Champion Good Magic has settled in at Churchill Downs

Champion Good Magic has settled in at Churchill Downs

Anne M. Eberhardt

Top Trainers Take Momentum Into Kentucky Derby

Chad Brown, Bob Baffert, and Todd Pletcher ready for Derby week.

The three trainers who accounted for the six winners of the 170-point Road to the Kentucky Derby races contested in the United States sounded confident April 26 when they gathered for an NTRA teleconference call with media members.

Bob Baffert, Chad Brown, and Todd Pletcher—who together own the past five Eclipse Awards for outstanding trainer—all sounded ready for the week ahead, buoyed by the recent performances of their sophomore stars.

Pletcher accounted for four of those big prep wins, with three of those colts scoring by open lengths. Magnum Moon won the Arkansas Derby (G1) by four lengths, while Audible in the Florida Derby (G1) and Vino Rosso in the Wood Memorial Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G2) each won by three. Noble Indy gutted out a narrow victory in the Louisiana Derby (G2).

Brown watched Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Good Magic score by 1 1/2 lengths in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) and said the champion 2-year-old colt is thriving since that effort.

Baffert's latest promising 3-year-old is Justify, who improved to three-for-three when he enjoyed a clear lead throughout on his way to his own three-length score in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). The four-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer also will send out Breeders' Cup Juvenile runner-up Solomini.

The accomplished trainers like what they see, but they're also aware of the competition, which includes 18 1/2-length UAE Derby Sponsored by Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (G2) winner Mendelssohn.

"We're excited about it," Baffert said. "Everybody's on pins and needles this time of year. ... We have a really good horse, but there's a lot of really good horses out there this year.

"I think it's probably the most competitive Derby I've seen in years."

As strong as the field is, the ease with which Justify has won his three starts—all this year—figures to make him the race favorite. Baffert said he knew the son of Scat Daddy was something special early on, when he worked five furlongs with ease over a deep Santa Anita Park track.

"The really good ones separate themselves," Baffert said. "They get ready quickly. They do things effortlessly."

The last seven Derby winners entered off a victory, and the past six winners won a prep that currently is a Road to the Kentucky Derby 170-point race. All four of Pletcher's starters fall into both categories as he tries for a second straight Derby win and third overall. Each of this year's horses has done special things:

  • On Magnum Moon, by Malibu Moon : "It's been a tremendous development for him to go from winning a six-furlong maiden Jan. 13 to now being four-for-four and winning the Arkansas Derby."
  • On Audible, by Into Mischief : "I love the way that he attended the pace in (winning) the Holy Bull (Stakes, G2) and dropped well off a very fast pace in the Florida Derby. It shows his versatility, and I love the way he finished those two races."
  • On Vino Rosso, by Curlin , turning things around after failing to win a pair of graded stakes at Tampa Bay Downs: "After piecing everything together, we just kind of thought maybe it was the Tampa surface he wasn't handling. He came back and trained very well, and in the Wood Memorial I think we got to see the real Vino Rosso."
  • On Noble Indy, by Take Charge Indy, Pletcher provided some news when he noted jockey Florent Geroux will be aboard for a workout April 27 at Churchill Downs with plans for him to have the Derby ride.

Good Magic has Brown feeling good going into Derby week, as well. The son of Curlin bounced back from a third-place finish in the March 3 Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) with a driving victory in the Blue Grass.

"We're so relieved ... seeing him move so, so well now, particularly here at Churchill," Brown said. "Hopefully, the third race of his year is his best."

Building on Wins
The past seven Kentucky Derby winners entered off a victory.
Year Horse Prep victory
2017 Always Dreaming Florida Derby
2016 Nyquist Florida Derby
2015 American Pharoah Arkansas Derby
2014 California Chrome Santa Anita Derby
2013 Orb Florida Derby
2012 I'll Have Another Santa Anita Derby
2011 Animal Kingdom Spiral Stakes