With a stable full of Kentucky Derby contenders, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is juggling talented three-year-olds every weekend, but he's counting on the strong performances by Secret Circle and Castaway in their split divisions of the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes to help him decide to whether to send them both back for the Grade 2, $500,000 Rebel at Oaklawn Park March 17.
As they did in their two workouts prior to shipping from California, both are scheduled to breeze in company Saturday morning at Santa Anita with Baffert hoping to further solidify his plans for the stakes winners.
"They're both great and they've worked well together before," said Baffert Friday morning. "Both of them should like the mile and a sixteenth and they both liked the track. If they work great again, then we know we have a plan."
Baffert admits it was fortuitous the Southwest was divided, otherwise both horses may not have made the trip, but now that they have shown they like the track, sending both makes sense. Castaway won the first division of the Southwest by controlling the pace under Rafael Bejarano. Secret Circle was pushed to a faster win in his division after fighting on the lead with a determined Scatman. With both running near the front and winning, the question becomes will they use the same tactics against each other in the Rebel. Baffert says don't read too much into how they got the job done last time.
"They were both near the lead or just off the lead and that was mostly because they had to send because of outside posts," he said. "The key is always in how they break. The posts last time meant it just worked out that way. Next time we'll see. They will be up close."
Secret Circle is owned by Karl Watson, Paul Weitman and Mike Pegram, and the Southwest was his fourth win in five starts including a victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint. The son of Eddington has $170,000 in graded stakes earnings, the all-important decider when it comes to qualifying for the Kentucky Derby if more than 20 horses enter. He worked last Sunday, going five furlongs in 1:00 2/5 on the fast Santa Anita strip.
Castaway, a son of Street Sense, is owned by the powerful Ireland-based Coolmore syndicate headed by John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith. The fact that the Rebel is on St. Patrick's Day was not a deciding factor, but the rush to pad the bankroll with graded earnings could be. With the purse increased by $200,000, a good in-the-money finish would lock in a spot in Louisville for a horse like Castaway with $150,000 worth of graded earnings already on the ledger.
Baffert jokes that he's not that busy, while lining up stakes starts for other three-year-olds like Bodemeister and Liason in the Grade 2 San Felipe on Saturday at Santa Anita. Those two are starting in California after Fed Biz was handed a setback last weekend and will now likely swerve to either the Grade 1 Wood Memorial on April 7 in New York or the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby at home.