Welcome to Horse Racing Nation’s Kentucky Derby Daily, which will each day leading up to the May 4 race at Churchill Downs detail all the news and notes related to contenders in one convenient space.
News Tuesday that Drayden Van Dyke was replaced aboard top 2019 Kentucky Derby hopeful Improbable came as quite a surprise to racing fans. But trainer Bob Baffert indicated it shouldn’t have been unexpected for the jockey.
“We talked about it before — that I wanted him to get through the Rebel Stakes,” Baffert said. “Drayden understands what I do. He was on Justify first out.”
Mike Smith last year took the call for the second start board the eventual Triple Crown winner, a chestnut who bears similarities to Improbable in both appearance and connections. Smith was in line to pick up Improbable as well, Baffert said, until he won the second division of the Rebel Stakes (G2) on Omaha Beach.
Smith will ride that one back in the Arkansas Derby (G1) after defeating Game Winner. Improbable, a narrow loser to Long Range Toddy after taking a wide trip in the Rebel’s first division, will return to Oaklawn Park with Jose Ortiz in the irons.
“It’s one of those things where Drayden — he’s still riding a lot of horses for me,” Baffert said. “It’s just this one horse.
“… I think Drayden’s a great rider. He’s young, and he helps me out a lot.”
Ortiz has never ridden before for Baffert, a fellow Eclipse Award winner. The native of Puerto Rico recorded his best Kentucky Derby finish last year right behind Justify as he had the mount on Good Magic.
All is not lost for Van Dyke, either. Owner Samantha Siegel reported on Twitter that he will ride Extra Hope, fourth in the Rebel, in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). Van Dyke also has the mount on Baffert-trained Chasing Yesterday, the half-sister to American Pharoah who won Sunday’s Sunland Park Oaks to qualify for the Kentucky Oaks.
The Daily Racing Form first reported Ortiz’s new appointment.
• Hoffa’s Union, originally named as a Florida Derby (G1) contender, will go elsewhere in his final prep, says trainer Mark Casse, who could have as many as four in Keeneland’s Blue Grass (G2).
• Game Winner returned to the work tab Tuesday for the first time since his Rebel defeat, with video of the breeze now available.
• HRN’s Laura Pugh took a closer look at last weekend’s Derby preps, grading the Louisiana Derby (G2) higher than Sunday’s Sunland Derby (G3).
In case you missed it…
Monday’s Derby Daily report focused on a pair of UAE Derby (G2) contenders in the field, Plus Que Parfait and Gray Magician, getting their last chance on the trail.