These are the 3 best Derby prospects not trained by Baffert

These are the 3 best Derby prospects not trained by Baffert
Photo: Alex Evers/Eclipse Sportswire

If this was a normal year, one might look at trainer Bob Baffert again for the best Kentucky Derby prospects in January, especially after wins by Corniche in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Newgrange in the Sham Stakes (G3).

But it is not a normal year because, at the moment, Baffert-trained 3-year-olds cannot earn Derby points.

[These trainers could step in for Baffert in Kentucky Derby]

Still, other barns have runners with promise. Here are arguably the three best 3-year-olds not trained by Baffert on the trail, with their current position on the Kentucky Derby points list.  

Slow Down Andy 

No. 6, 10 points

When Slow Down Andy won the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) last month, he ran green in the stretch and eventually found a way to straighten out long enough to prevail over the Baffert-trained Messier.

From a visual standpoint, it looks like Slow Down Andy beat Messier on sheer talent without the mechanics of a more professional runner. Now, Slow Down Andy only needs to show himself capable of learning from his mistakes and progressing. With further training and experience, Slow Down Andy is capable of developing into the West Coast's top Derby hope.

Slow Down Andy earned a 110 TimeformUS Speed Figure and 85 Beyer Speed Figure for the Los Alamitos win. Those are promising numbers.

As a son of 2016 Kentucky Derby champion Nyquist, Slow Down Andy is supposed to handle longer distances too. His dam line also traces back to Northern Fable, the third dam of 2006 Preakness Stakes winner Bernardini.

This Cal-bred is a serious colt trained by Doug O’Neill, a man with multiple Kentucky Derby wins in his resume already. In all likelihood, Slow Down Andy is going to emerge as one of the best 3-year-olds from California.

Epicenter

No. 11, 10 points

The appealing part about Epicenter is his early speed.

Epicenter broke his maiden last November at Churchill Downs after contesting the pace with Surfer Dude and drawing clear to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Then in the brand new Gun Runner Stakes at Fair Grounds, Epicenter made use of pressing tactics this time before putting away Surfer Dude once again and drawing clear for a 6 1/2-length win.

In each case, Epicenter needed only mild urging, if any. The fact that he added three lengths in the stretch to his winning Gun Runner margin is a great sign. He finished well ahead of the runner-up closer Tejano Twist, even after working to pressure Surfer Dude in the early stages.

For the Gun Runner win, Epicenter earned a 109 TimeformUS Speed Figure and 87 Beyer Speed Figure. For Derby prep racing in December, those are both solid numbers that Epicenter can build on in the future.

Epicenter is a son of Not This Time out of the mare Silent Candy, who competed as a turf horse at the allowance and minor stakes levels in her 19-race career. All five of Silent Candy’s career wins came in turf routes, with her longest victory coming in a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claiming race.

Trainer Steve Asmussen lacks a Derby win, but it is only a matter a time before he picks one up. He does own a couple of seconds and thirds.

With the modern Kentucky Derby favoring speed horses with stamina, Epicenter’s ability to handle longer routes is something to watch moving forward. If it looks like he can stretch out, then the sky is the limit.

Smile Happy

No. 5, 10 points

This choice is easier to explain than the above two choices. Unlike Slow Down Andy or Epicenter, Smile Happy remains undefeated at 2-for-2.

In those two wins, Smile Happy broke his maiden at Keeneland by 5 1/2 lengths after a sweeping move to take control, and then he captured the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) by 3 1/4 lengths with a similar closing move. In the latter race, Smile Happy also overcame a slow 48.94 half-mile to close for the win.

Smile Happy earned a 103 on TimeformUS for the maiden race and 108 for the KJC win. Smile Happy’s raw TimeformUS figure is actually 111 in the KJC, but TimeformUS adjusted his figure a few points down because of the slow pace.

For readers who prefer Beyer Speed Figures, Smile Happy earned a 90 in his stakes win. His Beyer ranks slightly above Slow Down Andy and Epicenter, while the pace-adjusted 108 on TimeformUS makes him closer to par with those two.

Pedigree-wise, Smile Happy is a son of Runhappy out of the Pleasant Tap mare Pleasant Smile. At first glance, stretching out to longer distances should not pose a problem.

One concern is whether he beat a quality field in the Kentucky Jockey Club. The fourth-place finisher Ben Diesel ran a disappointing seventh at 4-1 odds in the Smarty Jones Stakes, while the sixth-place Vivar ended up fifth in the same race as Ben Diesel for his next start. Sometimes a weak field makes the winner appear better than his actual ability.

Trainer Ken McPeek still lacks a Derby win as well, although Tejano Run did finish second in the 1995 edition of the Run for the Roses.

For now, Smile Happy is an exciting 3-year-old on the Derby path.


Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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