Activity resumes Saturday on California’s Road to the Kentucky Derby and — surprise, surprise — trainer Bob Baffert is at the center of it.
Baffert, a six-time run for the roses winner, has two starters in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, a stakes renamed in honor of the popular owner of Baffert’s first Kentucky Derby victor, Silver Charm. Both of Baffert’s entrants rate as leading threats to pocket the 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points that will go to the winner. Lewis, who also owned Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Charismatic, died in 2006 at the age of 81. The race was previously known as the Santa Catalina Stakes.
1. Medina Spirit (5-2 morning-line odds): If Life Is Good is Baffert’s top Kentucky Derby prospect, this bargain $35,000 purchase deserves to be 1A. An easy winner of his debut at Los Alamitos, he closed strongly in the final furlong to finish a little less than a length behind Life Is Good earlier this month in the Sham Stakes. Based on that effort, the added distance here should suit him and points to him as the one to beat.
JOCKEY: Abel Cedillo; TRAINER: Bob Baffert
2. Rombauer (8-1): The trip east did not work out well for him as he finished fifth in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, 6 1/4 lengths behind the winner. He was a much more competitive second before that in the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes on this track in his first dirt race, but his recent workouts do little to inspire confidence that he will be ready for a big effort here. On the plus side, Mike Smith will be back aboard.
JOCKEY: Mike Smith; TRAINER: Michael McCarthy
3. Parnelli (12-1): After three-second place finishes, he broke through with a lopsided maiden win, but when he was matched against Life Is Good and Medina Spirit in the Sham, he finished 13 lengths behind them. Considering he was second to both Hot Rod Charlie and Spielberg, two of the main threats in this race, if the odds are right, it might be worth a wager that he will rebound with a better effort Saturday.
JOCKEY: Umberto Rispoli; TRAINER: John Shirreffs
4. Hot Rod Charlie (3-1): After a neck victory over Parnelli, he was a strong second to Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at 94-1 odds. If that was a legit effort, he will be a major player here in his 3-year-old debut.
JOCKEY: Joel Rosario; TRAINER: Doug O’Neill
5. Roman Centurian (8-1): Comes off a solid maiden win at this distance. The time was good but this seems like a tough place to make your stakes debut. If the odds are high enough, it’s worth the gamble to include him at the bottom of the trifecta or superfecta.
JOCKEY: Juan Hernandez; TRAINER: Simon Callaghan
6. Waspirant (20-1): He was a distant fourth in both the Sham and American Pharoah Stakes in his last two starts and will have a tough time moving forward in this field.
JOCKEY: Ricardo Gonzalez; TRAINER: John Shirreffs
7. Wipe the Slate (4-1): He was second in his debut, 9 ½ lengths behind Life Is Good. Like Roman Centurian, he won his next start, scoring by 3 ¼ lengths. What makes him intriguing here is that he was a half-length behind a half-mile in :45.03. In a race without much speed, he might get brave on the front end and has the potential to be right there at the end.
JOCKEY: Mario Gutierrez; TRAINER: Doug O’Neill
8. Spielberg (7-2): He’s the “other” Baffert horse with a solid set of credentials of his own. He won the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity in his last start and was second in a Grade 1 stakes at 2. He’s owned by the same group that bought Authentic, so the connections are top shelf. This wouldn’t be the first time the lesser regarded of Baffert’s runners pulled off a victory.
JOCKEY: Flavien Prat; TRAINER: Bob Baffert
THE PICK: Medina Spirit
LIVE LONGSHOT: Roman Centurian