The possibility that owners will have to move their Kentucky Derby 2023 prospects out of Bob Baffert’s stable became a reality this weekend when four colts were nominated in the names of two other trainers for a Derby points prep next month in New York.
Highly regarded maiden winner Hejazi, fourth-place Robert B. Lewis (G3) finisher Arabian Lion and Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) runner-up Carmel Road were listed with trainer Tim Yakteen for the Gotham Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct. San Vicente (G3) third-place colt Fort Warren was nominated under the name of Brittany Russell for the same March 4 race.
The transfers would not be completed until passing through the entry box, and it was not clear Sunday whether any of the four horses would line up in the Gotham.
Reincarnate, who won the Sham (G3) for Baffert, was transferred to Yakteen in time to be entered for the Rebel (G2) on Saturday at Oaklawn.
The die was cast Friday when a federal judge in Kentucky ruled against the Baffert’s call for a preliminary injunction that would have set aside the final 4 1/2 months of a two-year suspension from Churchill Downs Inc. All this stemmed from a disputed drug test that the late Medina Spirit failed after finishing first in the 2021 Derby. That victory eventually was stripped by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
FLASHBACK: Baffert loses fight for injunction against Churchill.
Not taking a chance on the uncertainty of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati slamming the legal brakes in the next nine days, some of the most highly regarded 3-year-olds in the country are being moved away from Baffert in order to meet a new Feb. 28 eligibility deadline for the Derby.
Amr Zedan owns Hejazi and Arabian Lion. He also has Arabian Knight, the consensus Las Vegas futures favorite best-priced at 7-1 to win the Derby. Last year a concurrent, 90-day suspension of Baffert that was enforced nationwide forced Zedan to transfer Taiba to Baffert’s former assistant Yakteen to get in the Derby.
In an affidavit filed in the Louisville federal case by attorney Clark Brewster, Zedan was one of three owners who said they were backed into a corner by the Churchill Downs punishment of Baffert.
“If CDI’s suspension continues, I will not be able to enter my horses in races necessary to qualify for the 2023 Kentucky Derby without transferring my horses to another trainer,” Zedan said Dec. 11 in his sworn affidavit signed in Saudi Arabia. “If I do not have certainty on whether Bob Baffert can enter my horses now in select races to obtain Kentucky Derby eligibility, I will be forced to move my horses or else lose the unique opportunity to run in prestigious races on CDI tracks.”
During last year’s Derby, Yakteen also looked after Messier, who is owned by a big partnership led by SF Racing. The same owners have Carmel Road and Fort Warren among 16 horses they nominated for the 2023 Triple Crown. Until now, they all had raced for Baffert.
“Requiring transfer of our horses to a different trainer, potentially at a different training or racing facility, would be contrary to the best management of our horses, not in the best interest of our horses and significantly disruptive to SF Racing’s racing program,” SF Racing manager Gavin Murphy said in his own Dec. 12 affidavit, all but promising a transfer.
Reincarnate, who breezed Sunday for Baffert at Santa Anita, is owned by the SF Racing partnership. So, too, is Hejazi. Baffert won the Rebel a record eight times, most recently two years ago with Concert Tour.
Mike Pegram, another owner loyal to Baffert, has his own decision to make with two-time Grade 1 winner Cave Rock, the runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. In his affidavit, Pegram did not bring up the possibility of a transfer.
“The CDI suspension-ban relating to Bob Baffert would deny Bob, my horses and me the opportunity to race in the 2023 Kentucky Derby,” he said Dec. 8. “The denial of the right to race in the 2023 Kentucky Derby and the opportunity that awaits the winner to participate in a potential Triple Crown achievement would have a damaging impact that is inestimable in monetary loss. ... Such a loss would be irreparable.”
All the affidavits were filed weeks before the new Feb. 28 transfer deadline that was written into the Triple Crown application was brought to light by Daily Racing Form.
The four horses moved for a possible run in the Gotham were not the first defections of current 3-year-olds from the Baffert barn. Canada-based owners Mike Kimel and Jeremia Rudan moved Harlocap to Steve Asmussen in time for Saturday’s Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds, where the Justify colt finished sixth.
Baffert claimed in his affidavit Dec. 13 that the CDI suspension has kept other Derby prospects out of his barn altogether.
“Several owners have terminated or substantially eliminated their business relationships with me and will not send their 2-year-old horses with Derby prospects to me until CDI’s suspension is resolved,” he said. “These owners include but are not limited to Spendthrift Farm, MyRacehorse Stable and Winstar Farm.”
After losing the fight for a preliminary injunction in Kentucky, Brewster might have conceded the uphill battle when asked about appealing in the coming days to the Sixth Circuit.
“It’s getting very close to the Derby and the conditions that Churchill has unilaterally dictated with regard to eligibility,” Brewster told Horse Racing Nation. “The question now is whether that’s viable or if it becomes, instead of an injunction case, a damage case.”
Of the 369 horses nominated for the Triple Crown, 29 were listed formally with “TBD” as their trainer. All but five were being trained by Baffert.
|Bob Baffert 3-year-olds||Owner||Derby odds*|
|Arabian Knight||Zedan Racing Stables||7-1|
|Arabian Lion**||Zedan Racing Stables||100-1|
|Carmel Road**||SF Racing, et al.||400-1|
|Castle Island||SF Racing, et al.|
|Cave Rock||Pegram, Watson, Weitman||25-1|
|Faustin||Michael Lund Petersen||20-1|
|Fort Bragg||SF Racing, et al.||300-1|
|Fort Warren**||SF Racing, et al.||200-1|
|Gandolfini-x||SF Racing, et al.||350-1|
|Gilmore||SF Racing, et al.||300-1|
|Hard to Figure||Pegram, Watson, Weitman|
|Harlocap**||Villa Rosa, Harlo Stable||200-1|
|Havnameltdown-y||Pegram, Watson, Weitman||35-1|
|Hejazi**||Zedan Racing Stables||40-1|
|Jackstown||SF Racing, et al.||300-1|
|Langlee Avenue||SF Racing, et al.|
|Massimo-x||SF Racing, et al.||400-1|
|Mr Fisk||Sunny Brook Stables||200-1|
|National Treasure||SF Racing, et al.||25-1|
|Newgate-y||SF Racing, et al.|
|Nielson||SF Racing, et al.|
|Nullarbor||SF Racing, et al.|
|Reincarnate||SF Racing, et al.||75-1|
|Speed Boat Beach||Pegram, Watson, Weitman||150-1|
|Uncle Jake||SF Racing, et al.|
|Worcester||SF Racing, et al.||70-1|
|*Best Nevada futures|
|x-Not Triple Crown nom.|
|y-Off Ky. Derby trail|
Carolyn Greer of Horse Racing Nation also reported for this story.