Baffert Giving Spielberg ‘Another Chance’ On Derby Trail In Southwest

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has captured one of Oaklawn’s four Kentucky Derby points races with a horse named after an Olympic gold medalist, another with a horse named after a professional tennis icon and a third with a horse named after a celebrated soccer manager.

Now, it’s that fourth race receiving the “star” treatment. The Southern California-based Baffert, who has dominated Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby prep series the last decade, will send out Spielberg in Saturday’s $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3), a 1 1/16-mile event the trainer’s already won four times.

Spielberg is named for Steven Spielberg, a two-time Academy Award winner for best director. Purchased for $1 million at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Spielberg – the horse – will be making his first start since a disappointing fourth-place finish in his 3-year-old debut, the $100,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 30 at Santa Anita.

Spielberg was not originally nominated to the Southwest, which was scheduled to be run Feb. 15 before severe winter weather postponed the race twice. After losing eight live racing dates, Oaklawn announced Feb. 17 that nominations to all postponed stakes would be reopened and close Feb. 19. Spielberg, a son of Union Rags, was among a handful of horses nominated during the two-day window and one of seven entered Tuesday morning. He was to be flown Wednesday to Arkansas.

“I really don’t plan too far out,” Baffert said Tuesday afternoon. “His last race, he just never really got into it. Struggled all the way around there. But he came back and worked well and so I thought, ‘You know what? I know it’s going to be a short field and the races are sort of on top of each other.’ I thought I would give him another chance. It’s an easy ship, so we’re just going to send him up there and see if he fits with those.”

Spielberg had a productive 2-year-old campaign, finishing second and third, as a maiden, in the $250,000 Del Mar Futurity (G1) at Del Mar and $300,000 American Pharoah Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita, respectively, and winning the $200,000 Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) at 1 1/16 miles Dec. 19 at Los Alamitos.

Spielberg was beaten 11 ¼ lengths in the two-turn Robert B. Lewis. In his only other poor performance, Spielberg finished fourth, beaten 9 ½ lengths, in the $100,000 Bob Hope Stakes (G3) Nov. 15 at Del Mar. The colt was coming off a Nov. 1 maiden victory at Del Mar.

“He just never got engaged in the race,” Baffert said of the Robert B. Lewis. “One of those races where he just didn’t show up. He came out of it fine. We thought he was doing well going in. He’s done that before. He did that at Del Mar. He ran in a stake and just didn’t show up.”

Baffert won the Southwest in 2010 with Conveyance – the trainer’s first Oaklawn starter in roughly nine years – in 2012 with Castaway and Secret Circle (split race) and in 2013 with Super Ninety Nine. The late Bob Holthus, Oaklawn’s all-time winningest trainer, captured the Southwest a record five times.

Baffert also won the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) in 2012 with Bodemeister, who was named after Olympic gold medal winning skier Bode Miller. Baffert won Oaklawn’s first Kentucky Derby points race, the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes, in 2018 with Mourinho, who was named after three-time Premier League champion soccer coach Jose Mourinho.

Baffert won the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) last year with Nadal, named after Rafael Nadal, who has a record-equaling 20 career Grand Slam men’s singles tennis titles. Nadal returned to win the second division of the Arkansas Derby last May.

The Southwest will offer 17 points to the top four finishers (10-4-2-1, respectively) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby. Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby points series continues with the $1 million Rebel (G2) March 13 and the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 10.

The Southwest anchors Saturday’s 11-race program that begins at 12:15 p.m. (Central). Probable post time for the Southwest, which goes as race 10, is 4:58 p.m. The projected field from the rail out: Essential Quality, Luis Saez to ride, 119 pounds; Saffa’s Day, Ricardo Santana Jr., 117; Last Samurai, Jon Court, 117; Jackie’s Warrior, Joel Rosario, 119; Santa Cruiser, Richard Eramia, 117; Woodhouse, David Cabrera, 117; and Spielberg, Martin Garcia, 119.

Unbeaten Essential Quality was the country’s champion 2-year-old male for trainer Brad Cox, while Jackie’s Warrior was a multiple Grade 1 winner last year for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. Both horses have been based this winter at Fair Grounds and will be making their 2021 debuts in the Southwest.

Baffert said unbeaten Concert Tour (2 for 2) is already “penciled in” for the 1 1/16-mile Rebel, a race the trainer has won a record seven times. Also pointing for the Rebel is runaway Smarty Jones winner Caddo River, another Cox trainee, and locally based Grade 2 winner Keepmeinmind for trainer Robertino Diodoro.

The post Baffert Giving Spielberg ‘Another Chance’ On Derby Trail In Southwest appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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