Could lightning actually be striking twice for Bob Baffert?
Ordinarily, you'd say no, but this is Bob Baffert and the Kentucky Derby, after all. In 2018, our favorite white-haired trainer happened upon a bolt from the blue in Justify, unraced as a 2-year-old, made his first start in February and less than four months later had swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become Baffert's second Triple Crown winner in four years.
Now say hello to Nadal, a talented colt who did not race as a 2-year-old, made his debut in January and is now 2-for-2 and a leading contender on the Kentucky Derby trail after winning the Grade 2 San Vicente last Saturday at Santa Anita Park.
"That was all raw talent there," said Baffert after jockey Joel Rosario guided the son of Breeders' Cup Classic winner Blame to victory in the 7-furlong test.
The win was a definite highlight on the early Derby prep trail, which kicks into gear this weekend with the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds on Saturday and the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Monday. The Risen Star is the first prep to award 50 Derby leaderboard points to the winner. More on that later.
Nadal did not earn a single point for his San Vicente win, but that didn't matter. Purchased as a yearling for $65,000 at the 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sale by Randy Bradshaw, Nadal then brought $700,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Florida Select 2-Year-Olds in Training sale last March. Kerri Radcliffe Bloodstock purchased the colt, bred by Sierra Farms, for the ownership group of Georgie Bolton, Arthur Hoyeau, Barry Lipman and Mark Mathiesen.
A trailer mishap cost Nadal his 2-year-old season. The colt scraped his hock, an injury that took a month to heal. That, plus the fact Baffert didn't like the way Nadal was progressing, forced the six-time Derby-winning trainer to put the colt on the shelf until his January debut.
And what a debut. Nadal posted a 98 Beyer Speed Figure in winning a 6 1/2-furlong sprint. That performance, coupled with Nadal's impressive works, prompted the San Vicente start. There, Nadal took advantage of a speed duel up front to win the six-horse race by three-fourths of a length over Ginobili with Fast Enough finishing third.
Last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Storm the Court ran fourth in his first race since that Nov. 1 triumph. Afterward, trainer Peter Eurton said he believed the son of Court Vision needed a race and would improve off his first 2020 start. Storm the Court and Nadal are both expected to go in the Rebel Stakes on March 14 at Oaklawn.
Normally, Saturday's Risen Star awards 50 Derby points to the winner. But with 23 horses entering the race, Fair Grounds elected to split the field into two divisions, with 25 points going to each winner. Enforceable, winner of last month's Lecomte Stakes at that track, is expected to be the favorite in the first division. Anneau d'Or, second in both the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity, looks to be favorite in the second division.
Talk was Todd Pletcher-trained Gouverneur Morris might be headed to Monday's Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn. Instead, Pletcher and owners Team Valor and WinStar Farms decided to enter the highly regarded son of Constitution in an allowance optional claiming race on Friday at Tampa Bay Downs. It will be his first start since finishing second in last October's Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. If all goes well, Gouverneur Morris could end up in the Florida Derby on March 28 at Gulfstream.
Right now, however, all the talk is about Nadal, named for the tennis champion Rafael Nadal. Is he another Justify, who famously became the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby without a race as a 2-year-old? Can Baffert actually get that lucky? Finding out should be fun.
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