And the Hall of Fame trainer likes what he sees in Paradise Woods. All he had to do was watch her run away from his Abel Tasman in the Santa Anita Oaks.
”Paradise Woods is an extremely talented filly,” said Baffert, who trained 2015 Triple Crown winner of American Pharaoh. ”I watched her school the other day at Santa Anita and, wow, she’s imposing. She’s really, really special.”
She is the 5-2 favorite for Friday’s $1 million race for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs on the day before the Kentucky Derby.
She has had back-to-back runaway victories, including an 11-length romp in the Santa Anita Oaks. The daughter of Union Rags was also second in her debut at the California track. Paradise Woods will start from the No. 4 post position in the 14-horse field.
Trainer Richard Mandella thinks that’s a great spot for the horse as he goes for his first Oaks win in four tries.
”We’re here to do the best we can,” he said. ”I’ve been here and know the obstacles involved with a race like this. The crowd, the competition. And I haven’t had a lot of luck at Churchill.”
Paradise Woods faces a strong field in the 1 1/8-mile race.
The second choice is Miss Sky Warrior, who is listed at 9-2 and has won five of six starts, with four straight graded stakes triumphs. There was no catching her in last month’s Grade 2 Gazelle at Aqueduct, where she won by 13 lengths. She drew the No. 10 post.
”I don’t know if I could’ve drawn it up any better,” trainer Kelly Breen said. ”If they let me draw the (post position) pills and decide who went where, the 10 post is probably the best spot for us. Paco (Lopez) is a great gate rider with a good head on his shoulders. He’ll be able to see what we’re going to do.”
Miss Sky Warrior’s 160 points earned toward the Oaks were just 10 behind leader Farrell, who has five wins and a third in seven starts. He has won four in a row by a combined 15 1/2 lengths. Farrell will make her longest start from the No. 7 post as the 5-1 co-third choice with Abel Tasman.
The distance doesn’t concern Farrell trainer Wayne Catalano.
”She’s had a few under her belt, so I don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” he said.
Abel Tasman has three wins and two seconds in six starts with Baffert. Salty carries 6-1 odds and, like Paradise Woods, has won two of her last three starts.
Post time is 6:12 p.m.