With Game Winner’s clear-cut victory in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he not only clinched the Eclipse Award as the top 2-year-old, but he also vaulted to the top of the Road to 2019 Kentucky Derby points standings.
The son of Candy Ride, who was purchased as a yearling for only $110,000 at the 2017 Keeneland September sale, kept his record perfect with four wins in four starts and increased his career earnings to $1,496,000.
Along with the title of Champion 2-Year-Old, Game Winner becomes the favorite for the Kentucky Derby. This puts trainer Bob Baffert in a familiar position with a very talented juvenile that could very well win America’s most prestigious race on the first Saturday in May.
“Talk about a rough trip! I was glad (jockey Joel Rosario) was patient with him,” explained Baffert. “I felt a lot of pressure coming here because I have really thought a lot about this colt. I know he is a really good horse. He showed it today; he was much the best. This horse likes Churchill Downs; that’s a good sign.”
Baffert may have had his concerns early in the race, but it didn’t take him long to be thinking about winning a sixth Kentucky Derby, “I mean, the way he won and the way he did it is pretty impressive. It’s a good feeling. At the eighth pole I started thinking some roses, you know.”
When Game Winner crossed the finished line in the Breeders’ Cup wearing the familiar hot pink colors of the owners Gary and Mary West, he earned another 20 Derby qualifying points to go with the 10 that he earned back in September as the winner of the American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita. Not only does the 30 points put Game Winner in first place in the standings, but in most years that is enough to make the Derby field.
Baffert knows well how to prepare a horse for the first leg of the Triple Crown and he already has a plan for Game Winner.
“He’s not going to run again this year,” he said. “Back off. One thing about him, he’s a glutton. He’ll eat everything. He’ll finish everything tonight. Justify was that way, just a big, strong horse. Keep him halfway conditioned. Can’t let him be a couch potato. We’ve been through this so many times, we know what we need to do. Just keep him happy. That’s the way it is. He just needs to stay the way he is.”
For the rest of the Kentucky Derby contenders there are still four more races this year that carry qualifying points and then, of course, a full slate of preps in 2019.
Photo of Game Winner courtesy of the Breeders’ Cup