Beleaguered trainer Bob Baffert is transferring star Kentucky Derby prospect Messier and three other promising 3-year-olds to other stables, his legal team announced Thursday.
Baffert is currently banned from entering his horses in the Derby following the disqualification of last year’s race winner Medina Spirit due to a positive drug test. The Hall of Fame trainer, winner of a record six previous Kentucky Derbys, continues to defy that ban and a subsequent suspension from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, but in the meantime, his current group of 3-year-olds has not been able. to rack up qualifying points for this year’s Derby.
With the final series of the major Derby prep races beginning this weekend, time is running out for those horses to enter the May 7 race.
Messier is the top Derby contender in Baffert’s barn. The son of Empire Maker won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes by 15 lengths last month, posting a Beyer speed figure of 103, the highest number of any 3-year-old this year.
Baffert has Messier singled out for the Santa Anita Derby on April 9, when a battle awaits him with another top Derby contender, Forbidden Kingdom, but Messier would not have been able to earn any Derby points in that race while he was in the barn of Baffert. .
A press release from Baffert’s legal team announced Thursday that Messier, along with Doppelganger and McLaren Vale, would be moved to the stable of trainer Tim Yakteen, a former Baffert assistant who also resides on the West Coast.
Another 3-year-old from Baffert, Blackadder, will be transferred to the stable of trainer Rodolphe Brisset, a former assistant to Hall of Famer Bill Mott.
All four horses are owned by SF Racing LLC et al.
“Messier, Doppelganger, McLaren Vale and Blackadder are some of the most exciting foals in racing this year, and we are grateful for Bob’s excellent training effort with them,” said Tom Ryan of SF Racing LLC. “We congratulate Bob for making the difficult but necessary decision that will allow them to prove that they are the best talents in racing this year.”
Neither Yakteen nor Brisset have ever ridden a Kentucky Derby starter.
Messier has zero Derby qualifying points as a result of Baffert’s penalties, so he’ll likely need a win or second-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby to make it to the starting gate of the Kentucky Derby. He is ridden by John Velazquez, who won the Kentucky Derby at Animal Kingdom (2011), Always Dreaming (2017) and the Baffert-trained Authentic in 2020, as well as riding Medina Spirit in last year’s race.
Blackadder, the son of Quality Road, won the El Camino Real Derby last month and is being considered for Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park next weekend. Like the Santa Anita Derby, that’s one of eight Kentucky Derby prep that awards 100 qualifying points to the winner.
Doppelganger finished second to Forbidden Kingdom in the San Felipe Stakes on March 5 and is expected to start another of the 100-point races, possibly the Arkansas Derby on April 2. He put in a 6 furlongs bullet train of 1:10.80 at Santa Anita Park on Sunday morning and is the son of Into Mischief, who sired the last two Kentucky Derby champions, Mandaloun and Authentic.
McLaren Vale, the son of Gun Runner, was third behind Forbidden Kingdom in the San Vicente Stakes on January 29 and has not raced since, although he has posted a strong practice run in recent Mondays at Santa Anita Park.
Baffert said in the statement issued by his legal team that he encouraged owners to remove their horses from his stable. A statement from one of Baffert’s lawyers criticized Churchill Downs’ ban on the Derby in the wake of Medina Spirit’s positive drug test and acknowledged that Baffert’s legal challenges “may not be finalized for several months.”