Four Kentucky Derby contenders, including Messier, transferred out of Bob Baffert’s barn

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Embattled trainer Bob Baffert is transferring star Kentucky Derby prospect Messier and three other promising 3-year-olds to other barns, his legal team announced Thursday.

Baffert is currently banned from entering his horses in the Derby following the disqualification of last year’s race winner, Medina Spirit, due to a positive drug test. The Hall of Fame trainer — winner of a record six previous Kentucky Derbys — is continuing to challenge that ban and a subsequent suspension from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, but, in the meantime, his current group of 3-year-olds have been unable to accumulate qualifying points for this year’s Derby.

With the final series of major Derby prep races beginning this weekend, time is running short to get those horses into the May 7 race.

Messier is the top Derby contender in Baffert’s barn. The son of Empire Maker won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes by 15 lengths last month, posting a 103 Beyer Speed Figure, the highest number of any 3-year-old this year.

Baffert has pointed Messier to the Santa Anita Derby on April 9 — when a battle with another top Derby contender, Forbidden Kingdom, awaits — but Messier would not have been able to gain any Derby points in that race as long as he was in Baffert’s barn.

A press release from Baffert’s legal team Thursday announced that Messier, along with Doppelganger and McLaren Vale, would be moved to the barn of trainer Tim Yakteen, a former assistant to Baffert who is also based on the West Coast.

Another Baffert 3-year-old, Blackadder, is being transferred to the barn of trainer Rodolphe Brisset, a former assistant to Hall of Famer Bill Mott.

All four horses are owned by SF Racing LLC et al.

“Messier, Doppelganger, McLaren Vale, and Blackadder are some of racing’s most exciting colts this year, and we are grateful for Bob’s outstanding training effort with them,” said Tom Ryan of SF Racing LLC. “We salute Bob for making the tough but necessary decision that will allow them to prove themselves as top talents in racing this year.”

Neither Yakteen nor Brisset has ever saddled a Kentucky Derby starter.

Messier has zero Derby qualifying points as a result of the sanctions against Baffert, so he will likely need a victory or second-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby to make the Kentucky Derby starting gate. He is ridden by John Velazquez, who won the Kentucky Derby on Animal Kingdom (2011), Always Dreaming (2017) and the Baffert-trained Authentic in 2020, as well as riding Medina Spirit in last year’s race.

Blackadder — the son of Quality Road — won the El Camino Real Derby last month and is being considered for a run in the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park next weekend. Like the Santa Anita Derby, that’s one of eight Kentucky Derby preps that delivers 100 qualifying points to the winner.

Doppelganger finished second to Forbidden Kingdom in the San Felipe Stakes on March 5 and is expected to run in another one of the 100-point races, possibly the Arkansas Derby on April 2. He ran a bullet 6-furlong workout of 1:10.80 at Santa Anita Park on Sunday morning and is the son of Into Mischief, who sired the last two Kentucky Derby champs, Mandaloun and Authentic.

McLaren Vale — the son of Gun Runner — was third behind Forbidden Kingdom in the San Vicente Stakes on Jan. 29 and has not raced since, though he has posted a series of strong workouts over the last several Mondays at Santa Anita Park.

Baffert said in the statement released by his legal team that he encouraged the owners to move their horses from his barn. A statement from one of Baffert’s attorneys criticized the Derby ban handed down by Churchill Downs in the wake of Medina Spirit’s positive drug test and acknowledged that Baffert’s legal challenges “may not be finalized for several months.”