Hall of Famer trainer Bob Baffert couldn’t help thinking about the prospects of winning the Kentucky Derby again once New Year’s Day hit the finish line Saturday.
The 2-year-old colt stamped himself the early favorite for the first Saturday in May by overtaking betting favorite Havana to win the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita.
The 60-year-old trainer has won the prestigious race four times, the most recent coming in 2002 with War Emblem, and Baffert said he’ll see how things shake out with New Year’s Day.
”I haven’t really planned anything out,” Baffert said. ”The thing is to keep him healthy, that’s number one. We’ll make our long-term goal the Derby.”
Baffert’s win was bittersweet after another of his horses, Secret Compass, had to be euthanized after suffering a leg fracture in the $2 million Juvenile Fillies.
”For it to happen, we’re all still in shock,” he said. ”Just the win is exciting,” Baffert said but ”in the back of my mind, I’m thinking about that filly.”
New Year’s Day was mid-pack as the group of 13 horses made the final turn with Havana making a powerful kick and charging down the stretch. But New Year’s Day gobbled up ground on the rail and quickly erased Havana’s lead. The margin of victory was 1 1/4 lengths.
Ridden by Martin Garcia, New Year’s Day covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.52 and paid $23.00, $9.20 and $6.60. Havana, who went off as the 5-2 favorite, returned $4.60 and $3.40, while Strong Mandate paid $6 to show.
It was the first Breeders’ Cup win for Garcia, who teamed up with Baffert again later to win the $1.5 million Sprint. Baffert has now won the Juvenile three times. His last score was in 2008 with Midshipman.
Havana’s trainer Todd Pletcher was seeking his third Juvenile victory in the past four years. Both Baffert and Pletcher had dual entries; Baffert’s Tap It Rich finished fifth, while Pletcher’s We Miss Artie ended up seventh.
”I thought he ran super,” Pletcher said of Havana. ”He just came up a little tired in the very last part there. But he ran very well.”
New Year’s Day will attempt what only one other horse, Street Sense, has been able to do – pull off the Juvenile-Derby double.
Baffert said the ability to accomplish such a feat probably is due to growing pains.
”I think a lot of times the juvenile colts race is won by a horse that’s very precocious,” he said. ”The 2-year-olds that have a lot of speed, carry their speed.
You can tell when you watch the race, well, the horse ran a great race, but you know down the road the pedigree might get to him. But you still need a lot of luck to get there.”