ARCADIA, Calif. — Often times when trainer Bob Baffert would encounter Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum at the sales grounds, the ruler of Dubai would ask him a pointed question.
"He was always asking me, 'What's it take to win the Derby?' " said Baffert, who has saddled three winners on the first Saturday of May. "I have what it takes to win the Derby."
In about seven months, Baffert might get the chance to let his actions speak louder than his words.
Midshipman, who is trained by Baffert and owned by Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stable, put himself at the forefront of the winterbook Kentucky Derby picture when he held off a charge from Square Eddie and Street Hero in the lane to win the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile by 11/4 lengths at Santa Anita Park on Saturday.
The son of Unbridled's Song flashed his potential when he won the Grade I Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 3 in his second career start. Saturday, he scurried out of post-position 10 and took the lead from Square Eddie shortly after, going a comfortable half-mile in :47.08.
Street Hero ranged up to challenge around the final turn and seemed in prime position to go by, but Midshipman would not back up, driving home under jockey Garrett Gomez to cover the 11⁄16 miles in 1:40.94.
"This horse is getting smarter; with every race he's learning," Baffert said. "At the half-mile, I just loved the way he looked.
"When they turn for home, you find out what they're really made of. When he kicked on for home, he showed he's the real deal."
Square Eddie fought back along the rail to get second with Street Hero third.
Midshipman was previously owned by Stonerside Stable but became part of Darley when Sheikh Mohammed purchased Stonerside in early September.
John Ferguson, chief adviser to Sheikh Mohammed, said no decision has been made yet on whether Midshipman would stay in the states or winter in Dubai, or if the colt will remain in Baffert's barn.
One thing that is already certain in the Darley camp, however, is Midshipman might be the one to bring the operation its elusive Derby triumph.
"In the next 10 days we'll discuss it, and Sheikh Mohammed will tell us what we'll do," Ferguson said. "I will say, I do think Bob has done the most superb job with this horse. He's done nothing but improve.
"From every viewpoint, there should be no reason he shouldn't stay (the 11/4 miles) and there is no reason Churchill won't suit him," Ferguson continued. "(The Derby) has always been a serious goal and this horse would be a perfect candidate."