Kentucky Derby 2019 Scouting Report: West Coast Division II

It’s clear in California who the top hopefuls are as the 2019 Kentucky Derby prep season ramps up, and we’re far enough into the season that some others seeking qualifying points may head out of town given a limited number of local chances left.

Remaining at Santa Anita Park should mean butting heads with at least one big-name Bob Baffert runner at each stop, as he leads a top-heavy group of horses with Triple Crown race aspirations.

RELATED: The latest East Coast and Central Division reports

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): The unbeaten Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner returned to the work tab this week with a bullet three-furlong breeze. So he remains sharp, and now, as Baffert says, the Hall of Famer’s aim is to prevent him from “going stale.” Game Winner is expected to make two starts before the Derby, though Baffert is also known to run them when they’re ready.
 
First Tier

Gunmetal Gray (Exchange Rate — Jerry Hollendorfer — Hollendorfer LLC, Pearl Racing and West Point Thoroughbreds — 14): A score in last weekend’s Sham Stakes (G3) elevated this one’s status. Jockey Mike Smith hopped aboard and thinks distances beyond a mile should be no problem. Notably, Gunmetal Gray was able to close over a slow Santa Anita surface in the Sham. Few other runners on the card showed that ability.

Improbable (City Zip — Bob Baffert — WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and Starlight Racing — 10): “Little Justify” — one look at the chestnut, with a white blaze, and it’s clear where he gets the nickname — is the other Baffert unbeaten and a Grade 1 winner. He, too, posted a first workout of 2019 this week and will race twice. Either Improbable or Game Winner could head out of town to Oaklawn Park.

Instagrand (Into Mischief — Jerry Hollendorfer — OXO Equine — 0): Based on his two past performances, hopes remain high. But by the time Instagrand races, he’ll be coming off at least a five-month layoff, and the distance question remains. With two sprint wins by a combined 20 1/4 lengths, a race such as the San Vicente (G2) would make sense for his return.
 
Second Tier

Coliseum (Tapit — Bob Baffert — Godolphin — 0): The Sham Stakes’ failed favorite did nothing to make pundits believe the talent isn’t there. Rather, it will be a mental game getting this flashy gray colt ready by the first Saturday in May. Joe Talamo rides because of his strength in keeping this one forward, but there was little he could do when Coliseum slipped leaving the starting gate.

Mucho Gusto (Mucho Macho Man — Bob Baffert — Michael Lund Petersen — 4): The Grade 3 winner was no match for Improbable in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G3), but Mucho Gusto looks like an honest runner. He’s on the work tab as well and offers a stride much like Mor Spirit, who Baffert and Lund Petersen paired to campaign for the 2016 Derby. Oaklawn’s Jan. 25 Smarty Jones Stakes could be in the cards.

Sueno (Atreides — Keith Desormeaux — Silverton Hill — 4): What’s the Derby trail anymore without a Desormeaux runner seemingly punching above his weight? This colt once sold for $1,500 as a weanling, then $61,000 as a Keeneland yearling. He hasn’t finished out of the money in four starts, with a win over Golden Gate’s synthetic in the Gold Rush Stakes before second in the Sham at 18-1.
 
Ones to Watch

Speaking of Golden Gate, Anothertwistafate, a $360,000 purchase who made a joke of beating winners last week in San Francisco looks like the local one to beat in the Feb. 16 El Camino Real Derby. Blaine Wright trains the son of Scat Daddy for Peter Redekop. Among his challengers could be Magnificent McCool, who Doug O’Neill finally got a maiden win from last time on the turf. The Phoenix Thoroughbreds runner can seemingly go on any surface, making him a fit to run at Golden Gate.

Galilean butted heads initially with Cruel Intention, another top California-bred. Then the Uncle Mo colt truly broke out, winning Los Alamitos’ King Glorious Stakes by nine lengths in his last start. Remember, that’s the race California Chrome used as a springboard to the Derby trail when now-defunct Hollywood Park hosted it a final time. Keep an eye on Galilean coming out of the Feb. 18 California Cup Derby.

A trio of maidens look Derby trail-ready for their next outings. Kingly, the full brother of Mohaymen, is trained by Baffert and working consistently. Trainer John Sadler is especially high on Nolo Contesto, whose jockey lost a stirrup first out. In his second start, the colt broke his maiden after a duel with Richard Mandella-trained Omaha Beach. It was another eight lengths back to third. Value Play, trained by Simon Callaghan, has worked twice since his Dec. 6 score in the slop at Los Alamitos.
 
On the Shelf

Tale of the Union and Magic On Tap both broke their maidens for the Baffert barn back during Del Mar’s summer meet, and setbacks slowed their progress toward a second start. With no published works for either, however, it’s getting a bit late for two horses offered in Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager. Tale of the Union, a Union Rags colt also owned by Petersen, closed at 46-1. Magic On Tap, a Summer Wind Equine runner, was 43-1. Roadster, who also broke his maiden at Del Mar and subsequently had throat surgery, returned for a single work on Dec. 19. He was 32-1 in the Future Wager.

The news is better, however, for Metropol, another of Baffert’s many maiden winners during the summer and fall. The son of Shackleford was entered last November to face Mucho Gusto in the Bob Hope Stakes (G3) but scratched due to an elevated temperature. The Peachtree Stable runner has worked five times since then, however, most recently getting four furlongs Thursday in a snappy 48.20 seconds.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer revealed on Steve Byk’s At the Races show this week that Dueling, who was sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and ran in the Los Alamitos Futurity, suffered a setback that will keep him out of action for the immediate future.
 
Remaining West Coast preps

Saturday, Feb. 2: Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3)

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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