Bob Baffert may be synonymous with Kentucky Derby prep races, but the Hall of Fame trainer isn’t synonymous with Gulfstream Park or one of the premier prep races on the calendar, the Florida Derby.
Baffert will make his Florida Derby debut on Saturday, sending the ubiquitous Spielberg eastward for the 1 1/8-mile Grade 1 Florida Derby. Spielberg represents Baffert’s first-ever Florida Derby entry, and only his 22nd Gulfstream Park starter.
This is what happens when you are synonymous with Derby success and have an abundance of standout sophomores. You find alternative avenues for them to run at, keeping them apart as long as humanly possible.
Spielberg has to run somewhere one more time
This is why Concert Tour, Baffert’s first-among-equals Derby contender now that Life Is Good is shelved with an injury, will run the Arkansas Derby on April 10. It’s also why Hozier joins Concert Tour at Oaklawn Park, and why Medina Spirit will stay home for the April 3 Santa Anita Derby.
So, Spielberg has to run somewhere his stablemates aren’t. And that somewhere is at the Florida Derby against the likes of 6/5 favorite Greatest Honour, and strong contenders Known Agenda and Collaborate. Even with Santa Anita and Oaklawn as his usual go-to tracks, Baffert has no problem dispatching Spielberg three time zones east.
“I have all these horses and I’m going to separate them out,” Baffert told Gulfstream Park. “(Spielberg) ran well at Arkansas. Broke horrible, came on, and ran second. He wasn’t going to beat the winner. We’ll take him down there, see how he ships and see how he stacks up. The California horses, I think, are pretty strong. Maybe I can get lucky if I can win or run second. That would be nice. But it’s a tough task. We’ll give it a try.”
Baffert sees no shame in losing to Essential Quality
Baffert refers to Spielberg’s solid second-place finish to Essential Quality in the Feb. 27 Grade 3 Southwest Stakes. That was probably Spielberg’s best race since he captured the Los Alamitos Futurity in December.
The $1 million son of 2012 Belmont Stakes champion Union Rags, Spielberg makes his ninth career start. That’s quite the workload for a 3-year-old in late March. By comparison, Greatest Honour makes his seventh, Known Agenda his sixth, and Collaborate his third.
He makes it at his fifth track, rolling up a 2-3-1 record in those eight starts, which came at Santa Anita Park, Del Mar, Los Alamitos, and Oaklawn. Only one of those victories, the Los Al Futurity, came in a graded stakes.
Baffert needs Spielberg to break clean
Both times Spielberg missed the board came in Grade 3s: last fall’s Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar and this winter’s Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita.
“They’ve got to get away. To me, it’s all about getting away,” Baffert said, emphasizing a go-to talking point for all his horses.
As for Baffert, it’s not like getting away to Gulfstream gets him away to an alien world. He’s 4-4-2 in those 21 starts – all stakes races – with a gaudy $12,362,950 in prize money. When Baffert runs at Gulfstream, dollars follow. His four victories all came in big-money Grade 1s, starting with Thirty Slews in the 1992 Breeders’ Cup Sprint and extending to the 2001 Donn Handicap with Captain Steve.
Somehow, it did get better for Baffert
Baffert earned much of those winnings through his other two Gulfstream victories with Arrogate in the inaugural 2017 Pegasus World Cup, and with Mucho Gusto in the 2020 Pegasus.
As for Thirty Slews, he was the first Thoroughbred the former Quarter Horse trainer purchased – for $30,000.
“When he hit the wire, I was up there in the box and I thought that I had reached just the pinnacle of my career,” he said. “I thought, ‘Man, this is not going to get any better than this.’ I had just won a Breeders’ Cup Sprint. I was just jumping up and down.”