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Kentucky Derby notes: California contenders now headed to Arkansas

Plenty of Kentucky Derby trail news this weekend, starting with what many consider the top two contenders:

Baffert officially calls an Arkansas audible

Trainer Bob Baffert is shipping both Game Winner and Improbable to Arkansas. With the Santa Anita closure canceling the San Felipe Stakes, Baffert’s duo will instead run in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 16. Baffert has won the Rebel six times.

Game Winner won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November at Churchill Downs. Improbable won the Los Alamitos Futurity in December. The two have yet to make their 2019 debuts. Both worked Sunday at Los Alamitos. Improbable worked 5 furlongs in :59 1/5. Game Winner worked 5 furlongs in :59 4/5.

If more than 20 horses enter, the Rebel will be be put in two divisions with each division receiving 75 percent of the Kentucky Derby points. Several California trainers are pointing to the Rebel. Jerry Hollendorfer is shipping Gunmetal Gray and Galilean to Arkansas. Richard Mandella has Omaha Beach and Extra Hope preparing for the Rebel. Keith Desormeaux plans to ship Easy Hope to Arkansas.

Baffert also worked Much Gusto, the winner of the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes. The son of Mucho Macho Man worked 5 furlongs in :57 4/5 at Los Alamitos. Baffert indicated that Mucho Gusto is headed to Sunland Park for the Sunland Derby on March 24.

Santa Anita Park is expected to re-open its training track on Monday, March 11. It hopes to resume racing by March 22.

The Los Angeles Times editorial board says 21 horses should not have had to die before Santa Anita Park was closed.

Tacitus could run in the Blue Grass at Keeneland

The day after the son of Tapit won the Tampa Bay Derby, trainer Bill Mott said Tacitus could run in either the Grade 2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct or the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 6. Mott also indicated Tacitus might be held back for the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on April 13 at Oaklawn.

The Tampa Bay Derby was just Tacitus’ third career race and first since Nov. 10. The Juddmonte homebred knocked off Todd Pletcher’s Outshine and 7-5 favorite Win Win Win on Saturday in a stakes record of 1:41.90. Tapwrit set the record of 1:42.36 in 2017.

Mott’s Hidden Scroll finished a disappointing fourth in last week’s Fountain of Youth. But Hidden Scroll bested Tacitus when the two worked in tandem on Feb. 22. Mott also has Country House, who is expected to run in the Louisiana Derby on March 23 at Fair Grounds. Country House was second in the Grade 2 Risen Star.

Kiaran McLaughlin may have his Derby horse

Haikal ran down the trio of Mind Control, Much Better and Instagrand to win the Gotham Stakes on Saturday at Aqueduct. Trained by former Tates Creek High School grad Kiaran McLaughlin, Haikal benefited from a blistering pace (:44.42 for the half-mile) and is next headed to the Wood Memorial.

Mind Control, who finished second for trainer Greg Sacco and jockey John Velazquez, is also headed to the Wood. Instagrand, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, finished third. He had not run since winning the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes on Aug. 11. There is some talk that Instagrand doesn’t like the distance.

Jeff Ruby Steaks winner has a great name

Thank the daughters of Skychai Racing partner Jim Shircliff for naming Somelikeithotbrown, winner of the Jeff Ruby Steaks on Saturday at Turfway. The colt’s sire is 2008 Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown. The dam is Marilyn Monroan, a gray mare. “Some Like It Hot” was a 1959 movie that starred Marilyn Monroe.

Trained by Mike Maker, Somelikeithotbrown could be headed to the Blue Grass on April 6. But he may not run in the Kentucky Derby.

Second choice Skywire ran a disappointing eighth for trainer Mark Casse, who watched Dream Maker finish 10th out of 11 entries in the Tampa Bay Derby.

Kentucky Derby Leaderboard top 10

1. War of Will 60

2. Code of Honor 50

3. Haikal 50

4. Tacitus 50

5. Game Winner 30

6. Mind Control 30

7. Bourbon War 21

8. Somelikeithotbrown 20

9. Country House 20

10. Outshine 20

Major upcoming Derby prep races

March 16 - Rebel Stakes (50-20-10-5)

March 23 - Louisiana Derby (100-40-20-10)

March 24 - Sunland Park Derby (50-20-10-5)

March 30 - Florida Derby (100-40-20-10)

April 6 - Wood Memorial (100-40-20-10)

April 6 - Blue Grass Stakes (100-40-20-10)

April 6 - Santa Anita Derby (100-40-20-10)

April 13 - Lexington Stakes (20-8-4-2)

April 13 - Arkansas Derby (100-40-20-10)

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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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