Bob Baffert has saddled five Kentucky Derby winners in his legendary career. The big question is whether the Hall of Fame trainer can make it six titles in this year's Run for the Roses.
That may be an easier task now than it was at the start of the week. That's because favored Omaha Beach had to pull out of the Derby as a result of a medical condition that impacts the horse's breathing.
The condition is known as an entrapped epiglottis, and it will be repaired with surgery that will sideline the horse for several weeks and perhaps months.
After Omaha Beach scratched, Baffert's three entries in the race are the leading favorites at Churchill Downs. Game Winner is listed at 9-2, while Improbable and Roadster are both 5-1.
All three have impressive credentials, but none of them is a lock to win. While a few horses in the field appear to be rank outsiders that will have a difficult time putting forth a competitive effort, including Gray Magician and Master Fencer, there are several solid horses that could return an impressive price to their backers for winning this year's race.
Post position, Horse, Trainer, Jockey, Odds
1. War of Will, Mark Casse, Tyler Gaffalione, 15-1
2. Tax, Danny Gargan, Junior Alvarado, 20-1
3. By My Standards, Bret Calhoun, Gabriel Saez, 15-1
4. Gray Magician, Peter Miller, Drayden Van Dyke, 50-1
5. Improbable, Bob Baffert, Irad Ortiz Jr., 5-1
6. Vekoma, George Weaver, Javier Castellano, 15-1
7. Maximum Security, Jason Servis, Luis Saez, 8-1
8. Tacitus, Bill Mott, Jose Ortiz, 8-1
9. Plus Que Parfait, Brendan Walsh, Ricardo Santana Jr., 30-1
10. Cutting Humor, Todd Pletcher, Corey J. Lanerie, 30-1
11. Haikal, Kiaran McLaughlin, Rajiv Maragh, 30-1
Scratched—12. Omaha Beach, Richard Mandella, Mike Smith
13. Code of Honor, Shug McGaughey, John Velazquez, 12-1
14. Win Win Win, Michael Trombetta, Julian Pimentel, 12-1
15. Master Fencer, Japanese qualifier, Koichi Tsunoda, Julien Leparoux, 50-1
16. Game Winner, Bob Baffert, Joel Rosario, 9-2
17. Roadster, Bob Baffert, Florent Geroux, 5-1
18. Long Range Toddy, Steve Asmussen, Jon Court, 30-1
19. Spinoff, Todd Pletcher, Manny Franco, 30-1
20. Country House, Bill Mott, Flavien Prat, 30-1
AE-21. Bodexpress, Gustavo Delgado, Chris Landeros, 30-1
Updated odds courtesy of Churchill Downs PR.
Game Winner had to settle for second place in both of his races this year, but the effort in both of those races was impressive.
He won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall, and that was a significant victory because of the competition he faced. The better horses brought out the best in him, and that could be the case again here.
Joel Rosario often does his best work aboard stretch runners, and that's just how Game Winner competes. He will start slowly, but if the pace is at least reasonable or fast, that will allow him to steadily build his speed and pass other runners.
Count on Game Winner to get at least a piece here and he should have a chance to pass all of the runners down the stretch.
Roadster is an impressive sort who has battled back after undergoing throat surgery several months ago. Baffert could not have known how Roadster would return, but he has won back-to-back races in 2019, and the most impressive victory came in the Santa Anita Derby. He is coming into his best form here, and he could very well challenge Game Winner.
Florent Geroux has done very well since coming from France to the United States three years ago. Baffert could have replaced Geroux with veteran Mike Smith, but the trainer has loyalty to Geroux because they have worked well together. Smith was scheduled to ride Omaha Beach.
Improbable has several questions to answer in the Kentucky Derby, and the most important one concerns the 1 1/4-mile distance. Improbable may have a hard time lasting the entire race and he will also have to stay on track and avoid distractions.
That is not easy to do when 100,000-plus fans come to see him race, but jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. will have to make sure that he gets out of the gate quickly and stays focused throughout the trip.
Tacitus deserves consideration from handicappers because he is coming off impressive victories in the Tampa Bay Derby and the Wood Memorial. Trained by Bill Mott and ridden by Jose Ortiz, Tacitus is in excellent form as the race approaches.
Tacitus has been training well since arriving at Churchill Downs, and he should have a good chance to get through Baffert's three contenders.
Maximum Security is a difficult runner to consider in the Kentucky Derby. He has one of the top jockeys in Luis Saez, but trainer Jason Servis has unusual training methods. He has had Maximum Security run longer to build endurance, but he does not ask for speed. If Servis's methods work, he could on the cusp of a wonderful Triple Crown season.
In a field full of closers, Maximum Security could take an early lead or sit right behind the pace. However, if that pace is too fast he will have a hard time lasting against this competition.
2. Game Winner
Tacitus appears to be in the best form because of his victories in the Tampa Bay Derby and the Wood Memorial. Game Winner is tough, versatile and good enough to get second. Geroux is a confident and competent jockey who can make sure Roadster hits the board.