Leading Arkansas Derby (gr. I) contender Bayern got his first feel for the Oaklawn Park racing strip the morning of April 10 after arriving a day earlier with the contingent of California horses competing in Oaklawn's Racing Festival of the South.
The 3-year-old Bob Baffert trainee galloped once around the oval Thursday right after the renovation break. He is scheduled to school in the paddock on Friday afternoon. Bayern is the 2-1 second choice on the morning line for the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby April 12.
"We've got plenty of action," said Jim Barnes, Baffert's top assistant who will also saddle two other horses in supporting stakes over the weekend.
Kaleem Shah's Bayern has only had two starts, but he has created considerable buzz by winning them both with ease. In his seven-furlong maiden effort Jan. 4 at Santa Anita Park, he kicked clear by 3 1/4 lengths. He then came back to make light work of a first-level allowance at one mile with a 15-length score Feb. 13.
The son of Offlee Wild was scheduled to run in the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) one month ago but was withdrawn because of a foot bruise. Since overcoming that minor issue, Bayern has been working handily at Santa Anita with four drills since March 20. He clocked a seven-furlong time of 1:23 4/5 out of the gate in his most recent April 6.
"You don't really know how good he is until you run in this kind of race," Barnes said. "He needs to continue on. If he does carry on in his third race like he has in his first two, he's pretty good. It's time for him to step up now, but he had his two-turn race and he handled that. This is our next step."
Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens was aboard for the colt's first two races and he will be reunited with Bayern when they break from post 8 in the field of nine Saturday. At first glance, the race doesn't seem to have an abundance of early pace, but anything can happen when the gates open.
"I'm sure that Bob will talk to Gary and tell him what he wants him to do," Barnes said. "We have a good post to work with and that will help a lot because they won't have to overcome too much, hopefully. Gary knows this horse and he'll know what to do as the race develops to be in the right spot."
Baffert, who won the 2012 Arkansas Derby with Bodemeister , has a stunning record of success in Oaklawn's graded stakes. Since 2010, he has sent out 20 horses for those races, producing 12 wins, four seconds, and four thirds.
Bayern, who has yet to rack up any qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), now has the chance to prove he belongs. The Arkansas Derby is in the Championship Series of qualifying races and offers 170 points, with 100 for first, 40 for second, 20 for third, and 10 for a fourth-place finish.