Kentucky Derby 2019 Scouting Report: West Coast Division III

California’s leading contenders for the 2019 Kentucky Derby haven’t changed much in the new year, but the group of horses nipping at their heels is growing. Time, however, is running short to rack up valuable qualifying points toward the May 4 race at Churchill Downs.

RELATED: East Coast and Central Division reports

Inside of three months to go until the first Saturday in May, here’s an updated look at where they stand on the West Coast:

(Sire — trainer — owner — Kentucky Derby points)

The Leader

Game Winner
 (Candy Ride — Bob Baffert — Gary and Mary West — 30): Likely to appear next in the March 9 San Felipe (G2), he was last seen winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Baffert has done nothing but heap praise in the meantime on Game Winner's morning training, which so far includes four works back given an interruption during a rainy week in California.

First Tier

Improbable
 (City Zip — Bob Baffert — WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and Starlight Racing — 10): A return spot hasn’t been named for the last out winner of the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1), but connections will plot two prep races for him before a hopeful return to Churchill Downs, where he dominated the Street Sense Stakes in November.

Mucho Gusto
 (Mucho Macho Man — Bob Baffert — Michael Lund Petersen — 14): Maybe he isn’t just the Baffert third-stringer after all, or at least Mucho Gusto looked capable of more in an easy Robert B. Lewis (G3) victory last weekend. He checked one box with a two-turn win and another by doing it in the slop.

Instagrand
 (Into Mischief — Jerry Hollendorfer — OXO Equine — 0): It’s intriguing to see this one bypass Sunday’s San Vicente Stakes (G2) given he’s working quickly and consistently. Could they go straight into a two-turn Derby prep off works? This is a fascinating story to follow given Instagrand’s obvious talent but lack of racing experience.

Second Tier

Coliseum
 (Tapit — Bob Baffert — Godolphin — 0): The San Vicente headliner continues to struggle from the gate in morning works since defeated as the Sham Stakes (G3) favorite. Mike Smith is his new rider, and some equipment changes were made in the meantime. If Baffert gets this one right, he could add a promising fourth runner to his likely Derby contingent.

Gunmetal Gray
 (Exchange Rate — Jerry Hollendorfer — Hollendorfer LLC, Pearl Racing and West Point Thoroughbreds — 18): The closing type had all the bias against him in the Robert B. Lewis but still managed to get up for second behind Mucho Gusto. Smith, who also rides this one, made an apt comparison to his first Derby winner, Giacomo, as a grinding type who should like more distance.

Sueno
 (Atreides — Keith Desormeaux — Silverton Hill — 4): Desormeaux has had a runner in the last three Derbys, and from this crop, Sueno appears best positioned to qualify. The Golden Gate Fields stakes winner did some decent running late to finish second in the Sham and would make sense in the Feb. 16 El Camino Real Derby back at the site of his most-recent victory.

Ones to Watch

Anothertwistafate could be the horse to beat in that El Camino Real Derby, run at 1 1/8 miles on the synthetic. In addition to Derby points on a 10-4-2-1 scale, this race adds the serious benefit of an expenses-paid berth to the Preakness Stakes assuming the winner is nominated to the Triple Crown. Trained by Blaine Wright, the son of Scat Daddy has won his two Golden Gate starts by a combined nine lengths.

Along with Coliseum, Baffert has Dessman in the short San Vicente field. The Union Rags colt flew to a 7 1/2-length victory in his Jan. 19 debut and is, so far, the only new prospect to have emerged for the barn in the new year.

Two trained by Richard Mandella recently scored two noteworthy wins at Santa Anita. On Jan. 31, Extra Hope, third in the Los Alamitos Futurity, skipped over a sloppy, sealed surface to defeat the likes of Kingly and Big Scott Daddy with ease in a first level allowance. The following Saturday, Omaha Beach was even more visually impressive on a wet track, breaking his maiden by nine lengths. Both are now in line for the San Felipe.

Galilean is another to watch. The California-bred son of Uncle Mo is trained by Jerry Hollendorfer and campaigned in partnership by West Point Thoroughbreds. He beat state-bred competition by nine lengths in Los Alamitos’ King Glorious and has worked consistently toward the Feb. 18 California Cup Derby. A similar performance there could put him on the Kentucky Derby trail.

In New Mexico, Nitrous, who showed talent as an early 2-year-old, ended a three-race losing streak Jan. 27 by rallying from last due to a slow beginning in the Riley Allison Derby, one of two local preps for the March 24 Sunland Derby (G3). He beat Sheriff Brown, a Curlin colt who’s a half-brother of 2018 Sunland Derby winner Runaway Ghost.

Trainer John Sadler scratched Nolo Conesto from the Robert B. Lewis due to the track conditions and now figures to bring him back in another Derby trail spot. With jockey Joel Rosario his rider and Hronis Racing the owner, the colt shares connections with recently crowned champion Accelerate. Nolo Contesto returned to the work tab Friday.

Oh, and it’s at least worth a mention that Bellafina, the multiple Grade 1-winning filly who headlines Saturday’s Las Virgenes (G2) at Santa Anita Park, was nominated to the Triple Crown this week. She’s expected to target the Kentucky Oaks, but you never know…

On the Shelf

Magic On Tap and Tale of the Union, two of the Baffert barn’s big Del Mar summer winners, were not nominated to the Triple Crown series. So ends that saga of waiting for them to get back on time.

The Triple Crown nominations list did, however, include Roadster, who Baffert has taken to calling “the TMZ horse,” as well as Metropol, an Oct. 8 debut winner. Both show recent works but haven’t raced in months.

Value Play, a Simon Callaghan/Kaleem Shah runner who won first out at Los Alamitos’ winter meeting, hasn’t been seen since after initially put under consideration for the Sham.

Remaining West Coast preps

Saturday, Feb. 16: El Camino Real Derby

Saturday, March 9: San Felipe Stakes (G2)

Sunday, March 24: Sunland Derby (G3)

Saturday, April 6: Santa Anita Derby (G1)

 

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