The 2023 Kentucky Derby is coming up this Saturday at Churchill Downs.
For the second straight year, a very familiar face will be sitting on the sidelines.
Trainer Bob Baffert owns six Derby victories, tied for the most in the history of the race that dates back to 1875. That includes two horses that went on to win the Triple Crown, the only two to do so since 1978. He stands as one of only two trainers to groom two Triple Crown winners.
Yet Baffert is in the second year of a two-year Kentucky Derby ban stemming from the 2021 renewal. As a result, horses in his barn were ineligible to earn Kentucky Derby or Kentucky Oaks points unless they were moved to other trainers.
What happened in the 2021 Kentucky Derby?
Medina Spirit went off at odds of 12-1, but found himself on an easy lead in the race’s early stages. Mandaloun, Hot Rod Charlie, and Essential Quality challenged him in the stretch, but Medina Spirit hit the wire first.
A week later, the horse racing world was rocked by news that the Derby winner had tested positive for a substance beyond its allowable limit. The official result of the race is still being debated within the US legal system.
Churchill Downs, however, moved independently and instituted that two-year ban. While Baffert-trained horses can win money associated with prep races, none can earn qualifying points that would put them in the Derby or Oaks starting gates.
Baffert’s horses moved to other barns
As a result, a number of Baffert’s most-promising horses have temporarily shifted to other trainers over the past two years. In 2022, both Taiba and Messier moved over to former Baffert assistant Tim Yakteen. They ran 1-2 in that year’s Santa Anita Derby before finishing off the board in Kentucky.
This year, only one Kentucky Derby runner felt direct impact.
Reincarnate did not earn Kentucky Derby points for his win in January’s Sham Stakes, as Baffert still trained him. After his move to Yakteen, Reincarnate ran third in both the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby, giving him just enough points to make the Kentucky Derby field.
Yakteen also trains another Kentucky Derby hopeful. Practical Move won both the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby this past spring, and he’ll be among the betting favorites this Saturday. Unlike Reincarnate, Yakteen has been the trainer of record for Practical Move throughout that horse’s career.
Does the Baffert ban apply to other Triple Crown races?
No. Last year, Baffert was not visible at the Preakness Stakes or Belmont Stakes, but that was due to a 90-day suspension handed down in April. This year, Baffert trainees could contest either of those events.
It’s possible we see Arabian Lion in one of those races. He most recently ran second in last month’s Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. In doing so, he defeated Disarm, who finished third and will run in the Kentucky Derby.
Other noteworthy Baffert 3-year-olds include Cave Rock and Arabian Knight.
Cave Rock won a pair of Grade 1 races and was second behind Kentucky Derby favorite Forte in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Arabian Knight, meanwhile, won this year’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park but went to the sidelines following an early-March workout at Santa Anita.
Baffert also trains undefeated 3-year-old filly Faiza. She won several Kentucky Oaks preps in California but was ineligible to earn points thanks to the Churchill Downs-instituted ban.