Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is already a two-time winner of the Indiana Derby having saddled Misremembered and champion Lookin at Lucky to victory in the Grade 2, $500,000 test in 2009 and 2010, respectively. He will seek a third win in the 1 1/16-mile stakes Saturday when it is run at Indiana Downs for the first time.
The Indiana Derby, along with the Grade 2, $200,000 Indiana Oaks, have found a new permanent at Indiana Downs, located southeast of Indianapolis. Hoosier Park, a seven-eighths oval in Anderson, northeast of the capital city, was the previous home of both races, became a Standardbred-only facility this year.
Baffert will be represented by Derby morning-line favorite Power Broker. A Grade 1 winner at two with a dominating performance in the FrontRunner at Santa Anita, the Pulpit colt missed the Triple Crown after a belated start to his sophomore season. However, he's been effective in his last couple of starts, capturing an overnight stakes on the Belmont Stakes day undercard and finishing a distant but clear second to Verrazano in the Haskell Invitational.
The Smarty Jones, contested at Parx on Labor Day, has yielded three Indiana Derby starters. Edge of Reality led wire-to-wire in winning that 1 1/16-mile heat by a neck, with reigning Canadian Horse of the Year Uncaptured third and the Todd Pletcher-trained Micromanage in fifth.
Edge of Reality, an improving son of Lawyer Ron, has won four of seven starts for trainer Tony Dutrow, while Grade 2 winner Uncaptured has won only the Prince of Wales, the middle jewel of Canada's Triple Crown, in six outings this term. Micromanage has much ground to make up on Power Broker, whom he finished behind in both the June 8 Easy Goer at Belmont and the Haskell.
Others potential contenders include Ruler of Love, the front-running runner-up in the West Virginia Derby and Super Derby; Illinois Derby runner-up Fordubai, who captured the $66,000 Straight Line at Arlington last out; Holy Lute, a lightly-raced colt who captured the El Cajon at Del Mar in his stakes debut last time; Mr Palmer, who captured the Private Terms at Laurel in March and was most recently fourth in the Wood Memorial for Bill Mott; and Bradester, a notable allowance winner at Gulfstream last winter for Eddie Kenneally.
Baffert also has a strong contender in the 1 1/16-mile Indiana Oaks with Fiftyshadesofhay. The daughter of Pulpit has unsuccessfully chased division leaders Princess of Sylmar and Beholder during the course of the year, but has taken down several lucrative prizes including the Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico, the Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows and the Santa Ysabel at Santa Anita.
Returning from a five-month break in the Oaks is Pure Fun, Grade 1 winner of the Hollywood Starlet last fall. The Pure Prize filly finished third in the Bourbonette Oaks to start the year before finishing off the board against the boys in the Lexington at Keeneland and against the division's best in the Kentucky Oaks.
Seaneen Girl, a graded stakes winner both this year and last, finished 3 1/2 lengths second to Firftyshadesofhay in the June 29 Iowa Oaks, but later captured the Monmouth Oaks by six lengths. She was most recently seventh of nine in the Cotillion at Parx.
Neck 'n Neck, who took the 2012 Indiana Derby, make his long-awaited return to action Saturday in the $100,000 Michael G. Schaefer Memorial at one mile and 70 yards. The Ian Wilkes trainee followed up his victory at Hoosier with a score against older horses in the Ack Ack Handicap at Churchill Downs, but has been sidelined the past 11 months due to injury.
The one to beat in the Schaefer might be the charismatic gray Taptowne, a front-runner who took the West Virginia Governor's at Mountaineer two back and has finished second in the Oaklawn Handicap, Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap and Ack Ack this season.
The eight-year-old veteran Rail Trip, a four-time graded stakes winner including the 2009 Hollywood Gold Cup, makes a rare appearance outside California. The Jump Start gelding has made just two starts since finishing second in last year's Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, finishing fifth in the Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood and sixth in the restricted Pirate's Bounty at Del Mar.
Other possible contenders are Seruni, third to Wise Dan in the Firecracker Handicap on turf last time, and Good Lord, a sprint stakes winner at Tampa Bay Downs and Ellis Park earlier this year.
The $100,000 Maru Hulman George, a 1 1/16-mile heat for fillies and mares, marks the return of Don't Tell Sophia, who easily captured the Pippin and the Bayakoa at Oaklawn Park before settling for minor awards in the Azeri and the Apple Blossom Handicap over the same track.
Stakes winner Magic Hour, runner-up in the Gardenia and the Iowa Distaff in her last two, figures as her strongest opponent in the field of nine.
There are five other stakes on the program, four of which are restricted to Indiana-breds. The other open stakes is the $65,000 Ta Wee, a one-mile grass test for three-year-old fillies.