McLean: Game Winner returns atop Kentucky Derby rankings

April 24, 2019 06:25pm

We started this year with Game Winner atop our ticket for the 2019 Kentucky Derby. He was the reigning 2-year-old champ. He was undefeated. He was a Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner over the Churchill Downs main track.

It all seemed to add up nicely. It all seemed to make sense. All seemed right with the world.

Then the racing resumed.

We maintained our belief after Game Winner missed a race due to the Santa Anita track issues.

We stayed with him when he lost by a nostril to Omaha Beach in the second division of the Rebel Stakes (G1).

And, we stood firm going right into the Santa Anita Derby.

We were committed. We had conviction. We had belief. We would never waiver.

Well, “never” doesn’t last as long as it used to.

After teammate Roadster blew by Game Winner in the deep stretch to win the Santa Anita Derby, we suddenly jumped ship and jumped on the bandwagon of the “other” horse from the Bob Baffert barn. We jumped on the “hot horse.” We leaped over to the “backup Quarterback.” We switched to the newest, shinny penny in the barn.

We flipped.

Not proud of it, but we suddenly decided that Roadster would be our top horse in The Pressbox's Kentucky Derby Rankings. Such is the world these days. Fickle, I guess. “What have you done for me lately,” mentality.

Well…After some deep thought and reflection, we are back.

Embarrassed that we ever doubted and shocked that we could ever give in, we are back.

Game Winner — ole’ buddy, ole’ pal — we are back.

And, we aren’t going anywhere now. Trust me this time.

Yet, there is some solid reasoning for the switch back, and recharge of heart.

Just a week after we elevated Roadster to the top spot, we were sent reeling by some serious mixed emotions and second-guessing.

First, Game Winner’s rider, Joel Rosario, suddenly became one of the hottest riders in the world. And he openly discussed how he may have moved Game Winner a bit prematurely in the Santa Anita Derby, compromising his horse’s chances of winning that major, Grade 1 prep for the Derby.

Secondly, Roadster’s rider, Mike Smith, suddenly announced he had picked Omaha Beach to ride in the Kentucky Derby.

Third, trainer Bob Baffert then announced that he was going to select Florent Geroux to rider Roadster in the upcoming Kentucky Derby.

It was enough to make the head spin. And, it was enough to make us spin.

Let me just say, I would have preferred Mike Smith to ride Roadster. If he had so decided, we may have held and stayed with the Santa Anita winner.

With Smith bolting, we went bolting, too.

And, let me just say that I much, much, much prefer Joel Rosario — with all his judgment issues and faults — to the riding style of Geroux — whose most famous Triple Crown ride to date was in last year’s Belmont Stakes, when he drew criticism for his blocking and tackling routine on Restoring Hope for his teammate Justify. (As if Justify needed the help.)

Game Winner it is, for good.

Points / RankHorseTrainerLast RaceComment
85 / 8Game WinnerBob Baffert2nd in G1 SA DerbyMy “Old” Top Pick Is My “New” Top Pick / 3rd Off Layoff?
137.5 / 2Omaha BeachRichard Mandella1st in G1 Arkansas DerbyMike Smith Picks This One / Something Up?
100 / 5RoadsterBob Baffert1st in G1 SA DerbyLooks To Be Improving, but Smith Jilts 
150 / 1TacitusBill Mott1st inG2 Wood MemorialWood Memorial Jinx May End This Year
60 / 12War of WillMark Casse9th in G2 LA DerbyCasse Determines This One Now Ready Off Recent Works
38 / 23AnothertwistafateBlaine D. Wright2nd in the G3 Lexington StakesNot Likely to Get In / Bummer
52 / 14TaxDanny Gargan2nd in G2 Wood MemorialGutty, Grinding Sort / May Be The Year of the “Former Claimer”
70 / 10HaikalKiaran McLaughlin3rd in G2 Wood MemorialNeeds Hot Pace to Set It Up
31 / 25Bourbon WarMark Hennig4th in G1 Florida DerbyNot Likely To Get In, Either / Bummer II
74 / 9Code of HonorShug McGaughey3rd in G1 Florida DerbyNice Work Over Slop at Keeneland / Could Move Up on “Off”
65 / 11ImprobableBob Baffert2nd in G1 Arkansas DerbyCity Zip Pedigree? Maybe
110 / 3VekomaGeorge Weaver1st in G2 Blue Grass StakesBack to Florida After Blue Grass? Interesting Approach
50 / 16Win Win WinMichael Trombetta2nd in G2 Blue Grass StakesCould Be “The Closer” In This Year’s Derby
38 / 22SignalmanKen McPeek3rd in G2 Blue Grass StakesCould Move Forward Off Blue Grass
100 / 6By My StandardsW. Bret Calhoun1st in G2 LA DerbyI Still Have Questions Here
50 / 15Cutting HumorTodd Pletcher1st in Sunland DerbyMore Questions
32 / 24SuenoJ. Keith Desormeaux3rd in G3 Lexington StakesWon’t Get In / Bummer III
30 / 26InstagrandJerry Hollendorfer3rd in G1 SA DerbyWon’t Make It In / Bummer IV
40 / 19SpinoffTodd Pletcher2nd in G2 LA DerbyWill Need to Add Stamina Before This One
53.5 / 13Long Range ToddySteve Asmussen6th in G1 Arkansas DerbyI Can’t See It
104 / 4Plus Que ParfaitBrendan Walsh1st in G2 UAE DerbyNo Way
100 / 7Maximum SecurityJason Servis1st in G1 Florida DerbyNo Way II
50 / 17Country HouseBill Mott3rd in G1 Arkansas DerbyHas to Improve
41 / 18Gray MagicianPeter Miller2nd in the UAE DerbyNo Way III
19 / 20Master FencerK. Tsunoda2nd in Fukurya StakesNo Way IV
40 / 21BodexpressGustavo Delgado2nd in the G1 Florida DerbyNo Way, No Way, No Way


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The Pressbox is your source for news, handicapping and interviews with the industry's biggest stars. Gene McLean is the Founder of The Pressbox and The Louisville Thoroughbred Society. No one in this industry has more talent in reviewing, forecasting and handicapping.

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