Racing

Trainers on the Trail

The sport’s top barns embark on the road to the Kentucky Derby

Bob Baffert with Smoky the pony.

Not sure who to pay attention to this Kentucky Derby season? The Kentucky Derby trail is quickly heating up with less than 100 days until the Derby, and it can be hard to get to know the interesting players on the Triple Crown trail in the chaos of the final few rounds of prep races.

While all of these will be familiar names if you follow racing, they are a few of the trainers you should keep an eye on as we approach the 2016 Kentucky Derby on May 6.

The trainer of the 2015 Triple Crown winner and last year’s Eclipse Award winning 3-year-old colt, Bob Baffert always has a good group of Derby hopefuls and this year is no different. His string of promising 3-year-olds include Grade I winner Mastery, Delta Downs Jackpot runner-up Hot Sean and Sham runner-up American Anthem. Baffert told the Daily Racing Form late last year that thanks in part to American Pharoah’s successes two years ago, his current string of 3-year-olds is the best he’s ever had. That’s big talk for a trainer who has conditioned the likes of Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Point Given, American Pharoah and Arrogate.

Chad Brown has quickly quickly found his footing on dirt and boasts a pair of KY Derby contenders this year.

Last year’s Eclipse Award Outstanding Trainer, Chad Brown is usually looked at as a turf trainer with such greats as Stephanie’s Kitten, Lady Eli and Flintshire coming from his barn. But Brown has made big strides toward making his name as dirt trainer in recent years. Last year three of his big dirt 3-year-olds were Grade I Cigar Mile winner Connect, Kentucky Derby runner and graded stakes winner Shagaf and Grade II placed Gift Box but this year’s group is arguably better. Brown’s Derby hopefuls include Grade I winner Practical Joke and Grade I placed Favorable Outcome. Favorable Outcome tried turf in his last start when running in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf but after finishing 12th in that race and placing third in the Grade I Champagne Stakes on dirt, it won’t be surprising if he switches back to dirt and continues on the Derby trail.

Watch them go: 
Favorable Outcome—Swale Stakes (GII), Feb. 4 at Gulfstream Park

Classic Empire (#5) imposed his will early in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Gormley (#7) was unable to keep up.

The trainer of Champion 2-Year-Old Male and early Kentucky Derby favorite Classic Empire, Mark Casse also has two-time stakes runner-up State of Honor, Grade III Lecomte third place finisher Takeoff and a few other horses in the barn that may show up on the Kentucky Derby trail as we get farther into the season. In addition to those Kentucky Derby hopefuls, he also looks to have a strong hand for the Kentucky Oaks with Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up Valadorna and Grade I winners Victory to Victory and Pretty City Dancer all on the Oaks trail.

Watch them go:
Classic Empire—Holy Bull Stakes (GII), Feb. 4 at Gulfstream Park
Pretty City Dancer—Forward Gal (GII), Feb. 4 at Gulfstream Park

Practical Joke (left), noses out Syndergaard in the Champagne Stakes at Saratoga, Oct. 8, 2016. (NYRA)

It’s not unusual to see trainer Todd Pletcher with multiple entries in the Kentucky Derby and its preps and 2017 is no exception. He obviously knows how to get horses ready for the Triple Crown races, he won the 2010 Kentucky Derby with Super Saver and the Belmont Stakes twice. This year, some of the horses you may see on the trail for Pletcher are Grade III winner Theory, stakes winners Master Plan and Sonic Mule, and graded stakes placed Bonus Points and Syndergaard plus multiple impressive maiden and allowance winners. Don’t be surprised if Pletcher has four or more horses running in the Kentucky Derby come May 6 and it’s almost guaranteed at least one of his horses will be heavily talked about in the weeks leading up to the race.

Watch them go:
Sonic Mule—Swale Stakes (GII), Feb. 4 at Gulfstream Park

It’s not often that you see John Shirreffs on the Kentucky Derby trail, but when he’s on it he usually has an interesting one. Best known as the trainer of Zenyatta, Shirreffs is also a Kentucky Derby winning trainer, winning the race with Giacomo in 2005. The trainer also finished third in the 2007 Belmont Stakes with Giacomo’s half-brother Tiago but for the most part has been quiet on the Trail since then. This year, he has Grade I winner Gormley, ridden by Triple Crown winning jockey Victor Espinoza. Like Zenyatta, Giacomo and Tiago, Gormley is owned by Jerry and Ann Moss.

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