All eyes on Baffert as Derby preps begin

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Kentucky Derby prep season is warming up, and there's no hotter name in horse racing than Bob Baffert.

He was even popular at the Super Bowl on Thursday, gabbing for hours along Radio Row at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

"Just here for the day, and I'm going back to LA," Baffert said. "And then come back for the Super Bowl."

The place to be on Saturday is Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California, where the trainer of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah should come away with a better idea of how talented some of his new 3-year-olds are after the Robert B. Lewis Stakes.

"This is when you start heading to the deeper part of the pool," Baffert said recently.

The 1 1/16-mile Lewis features the 2016 debut of Baffert's Mor Spirit, winner of the Los Alamitos Futurity on Dec. 19 and already a promising Derby contender. The Hall of Famer also sends out Let's Meet in Rio, second to another Baffert prospect, Collected, in the Sham Stakes on Jan. 9.

Mor Spirit tops a field of seven entered for the Lewis. Bred in Pennsylvania, the son of Eskendereya has two wins and two seconds in four career starts. He will be ridden by Gary Stevens.

"We're teaching him to sit and wait. He's a big horse and beautifully made," Baffert said. "He's got a really long stride. He'll be best going a mile and an eighth and further."

Let's Meet in Rio will be ridden by Kent Desormeaux.

Also entered are I Will Score, Dressed in Hermes, Laoban, Path of David and Uncle Lino.

The next preps are the El Camino Derby at Golden Gate Fields on Feb. 13, and the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park two days later.

The road to the Derby consists of 35 races with a points system that determines the field if more than the maximum of 20 horses is entered. The Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, is May 7.

The Lewis is the seventh Derby prep of the year, and 17th overall since the Iroquois on Sept. 12.

Nyquist, the 2-year-old champion, tops the leaderboard with 30 points, followed by Mohaymen (20), Sunny Ridge (18), Exaggerator (16) and Flexibility (15). Mor Spirit is one of three horses with 14 points.

Currently, the point structure is 10 for first, four for second, two for third and one for fourth. The next increase begins with the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds on Feb. 20. The points jump to 50-20-10-5.


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