GAME WINNER READY TO SHOW HIS GAME
Back when the calendar turned to 2019, most thought we should just hand the Triple Crown trophies to Bob Baffert…again. Having achieved what was once thought to be impossible back in 2015 with American Pharoah, the hall of fame conditioner pulled it off again in 2018 with the lightly raced Justify. And here was Baffert again with the unbeaten Juvenile Champion in Game Winner. And then the three-year old races started.
As perhaps the most decorated trainer in the game today, the Arizona native that calls California home has been the face of Thoroughbred horse racing for decades now. Hard work that knows no boundaries and an uncanny knack of preparing horses to peak at just the right time has made “Big Race Bob” the one to catch in the sport. So naturally an unbeaten son of Candy Ride in his stable made for dreams of Kentucky Derby glory and beyond. And then the three year old campaign of Baffert’s charge began and this sure-fire winner was just not quite on his game.
Rainey weather and the temporary track closure at Santa Anita were some of the things that provided hurdles for this talented colt and his conditioner. Basically forced to ship to Oaklawn Park in order to chase Kentucky Derby qualifying points in the Rebel Stakes, Game Winner ran gallantly but was turned away at the wire in a nose loss to Omaha Beach. Next came the Santa Anita Derby and a second place finish to stable mate Roadster in which he was uncharacteristically ran down in the stretch. The Kentucky Derby saw him languish in the back of the pack before rallying to finish fifth. Three races and three losses in his three-year old campaign was not what most expected.
“The race in Arkansas really took a lot out of him and he just was not the same afterwards,” says Baffert. “He went backwards after the Rebel and we just couldn’t get him back into form.”
The Triple Crown is now just a distant memory and Game Winner appears to be focused after a freshening. The three-year old season has many big races left on the calendar. The Travers at Saratoga is the oldest Stakes race for three-year olds and is currently the target for Baffert and his Juvenile champion. Having won the race three times before (2001, 2016, 2017), Big Race Bob understands how to get a runner ready for the big stage. For Game Winner, it all starts with the Los Alamitos Derby on July 13 as he toes the track once again in search of a trip to the winner’s circle. A trip to the travers will certainly be on the line as his coach will not keep him in the lineup if he is not right.
“He seems to be coming back into form now after having some time off,” says Baffert. “ We’ll see where he’s at on Saturday. I think he’ll be just fine. We are hoping for a big second half of his three-year old season.”
Run at a mile and an eighth, the Los Alamitos Derby will go off as race 6 on an 8 race card. Likely to face only three rivals (Feeling Strong, Kingly, Parsimony), this is the spot to see if Game Winner is just that…Game and a Winner.