(Reuters) – The 148th Kentucky Derby might be remembered as much for the talent on the track as the trainer absent from the sidelines as Saturday’s first leg of the Triple Crown goes off without one of racing’s most recognizable figures.
Bob Baffert, whose horses have won the Kentucky Derby six times, was suspended after last year’s winner, Medina Spirit, tested positive for a banned substance and was stripped of the title.
Baffert has denied any wrongdoing but his horses will not feature in any of the races in the famed American triumvirate this year.
Two Baffert-trained colts will be at the starting gate, however, after Messier and Taiba were both transferred to his former assistant Tim Yakteen.
Messier, whose morning-line odds stood at 8-1 on Friday, has a solid shot with three-time Derby winner John Velazquez aboard.
The less-experienced Taiba is another favorite. The colt rolled into Churchill Downs with just two prior starts but will benefit from the steady hand of 56-year-old Hall of Famer and twice winner Mike Smith in the saddle.
With mint juleps in hand, the crowd at the ‘Run for the Roses’ may be left sprinting from storm clouds, with organizers expecting a mudder’s delight with rain through Saturday morning.
That would appear to suit Zandon, who triumphed last month with jockey Flavien Prat at the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes in Keeneland last month in sloppy conditions.
The duo will look to repeat the performance on Saturday after drawing the number 10 post in Monday’s ceremony. Prat previously triumphed at the Derby in 2019 and the Preakness Stakes last year.
“We’re ready,” trainer Chad Brown said.
A big threat may come from Epicenter, who is stationed at the number three post and overcame Zandon at the Risen Star-G2 in February. With twice Belmont winner and 2013 Derby champ Joel Rosario aboard, Epicenter was 7-2 in morning-line odds.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Peter Rutherford)