Though they were one year removed from teaming up to win the Triple Crown, trainer Bob Baffert didn’t hold any ill feelings toward Mike Smith when the Hall of Fame jockey chose to ride Omaha Beach rather than the Baffert-trained Roadster in the Kentucky Derby.
While neither Baffert nor Smith were wearing roses a week ago, they will be reunited in Baltimore next Saturday with Improbable, who most likely will be favored in the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. Baffert will be seeking his eighth Preakness victory, Smith his third.
“We’ve been very fortunate and done well together, me and Bob, in situations like this,” Smith said Friday on a national conference call. “Hopefully, this will be another one.”
In the Kentucky Derby, Smith chose to ride Omaha Beach, on whom he won the Arkansas Derby, rather than Roadster, whom he had ridden to victory in the Santa Anita Derby.
“Before I even came close to a decision, he said, ‘Listen, we’re good no matter what. You make the decision what’s best for that race,’ ” Smith said, referring to Baffert.
In the end, it didn’t matter that Smith chose Omaha Beach, as that horse was scratched a day after entries were finalized due to an entrapped epiglottis. Smith picked up the mount on Cutting Humor, who finished 10th. Roadster, ridden by Florent Geroux, finished 16th. Both horses were elevated one position due to the disqualification of Maximum Security from first.
Baffert said he spoke with Smith before he announced his decision and wasn’t surprised he chose Omaha Beach.
“You got a horse that has brilliant speed, leaves there within a few jumps – you’re going to be free of harm’s way,” Baffert said he told Smith. “That’s the kind of horse you want in the Derby. It would have been him and Maximum Security. They were the two brilliant speed horses in the race.
“We talked about the pros and cons,” Baffert added. “I told him I’m not going to hold it against him. He just won the Santa Anita Derby for me.”
Baffert said there was no thought of switching to Smith for Roadster after Omaha Beach scratched.
Baffert said he had tried to get Smith on Improbable for a while, but the opportunity didn’t present itself. Improbable is owned by the same connections as 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify.
Improbable was ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr. in the Derby. He raced mostly in between horses and was beaten 3 1/4 lengths. He finished fifth and was elevated to fourth.
Smith said he’s had success riding horses for the first time and believes Improbable, the only Grade 1 winner in what is likely to be an 11-horse field, has more to offer.
“I’m just trying to wait and see who’s going, what the draw is, and come up with a game plan to get that A-plus race out of him,” Smith said, “because I know there’s a lot in there we haven’t seen yet.”
Baffert plans to return to Churchill Downs on Sunday to watch Improbable train on Monday.
“I wouldn’t run him back unless I thought he was on it,” Baffert said. “He came out of the Derby really, really well. The other horses were beat up a little bit.”
Baffert said Roadster lost significant weight out of the Derby.
Baffert also ran Game Winner in the Derby. Baffert said Game Winner’s “hind was a little funky,” but a nuclear scan done at the Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky. did not show anything amiss. Game Winner was scheduled to return to Baffert’s barn at Churchill on Friday and will be considered for the Belmont Stakes on June 8.
Win Win Win confirmed
Win Win Win, the Blue Grass Stakes runner-up who finished 10th (elevated to ninth) in the Kentucky Derby, was confirmed by trainer Mike Trombetta on Friday as a Preakness starter.
Trombetta, who believes his horse did not handle the sloppy track in the Derby, wanted to see how Win Win Win trained at the Fair Hill Training Center this week before making his decision.
“If I was going to do this, I didn’t want to be pushed into a decision any earlier than this,” Trombetta said Friday. “He’s done everything I’ve expected and wanted, and I’m going to go on with him.”
Trombetta said Julian Pimentel will retain the mount.
Win Win Win, who set a track record in winning the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, finished third in the Tampa Bay Derby before the Blue Grass.
◗ Warrior’s Charge will have to finish third or better to make running in the Preakness worthwhile. Warrior’s Charge was not Triple Crown nominated and thus had to be supplemented to the race for $150,000. Add in the entry and starter fees, and it will cost owners Ten Strike Racing and Madaket Stables $180,000 to start Warrior’s Charge in the Preakness.
The supplemental fee will be added to the purse, making the Preakness worth $1.65 million. The purse breakdown would be $990,000 for first, $330,000 for second, $181,500 for third, $99,000 for fourth, and $49,500 for fifth.
◗ If the Maryland-bred Alwaysmining wins the Preakness, he will earn his owners, Runnymeade Farm, and breeder, Alva Pitts, each a $225,000 bonus. The money is from the Maryland Horse Breeders’ Association, and goes to the owner and breeder of a Maryland-bred who wins the Preakness.
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.