This year’s Kentucky Derby will be run without one very familiar face: Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
Baffert’s long legal battle with Churchill Downs has led to a 90-day suspension. The suspension stems from Medina Spirit’s positive test after his win in the 2021 Derby. Barring a stay that has not been granted to this point, it starts in early-April.
What’s happening with horses trained by Bob Baffert?
Three-year-old horses trained by Bob Baffert have been able to run in traditional Kentucky Derby prep races. However, they have not been eligible to earn points. The top 20 point-getters earn spots in the Derby starting gate on the first Saturday in May.
Four of Baffert’s top 3-year-olds are owned by partnerships that include SF Racing. The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that Messier, Doppelganger, McLaren Vale, and Blackadder will all ship to different trainers.
Messier, Doppelganger, and McLaren Vale will move to the barn of former Baffert assistant Tim Yakteen. Blackadder, meanwhile, will head to Rodolphe Brisset, who is based in Kentucky.
The timing of these moves is crucial. We’re coming up on the final, most important round of Kentucky Derby prep races.
Several events over the next few weeks award 100 Kentucky Derby points to winners and 40 points to runners-up. Both totals all but ensure these horses places in the Derby field.
Baffert was barred from Churchill Downs for two years last fall. Part of the ban included the aforementioned inability for his horses to earn Derby points. The trainer’s legal team has been hard at work appealing the ban. Time, though, seems to have run out in Baffert’s quest to lead horses over for the 2022 Derby himself.
Can these horses win?
Messier is a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender. The son of Empire Maker has won three of five starts in California and was last seen romping to a 15-length score in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes. He’ll be one of the favorites in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, which will be run on Saturday, April 9.
Doppelganger, meanwhile, ran second in the Grade 2 San Felipe behind Forbidden Kingdom. He’ll likely head to Oaklawn Park for the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on Saturday, April 16.
McLaren Vale has yet to go two turns, and would probably be considered the least-accomplished of the quartet. Finally, Blackadder won the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields. In doing so, he earned an automatic berth in the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes, the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown.
How big is the absence of Bob Baffert?
From a symbolic standpoint, it’s huge. Bob Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby six times and trained Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify, among others. He’s won 16 Triple Crown races and 18 Breeders’ Cup events.
Medina Spirit was briefly Baffert’s seventh Derby winner, which would have broken a tie with Ben Jones for the most by one trainer. However, a post-race test revealed the presence of an anti-inflammatory not allowed on race days. Medina Spirit, who passed away in December after a workout at Santa Anita, was officially disqualified in February.
Baffert is arguably the most accomplished trainer of the modern era, but his success has not come without controversy. A pair of high-profile positives in 2020 at Oaklawn Park led to another legal battle, where wins by Charlatan and Gamine were eventually reinstated.
Gamine, meanwhile, tested positive again following a third-place finish in the 2020 Kentucky Oaks. She was disqualified, and Baffert was fined $1,500.