DECISION TIME FOR OWNERS OF BAFFERT-TRAINED TRIPLE CROWN CONTENDERS

The recent Sham Stakes for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita racetrack was won by Newgrange with Rockefeller finishing second.  Both colts are trained by Bob Baffert and neither colt earned points to enter the 2022 Kentucky Derby. Mr. Baffert has been suspended by Churchill Downs from running horses at the track through the spring meet of 2023 and hence the track won’t allocate Kentucky Derby points to any horse trained by him. The track’s ban followed the Baffert-trained Medina Spirit testing positive for a prohibited medication after winning last year’s Derby.

In addition, the New York Racing Association may prevail in its ongoing legal effort to ban Mr. Baffert from its racetracks, thereby precluding his trainees from running in the Belmont and Travers Stakes.  If NYRA does prevail, and the Churchill Downs exclusion remains in place, Baffert-trained colts will be precluded from contesting two-thirds of the Triple Crown races, as well as the prestigious Travers in August 2022.

These possibilities pose a critical and an immediate decision for the owners of Baffert-trained 3-year-old colts with Triple Crown potential.  Do they remain loyal and keep their colts with the winningest Kentucky Derby trainer ever and arguably the most accomplished trainer of all time of horses on dirt surfaces?  Or do they send their colts to another trainer so they have certain unfettered access to the most coveted races for 3-year-olds in America?

Say an owner estimates there is a 10% chance that Baffert-trained horses will be able to run in the 2022 Kentucky Derby, either because Churchill Downs relents or there is some sort of legal intervention.  Further, the owner estimates there is a 20% chance that Baffert-trained horse will be able to compete in NYRA races due to a legal victory. 

With less than four months to the Kentucky Derby and five months until the Belmont Stakes, the owner is looking at overwhelming odds against his or her colt running in the two most esteemed American races.  Specifically, the owner’s estimated odds of being able to run in both the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes are 2 percent. 

A rational actor (or an algorithm) looking at the situation strictly from a probabilistic viewpoint (i.e., not considering any feelings of loyalty toward Mr. Baffert) would conclude that the correct course of action is to change trainers and do so before his/her colt runs in a race that grants Kentucky Derby qualification points.

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