Road to the Kentucky Derby Horse Profile: Game Winner

Nov 05, 2018 Kellie Reilly/

Road to the Kentucky Derby Horse Profile

Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Game Winner

Five-time Kentucky Derby (G1)-winning trainer Bob Baffert unveiled an enviable series of hot maiden winners this season, but Gary and Mary West’s GAME WINNER has bragging rights for building upon his debut to become the presumptive divisional champion and early 2019 Derby favorite.

Because Game Winner is bred to prosper with maturity and longer distances, his early success may be a pointer to an unusual degree of talent. He’s by Candy Ride, the sire of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, and his dam, the unraced Indyan Giving, is a daughter of A.P. Indy and champion older mare Fleet Indian. During her Eclipse Award campaign in 2006, Fleet Indian scored in the 1 1/4-mile Personal Ensign (G1) and Delaware H. (G2), and her other stakes wins all came at 1 1/8 miles, notably the Beldame (G1).

Bred by Summer Wind Equine in Kentucky and sold as a Keeneland September yearling for the relatively modest price of $110,000, Game Winner made his debut at Del Mar August 18. Baffert believed the six-furlong trip was on the short side for him, so it was a pleasant surprise that he rolled by 5 3/4 lengths.

Game Winner was doing so well physically that Baffert decided to try him a couple of weeks later in the September 3 Del Mar Futurity (G1) at seven furlongs. Stablemate Roadster had all the buzz as the odds-on favorite, but Game Winner rose to the occasion to become Baffert’s 14th Del Mar Futurity winner.

Stretching out to 1 1/16 miles for the September 29 American Pharoah S. (G1) at Santa Anita promised to fit Game Winner to a tee. So it proved, appropriately enough for a Baffert trainee in a race renamed for the Hall of Famer’s 2015 Triple Crown sweeper. Game Winner, the 1-5 favorite, widened his margin of superiority over Rowayton, the Del Mar Futurity runner-up who was only third behind him and Gunmetal Gray in the American Pharoah. 

By adding the Santa Anita race (formerly known as the FrontRunner) to his Del Mar Futurity, Game Winner completed the same Grade 1 double turned by future Kentucky Derby winners American Pharoah and Nyquist, both voted champion two-year-old males in their respective years. 

As a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), the American Pharoah victory awarded Game Winner a free ticket to the championship event on November 2 at Churchill Downs. And as a scoring race toward the Kentucky Derby, it was worth 10 points to the winner.

Game Winner was sent off as the even-money favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but it was anything but a stroll in the park. Not quick into stride, farther back than expected early, and wide every step of the way, he tussled with Knicks Go in the stretch before driving 2 1/4 lengths clear. 

Now a lock for an Eclipse Award as champion two-year-old male, Game Winner will try to become Baffert's sixth Derby winner, but his first to compete in the Juvenile along the way. 

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