Game Winner was put to the test in Saturday’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) but proved too tough for rivals in the end, rallying to the lead in deep stretch and edging away to a 2 ¼-length decision. Owned by Gary and Mary West, the unbeaten Bob Baffert trainee locked up championship two-year-old honors and confirmed himself as the Kentucky Derby favorite entering 2019.
Favored at even-money in the 13-horse field, Game Winner didn’t break alertly under Joel Rosario and trailed by about five lengths in seventh after the opening quarter-mile. Complexity, the 5-2 second choice, showed the way early through splits of :23.24 and :46.87 before throwing in the towel on the far turn.
Game Winner improved his positioning on the far turn, passing several rivals as he came under a ride from Joel Rosario, and accelerated into the stretch full of run. But Knicks Go, who was overlooked at 40-1 following a 70-1 odds upset in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland, was looking strong in front as he began to edge away in upper stretch. It proved to be an exciting run to the wire and Game Winner had to dig deep to overhaul Knicks Go in the latter stages, completing the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:43.67.
“Talk about a rough trip! I was glad (Rosario) was patient with him,” Baffert said. “I felt a lot of pressure coming here because I have really thought a lot about this colt. I know he is a really good horse. He showed it today; he was much the best. I am so happy for Gary and Mary West. I felt more pressure because I told Gary ‘I don’t think they can beat us.’ They have put a lot into the game. This horse likes Churchill Downs; that’s a good sign. These races are hard to win. I have great crew and a great team and we got it done.”
“He broke fine but it looked like they took my spot and I had to go wide,” Rosario added. “He seemed like he didn’t mind that. He was comfortable. That’s why we got him moving at that point, instead of getting inside and taking back. Turning for home the more I rode him the more he gave it to me.”
Signalman, who rallied well from last at 67-1, wound up another length back in third, 6 ¼ lengths better than Mr. Money in fourth at 41-1.
Game Winner jumped to the top of the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard, picking up 20 points for winning the Road to the Kentucky Derby series qualifier, and now has a total of 30 points. The Candy Ride colt opened his career with a 5 ¾-length tally over maiden special weight rivals at Del Mar in mid-August and earned his first stakes win with a 1 ½-length score in the September 3 Del Mar Futurity (G1).
The bay colt prepped for the Juvenile with a 4 ½-length victory in the September 29 American Pharoah (G1) at Santa Anita and Game Winner has now earned $1,506,000.
Bred in Kentucky by Summer Wind Equine, Game Winner commanded a $110,000 price at last year’s Keeneland September yearling sale. He’s out of the unraced A.P. Indy mare Indyan Giving, a daughter of champion older mare Fleet Indian.