Across the Board: Game winner coming around quickly for Baffert

January 11, 2019 10:47am
We are barely into January, and yet there already have been a few races for newly turned 3-year-olds that have provided potential implications for richer, more important races en route to the 2019 Kentucky Derby.

For instance, last Saturday at Santa Anita Park, the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Gunmetal Gray scored a convincing victory in the one-mile Sham stakes (G3). This win clearly restated Gunmetal Gray position as one of the early season sophomores who will bear watching as the West Coast-based Derby preps get into gear.

Gunmetal Gray actually had hinted a bit last fall that he would be worth keeping tabs on after he had impressively won a one-mile maiden race at Del Mar with speed to spare. Following that performance, Gunmetal Gray turned in a good second in the American Pharoah Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita and then finished an OK fifth in the rich Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.

So now, in his 2019 debut and first start since the Juvenile, the son of Exchange Rate certified his standing as a colt who ranks among the best of America’s young horses who will be worth following as we go forward.

In the Sham, longshot Sueno also made a positive impression as he finished second after previously winning the ungraded Gold Rush stakes at Golden Gate Fields last month.

Moving forward, the soon-to-be champion Game Winner began his 2019 season with a promising working for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Baffert always has a few legit Derby prospects getting into gear at this time of year, but seems especially loaded this time around.

Game Winner, the undefeated Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, revved up with a smooth, yet relatively quick three-furlong move clocked in 35.20 seconds. The move drew praise from Baffert as he watched the son of Candy Ride act as if he might be ready for a meaningful race with the next few weeks.

Agreeing with that assessment, Baffert pointed out that this colt’s one real target is the Kentucky Derby -- but, the trainer simply added that “he just might be ready for a good performance before the end of this month.”

As an obvious potential star, Game Winner already has won four races, including three Grade 1 stakes: the Del Mar Futurity, American Pharoah and Juvenile.

“Game Winner certainly has thrived in recent weeks,” Baffert said. “He’s gotten bigger and stronger and actually brings good overall speed to his 3-year-old season,” Baffert continued. 

“He also can rally from off the pace.”

Baffert finalized his thoughts with this comment: “I see him as a pretty serious horse who deserves to be watched carefully as we go through the prep race season towards the Derby.”

While there are plenty of other 3-year-olds who have shown flashes of potential, frankly, the few I’ve mentioned above definitely seem to belong among the best and the brightest. Yet, it a long prep race season and there certainly will be enough time and enough races to evaluate all that belong and all that eventually will not.

Happy New Year, racing fans. We now are just beginning what promises to be an exciting 2019 season.

Steve Davidowitz has written many books on handicapping, including the classic, "Betting Thoroughbreds." His Across the Board columns appear regularly at Horse Racing Nation. Click here to read past editions.


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