Baffert could not help but immediately turn his thoughts to 2019 and the famed run for the roses.
“The way he won, the way he did it, was pretty impressive,” said Baffert. “It’s a good feeling at the eighth pole to start thinking some roses.”
Baffert has emerged as a dominant trainer in guiding American Pharoah to the Triple Crown in 2015 and again accomplishing one of the rarest feats in sports this year with Justify, the only Triple Crown winner to go unraced at 2. Justify was retired as the only unbeaten Triple Crown champion in history.
Game Winner, a bay son of Candy Ride owned by Gary and Mary West, secured his fourth victory in as many starts. This was his third successive Grade 1 triumph following an auspicious 5 ¾-length romp in his Aug. 18 debut at Del Mar. He was a game 1 ½-length victor in the Sept. 3 Del Mar Futurity before he pulled away by 4 ½ lengths in the Sept. 29 American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita.
The Juvenile was undoubtedly the rising star’s most impressive performance to date. He did not have the easiest of trips for jockey Joel Rosario, going four wide around the first turn and coming from well off the pace to power past 40.50-1 Knicks Go and give Baffert his fourth Juvenile winner among 15 Breeders’ Cup triumphs.
“I thought he was a good horse, but he’s a lot better than I thought he was,” Baffert said. “For him to do what he did that last quarter of a mile, to give that horse [Knicks Go] a head start like that and be that wide, that’s a serious horse.”
Baffert previously captured the Juvenile with Vindication (2002), Midshipman (2008), and New Year’s Day (2013). None went on to win the Derby, underscoring how treacherous the path to the first Saturday in May can be.
“We’ve just got to keep him healthy,” Baffert said, adding, “We’ve got a few of them we’re getting ready.”
The rest of the Thoroughbred racing world should consider itself forewarned.