Sidelines with John Clay

Bob Baffert holds top two spots in first 2019 Kentucky Derby poll

The first Horse Racing Nation Kentucky Derby 2019 poll is out, with Bob Baffert sitting in the top two spots.

Disclaimer: I am a voter in this poll.

Here’s the HRN press release:

NBC Sports’ Randy Moss likens the difficulty in assessing Kentucky Derby hopefuls this soon to picking NFL playoff teams “before the draft, free agency and training camps.”

But with the major preps only weeks away, Churchill Downs’ Darren Rogers compares this time of year to Saturday at The Masters, saying, “It’s moving day.”

Paulick Report’s Scott Jagow brought his analogy to the hardwood.

“This is like the start of the college basketball season,” Jagow said. “No one knows who might surprise, but North Carolina, Duke and Kentucky are always ranked top 10. In horse racing terms, they’re all Bob Baffert.”

That reflects in the first edition of the 2019 Kentucky Derby Media Poll assembled by Unbeaten Baffert trainees Game Winner and Improbable ranked 1-2, while a third runner from the Hall of Famer’s barn, Mucho Gusto, rounded out the Top 5.

Released each Monday leading up to the May 4 race at Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby Media Poll’s panel features representatives of the Daily Racing Form, BloodHorse and Thoroughbred Daily News, among other racing industry trade publications and general news outlets.

Other colts holding top spots are arguably the best 3-year-olds seen in the new year with recent Risen Star Stakes (G2) winner War of Will third and Hidden Scroll, who flew to a 14-length debut victory on Jan. 26, fourth. Next for Hidden Scroll is Saturday’s Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park.

“It’s Bob Baffert’s world and welcome to it, though the outlook could dramatically change after the Fountain of Youth — especially if Hidden Scroll serves up an encore of his impressive debut victory,” said Bob Ehalt, writer for BloodHorse and Thoroughbred Racing Commentary.

Baffert, who registered his fifth Derby win in 2018 with eventual Triple Crown winner Justify, would tie Ben Jones for first on the all-time list if he’s to score again this year.

Game Winner hasn’t run since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and Improbable last appeared in December’s Los Alamitos Futurity (G1). They’re scheduled to clash with No. 6 Instagrand in the March 9 San Felipe Stakes (G2) while Signalman, a fourth horse in the Top 7 to have not run in 2019, is also gearing up for the Fountain of Youth.

“The late start makes this voter wonder if their trainers are rightfully confident in their horses or if some big disappointments are to come,” said Horse Racing Nation’s Matt Shifman.

Two others in the Top 20, Nos. 11 (Vekoma) and 16 (Global Campaign), could be in action in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth. Many Week 1 votes were cast before news broke that Maximus Mischief, who ranked 19th, would defect from the Gulfstream Park feature.

Four more points-paying preps follow on March 9. In addition to the San Felipe, the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), Aqueduct’s Gotham Stakes (G3) and Turfway Park’s Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) are all scheduled.

Kentucky Derby Media Poll (Week 1)

Horse (1st-place votes)


1. Game Winner (19)


2. Improbable (5)


3. War of Will (3)


4. Hidden Scroll


5. Mucho Gusto


6. Instagrand (2)


7. Signalman


8. Country House (1)


9. Galilean (1)


10. Gunmetal Gray


11. Vekoma


12. Tax


13. Harvey Wallbanger


14. Win Win Win


15. Well Defined


16. Global Campaign


17. Dream Maker


18. Maximus Mischief


19. Mind Control


20. Super Steed


Next 10 receiving votes: Nolo Contesto, Anothertwistafate, Omaha Beach, Bourbon War, Sueno, Mucho, Long Range Toddy, Code of Honor, Spinoff, Roadster.

For a full list of Derby Media Poll voters and a rankings archive:


Here was my ballot:

  • 1. Game Winner
  • 2. Improbable
  • 3. War of Will
  • 4. Signalman
  • 5. Mucho Gusto
  • 6. Instagrand
  • 7. Gunmetal Gray
  • 8. Dream Maker
  • 9. Hidden Scroll
  • 10. Harvey Wallbanger
  • 11. Global Campaign
  • 12. Nolo Contesto
  • 13. Well Defined
  • 14. Omaha Beach
  • 15. Win Win Win
  • 16. Country House
  • 17. Anothertwistafate
  • 18. Tax
  • 19. Bourbon War
  • 20. Super Steed
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John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.
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