The Kentucky Derby begins the first Triple Crown season in decades without Bob Baffert officially winning one or more of the three races.
Baffert’s absence while suspended casts a shadow over the race, not least because two horses he has trained for a long time are among the top contenders. Former assistant Tim Yakteen would get the credit if Taiba or Messier wins after taking over coaching duties.
“It’s a talking point, but it’s not a distraction other than that,” said retired jockey Jerry Bailey. “For me, the only thing that’s going to be different is the record books.”
Taiba could become the first horse since 1883 to win the Derby with two or fewer previous starts. Baffert-trained Justify won it on their way to the Triple Crown sweep in 2018 after running just three times before the first Saturday in May.
“Times have changed in that regard,” said NBC Sports analyst Randy Moss. “Horses run a lot less often now leading to the Kentucky Derby in general, so it was only a matter of time.”
This is Bailey’s 34th Derby and Moss’ 41st, with many of them on the NBC Sports set and around the Churchill Downs barns and on the track together for more than a decade. They tend to agree more often, with the notable exception of 2014 when they disagreed over race jockey Victor Espinoza gave California Chrome losing the Belmont with the chance to put end to the sport’s long Triple Crown drought.
When asked if there was a potential Triple Crown winner in this generation of 3-year-olds, Moss said it was impossible to say and pointed to numerous near misses over the years. years. Bailey thinks the lightly run Taiba might be the one.
“If he was able to do it and win the Kentucky Derby, he only has three starts left this year,” said Bailey, who has won the Derby twice. “With others possibly having peaked or close to peaking to try to get to the Kentucky Derby and win it, he could be the one who is right on the climb.”
Of the 10 horses that have entered the Derby with as little racing experience as Taiba has in the past century and more, none have come close to winning this race.
“The average margin of defeat has been 25 lengths,” Moss said. “But the difference is that none of these horses had the slightest chance of winning. And this horse is completely different. This horse has an exceptional chance of winning.
Taiba faces a different challenge in a crowded 20-horse field than his first two races with far more leeway. Bailey said the challenge for Mike Smith was trying to replicate the trips Taiba got his first two times out of the starting gate to keep the colt comfortable.
“He didn’t race against big fields, and he had very, very clean trips, no traffic,” Bailey said. “For Mike Smith, his biggest job is to get him off the starting grid, what the horse has some speed at the start and put him in a position where there’s not a lot of new stuff coming his way. arrive at the start of the race.”
A victory for Taiba would make Smith, 56, the oldest jockey to win the Derby. On its way, a record five French jockeys and a few trainers not named Baffert seek to capture the first jewel of the Triple Crown for the first time.
Steve Asmussen, who has the most wins of any coach in North America, has the expected favorite at Epicenter. Chad Brown’s Zandon is another serious challenger who is training well and could give the champion trainer his first Derby win.
Crown Pride would be the first Japan-based horse to win a Triple Crown race. He won the United Arab Emirates Derby in March in Dubai.
The draw for positions will take place Monday in Louisville.
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