Baffert Speedball the One to Catch in Lewis

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1:28 am EST

By Greg “The Commish” Johnson
The Downey Profile

Keeping early Derby hopefuls separated has been a well known and successful late winter theme for Bob Baffert over the years. But his familiar Southwest Stakes route is coming up plenty tough this year, and staying home might just be the ticket to earn some valuable Derby points for his “other” charge.

Chitu ran one of the most impressive sprints of the year in his last, without question. After a bobbled start, he stayed close and patient for his turn to pounce, and did just that to stay unbeaten. He looked like he had plenty in the tank after that experience, and he should have the kind of upside to stretch out, again on the front end. Those bullet works just fly off the page at you, and I for one have seen these Baffert ponies fire big time with those in the holster. Sure, he could steal this.

I expect Chitu could get a little company on the front end from Home Run Kitten after that one flashed some good early lick in his last on the turf. This Kitten’s Joy charge should enjoy the stretch-out, although his dirt works aren’t exactly sizzling like a few of the others. He picked a tough spot to try a new surface, two turns and big time upgrade in company, which makes him an iffy prospect.

I’m still trying to figure out that crazy middle move that Candy Boy threw at them in the CashCall last time out. I recall turning to one of my wise guy buddies in that race and saying, "This guy’s toast when they hit the top of the stretch."

To my amazement, he kept to the task, and although losing by five plus lengths to the all-world Shared Belief, it was a major better-than-it-looked effort. And it launched him straight into the Derby Trail picture, and now here he is. I am always a bit hesitant to pull the trigger on a Sadler pony off a layoff; his stats with these types of runners are not exactly through the roof. But Candy Boy's training quite well for this, and he looms the one to beat in his 3-year-old debut.

Midnight Hawk is not "the other" Baffert charge and may be favored at post time. This guy is still learning the game despite picking up some valuable Derby points in his last. Red hot Mike Smith can absolutely do no wrong these days, but still you have to wonder how well Midnight Hawk will like the extra distance after coming home a bit slow in the one-mile Sham. If the speed doesn’t stop on the front end, I’m wondering just what kind of impact he will have late. His workouts aren’t the kind I like to see with a Baffert horse, but those of his stable mate Chitu are. Hmm.

That was a nice maiden-breaking effort by Cool Samurai in his second start at a mile at the track on Dec. 27. A series of three seven-furlong workouts should have this guy fit enough. The inning jockey from that win jumps ship to Midnight Hawk. It certainly would have been eyebrow raising if Smith stayed with the same connections who brought him the time of his life on Zenyatta. Tab for the future?

Not sure exactly why they wanted to try Diamond Bachelor on the dirt for the first time in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile. Unless of course they figured he could handle the surface against that kind of crowd. He's an intriguing sort. After running three straight top efforts on the turf while climbing the class ladder as a 2-year-old, he enters this fray with a consistent pattern of works over this strip, then a couple of stellar blow-outs including a 1:11 and change six-furlong move.  Julien Leparoux is back in town to ride yet again, and is it just me or does this guy look sneaky good?

El Nino Terrible comes from the Peter Miller barn. He popped in his second start in the U. S. at this distance on Jan. 17 at 14-1 odds. He went gate to wire in that race with fractions that are not on the same planet with the speedball. Derby fever strikes the hearts of many this time of year, and that last effort was enough to give him a shot at a much bigger dance. But he needs to step up his game considerably to stay around and may be the pace casualty.



It’s heating up out in the wild, wild, west! GOT YOUR WINNER YET?

Saturday, R8
Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes
Santa Anita
1 1/16 Mile
Post Time: 7:00 ET

Post   Horse  ML  Jockey Sx  Wt Trainer
1 Candy Boy (KY) 2-1 G. Stevens C 118 J. Sadler
2 Diamond Bachelor (KY) 6-1 J. Leparoux C 118 P. Biancone
3 Midnight Hawk (KY) 9-5 M. Smith C 120 B. Baffert
4 Home Run Kitten (KY) 15-1 J. Talamo C 118 D. Hofmans
5 Cool Samurai (KY) 6-1 C. Nakatani C 118 J. Shirreffs
6 El Nino Terrible (KY) 12-1 E. Maldanado C 118 P. Miller
7 Chitu (KY) 7-2 M. Garcia C 118 B. Baffert

All will run with Lasix except #2 Diamond Bachelor

Owners: 1 - C R K Stable, LLC ; 2 - Diamond 100 Racing Club, LLC, Mrs. Magnier or Trussel ; 3 - Kitchen, Quenneville or Tice, Et Al ; 4 - Tarabilla Farms, Inc. ; 5 - Mr. & Mrs. J. S. Moss ; 6 - Dona Licha ; 7 - Tanma Corp.

Breeders: 1 - Lee Searing & Susan Searing; 2 - Jamm, Ltd.; 3 - Michael E. Pegram; 4 - Kenneth L. Ramsey & Sarah K. Ramsey; 5 - Mr. & Mrs. J. S. Moss; 6 - Green Lantern Stables, LLC; 7 - Tom Evans, Macon Wilmil Equines &Marjac Farms