Four of Bob Baffert's GI Kentucky Derby prospects will be transferred to other trainers, according to a press release issued by Baffert Thursday morning.
'TDN Rising Star' Messier (Empire Maker), 'Rising Star' Doppelganger (Into Mischief) and McLaren Vale (Gun Runner) are being sent to trainer Tim Yakteen, and will remain in Southern California. Blackadder (Quality Road) has already left California and will be sent to the barn of Rodolphe Brissett in Kentucky.
Yakteen is a longtime former assistant of Baffert's, having last worked for him in 2004.
Under the suspension imposed upon Baffert by Churchill Downs, the four horses would not have been eligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points or to race in the Derby had they remained with Baffert.
All four are owned in partnership by the conglomerate nicknamed The Avengers, which includes SF Bloodstock, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables et al.
“The most important thing to me is that Messier, Doppelganger, McLaren Vale, and Blackadder–some of the top talents in racing this year–are able to compete,” said Baffert
“I encouraged the owners to move them, not only because it is best for these horses and their future in racing but also for fans of the sport who are excited to watch them run. I know that they are in good hands training with Tim and Rudy, and I look forward to cheering them on,” Baffert added.
Reached by phone Thursday, SF's Tom Ryan said that the decision came at the behest of Baffert.
“Bob was very influential in this decision,” he said. “He felt these horses were primed to take on the challenges ahead in the next round of Derby preps, and Bob felt strongly that for the horses–first and foremost–and for the sport that if these horses have the level of talent they believe they have it's only right that they have a berth in the starting gate the first Saturday in May. The Kentucky Derby is an important race.”
Messier, the winner of the GIII Robert B. Lewis S. in dominating fashion, is expected to go next in the GI Runhappy Santa Anita Derby Apr. 9 at Santa Anita; McLaren Vale, third in the GII San Vicente S., will likely head to the same race, said Ryan. Doppelganger, coming off a second-place finish in the March 5 GII San Felipe S., is being pointed to the Apr. 2 GI Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn.
“The Santa Anita Derby will probably be the best prep of the season,” said Ryan. “McLaren Vale is a big, 16′ 3″, 1,300-pound colt and he's quite claustrophobic. We tried to put him on an airplane to Arkansas and he didn't tolerate it, so he'll probably stay home and run there.”
The Arkansas Derby was also once under consideration for Messier.
“Part of the decision was would Doppelganger or Messier go there,” said Ryan. “The right thing to do is to give them individual targets. He's a very nice colt, and it feels like he's come out of his last race very well and is moving forward. Johnny [Velazquez] will ride.”
Blackadder, who broke his maiden on the dirt and won the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate on synthetic, will either target the GI Toyota Blue Grass S. at Keeneland Apr. 9 on the former or the Apr. 2 Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway on the latter.
“He's a versatile colt, bred to go on both surfaces,” said Ryan, noting that the team was probably leaning toward the Turfway race.
As for the long-term future of the horses, Ryan said he couldn't predict if they would return to Baffert or stay in their new barns.
“This is week by week,” he said. “It's a big decision. For today, we'll continue to monitor the situation as time unfolds. We'll see what happens.”
Baffert and his legal team have filed suit against Churchill Downs over the ban, along with Churchill CEO Alex Rankin.