. The on-again, off-again relationship between jockey and trainer is good news for Justify, who had Garcia aboard for Tuesday’s first work back from a March 11 allowance score at Santa Anita Park.

Garcia also breezed Triple Crown winner American Pharoah before a split with the Baffert barn in 2016. He returned later that year, then spent this past winter at Aqueduct.

Justify tuned up for an anticipated Arkansas Derby start with a four-furlong bullet breeze in company, getting the distance in a snappy 46.40 seconds.

Video courtesy of XBTV's Zoe Cadman, a voter in our 2018 Kentucky Derby Media Poll:

Malibu Moon’s past

A BloodHorse feature published this week tells the story behind how Magnum Moon went from $380,000 yearling purchase to one of the Kentucky Derby favorites. Much of it was thanks to patience.

Last June, the Malibu Moon colt posted three timed workouts at Saratoga before a filling formed in his ankle. Per BloodHorse, veterinarians called for just a few weeks off, but trainer Todd Pletcher elected for more.

"Todd said 'I think this is a really nice horse,” said bloodstock agent Jacob West, who purchased Magnum Moon for owners Robert and Lawana Low. “Let’s just send him to the farm, let him grow up a little more and fill into himself, and when I head south to Palm Beach Downs I'll pick him up,’ It was 100% Todd making that call.

"Everybody says in this business rarely do plans come together. In this instance so far it is coming together. We hope we can stick to the plan and keep moving in the right direction. It's a long way from here to the first Saturday in May. You can't help think about stuff like that. That's why we're in the business.”

Derby links

 Continuing a recent run of chatter on these two horses, why not a bit more? HRN’s Reinier Macatangay took an early look at which contender looks like the Arkansas Derby winner: Justify or Magnum Moon?

 With an early post position draw, we took advantage, offering early Head to Head Louisiana Derby handicapping. HRN’s Ashley Tamulonis and Laurie Ross settled on different top picks.

 What have we learned the past week on the Kentucky Derby trail? HRN’s Bryan Brinkmeyer delivers his takeaways.

In case you missed it…

Get the scoop with recent editions of the Derby Daily Report!

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Horse Racing Nation's Kentucky Derby daily blog counts down to the May 4, 2019, race at Churchill Downs with a once-a-day update on all things Derby. Get the latest news and chatter, workout reports and a look at fields for upcoming preps all in once place.

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