Heavy Favorite Game Winner Gives Baffert Fourth Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

Gary and Mary West’s Game Winner lived up to his name in Friday’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs, overcoming a four-wide trip around the first turn and some bumping in deep stretch to cross the wire 2 1/4 lengths in front of 40-1 shot Knicks Go. Sent off as the even-money favorite under Joel Rosario, Game Winner’s performance gives trainer Bob Baffert another promising candidate for next year’s Kentucky Derby. Ridden by Joel Rosario for his second Breeders’ Cup win of the day (eighth overall), the Candy Ride colt covered 1 1/16 miles over a main track rated fast in 1:43.67.

“We can enjoy today and dream about tomorrow,” said Baffert. The colt is stabled in the same stall as both of Baffert’s Triple Crown winners, American Pharoah and Justify.

Game Winner is Baffert’s fourth Juvenile winner (15th overall), joining Vindication (2002), Midshipman (2008), and New Year’s Day (2013); the latter was also owned by the Wests.

At the break, Game Winner was in a bit tight and wound up having to go four-wide around the clubhouse turn with a herd of horses in front of him and to his inside. Rosario kept him out in the clear down the backstretch, encroaching toward the leaders until he had worked his way into sixth position. He took a quick breather for about a sixteenth of a mile, then Rosario started asking Game Winner for run once again.

“He broke fine but it looked like they took my spot and I had to go wide,” said Rosario. “He seemed like he didn’t mind that. He was comfortable. That’s why we got him moving at that point, instead of getting inside and taking back. Turning for home the more I rode him the more he gave it to me.”

Meanwhile, Complexity was setting a pressured early pace of :23.24 and :46.87, just a length ahead of Knicks Go and Well Defined. Topper T was also prominently placed, and Mr. Money was full of run at the rail heading into the far turn.

Knicks Go took command near the five-sixteenths pole just as Mr. Money found at seam at the rail to move into third position. Game Winner was forced to take the overland route three-wide, but turned for home just a length shy of the new leader Knicks Go.

Albin Jimenez aboard Knicks Go tried to ride a smart race, pushing Game Winner even wider around the last part of the turn, and it looked like an effective strategy until he ran out of horse at the eighth pole. At that point Knicks Go was shortening stride and lugged out to bump with Game Winner. Rosario’s mount quickly recovered and the pair cruised toward the wire to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Knicks Go (40-1) held second by a length over Signalman (67-1), and Mr. Money kept on fighting to finish fourth. Gunmetal Gray checked in fifth.

“Talk about a rough trip!” said Baffert. “I was glad (jockey Joel Rosario) was patient with him. I felt a lot of pressure coming here because I have really thought a lot about this colt. I know he is a really good horse. He showed it today; he was much the best. I am so happy for Gary and Mary West. I felt more pressure because I told Gary ‘I don’t think they can beat us.’ They have put a lot into the game. This horse likes Churchill Downs; that’s a good sign. These races are hard to win. I have great crew and a great team and we got it done.”

Bred in Kentucky by Jane Lyon’s Summer Wind Equine, Game Winner was a $110,000 yearling purchase at the Keeneland September sale. He is a second-generation homebred for Lyon, out of the A.P. Indy mare Indyan Giving, an unraced daughter of champion racemare Fleet Indian. Game Winner is now undefeated in four career starts, including a trio of G1 wins for earnings of over $2.1 million.

Which Breeders’ Cup Future Stars Friday performance was most impressive?

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