When trying to find West Coast Derby contenders, you always start with Bob Baffert and then work your way down from there. That tried and true rule didn't look so good after Liaison and Sky Kingdom, thought to be two of his top 3-year-olds, turned in clunkers in the Robert Lewis Stakes on Feb. 4.
But this is Baffert we're talking about, so those that discounted his current crop after that race should have known better. On Feb. 9, the good-looking Giant's Causeway colt Fed Biz responded with an impressive 5 3/4-length allowance win going a mile at Santa Anita. Almost immediately, several pundits proclaimed him to be Baffert's top threat.
Then two days later Baffert sent out another potential monster, Bodemeister, who dominated by nearly 10 lengths in a maiden special weight, also at a mile. And just like that, the three-time Derby winner was back on track.
On Thursday, Baffert made it clear that he is not ready to talk about the next spots for any of his top 3-year-olds, but he did talk about each one individually, and mentioned one horse that could be a major factor, if not for the Triple Crown, then later this year.
Although he wouldn't directly admit it, I certainly got the feeling that Fed Biz is the one that Baffert is most keen on:
"I think the natural talent is there with Fed Biz. And he has a huge pedigree to back it up, which makes him more intriguing. I know he likes two turns better. I like the fact that when he does run he's going really fast and just keeps going, and he doesn't even take a deep breath. It's pretty impressive.
"(The Derby) is a long way off. Everyone is dying for a horse to move up or move down. But until that last prep it doesn't matter. It's that last prep that tells you who your Derby horse is."
As most everyone knows, Bodemeister is named for Baffert's son, Bode:
"Bodemeister looked pretty damn impressive. He came out of the race pretty well. I'm sort of surprised by what he did, but this is the time of year that we want horses to surprise us. That day we just sent him on the lead and he kept going. He's going to be tough. He's a nice horse. His first race was very good too. We were a little late getting him going, but I'll tell you one thing: I've never seen, a slow, fit, seasoned 3-year-old win the Derby. You still have to have that talent."
On Liaison, who came back to work a bullet four furlongs in :47-flat 11 days after his disastrous Robert Lewis:
"Everyone is forgetting about him. You have to throw that race out. He's a better horse than that. He worked really well coming back. He just needs more distance. He broke and got a little rank with blinkers, then had a little trouble settling from off the pace. They just kept on going. Without blinkers he'll be fine. He just got a little fresh I think."
"I have no idea where I'm running any of them yet. Everyone wants to know, but I won't know until that week. They are all nominated everywhere."
On Sky Kingdom: "I was very disappointed. We'll figure it out. He hasn't worked back since. He came out of (the Robert Lewis) with a little bit of a bruised foot."
As for the one that may be making a splash in the near future:
"I have one I've always liked, but we're way behind on him; probably for down the road. His name is Paynter (by Awesome Again). He's running 5 1/2 furlongs on Saturday (at Santa Anita). It's too short for him, but it's a start."