02/28/2011 1:36PM

2011 Kentucky Derby: Under the Radar - Awesome Patriot

Benoit & Associates
Awesome Patriot is one of several Kentucky Derby hopefuls trained by Bob Baffert.

We’re on the road to the Kentucky Derby, and Bob Baffert, as usual, has several leading 3-year-old contenders preparing for a trip to Churchill Downs.

What else is new?

Baffert has won the Derby three times, the Preakness Stakes on five occasions, and his Point Given romped in the 2001 Belmont Stakes. For Baffert, this Triple Crown business is old hat, and he has it down pat.

Among the Baffert sophomores is Jaycito, winner of the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes. He will likely make his 3-year-old debut in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 12.

The Factor has taken the turf world by storm with a pair of scintillating sprint victories, and he may try to successfully stretch his potent speed to nine furlongs in the Sunland Derby on March 27.

Hoorayforhollywood, a Storm Cat colt, won first out with a 96 Beyer Speed Figure on Feb. 21.

KENTUCKY DERBY NEWS: Track all the 3-year-olds on the Triple Crown trail

Uncle Sam, fourth in the Sham Stakes in his first start against winners, may receive another chance to grab graded stakes earnings.

Da Ruler looks like an interesting sprint candidate, while promising performers like Smash, Coil, D’pendable, and Free Pourin have yet to race this year.

There is one Baffert colt out there that may still be Under the Radar, however. His name is Awesome Patriot, and he’s getting ready to make his 2011 debut. We may see him in the San Felipe, or he may attempt to take the Lookin At Lucky route to Kentucky, via Oaklawn Park’s Rebel Stakes.

Awesome Patriot’s pedigree screams “Classic Distance.” A son of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again out of an unraced full sister to two-time Classic champion Tiznow, Awesome Patriot was foaled March 17, 2008, in Kentucky. The dam also is a full sister to four-time Grade 2 route winner Budroyale (118 Beyer top), nine-furlong California Cup Classic winner Tizbud, and Grade 2 sprint winner Tizdubai. One of the dam’s half-brothers, C’mon Tiger, was stakes-placed at a mile.

Bred by Colts Neck Stables, Awesome Pedigree was consigned to the 2009 Keeneland September yearling auction, where he was purchased for $350,000 by the Lanni Family Trust.

Awesome Patriot made his career debut in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight on Oct. 9 during the Oak Tree at Hollywood meet. Equipped with blinkers and a shadow roll, Awesome Patriot broke from the outside post in the field of five but soon cleared to the lead and the rail. Racing over a speed-favoring Cushion Track surface, Awesome Patriot faced challenges from both sides in upper stretch but prevailed despite racing greenly in the lane as he hopped back to his left lead inside the eighth pole. Although Awesome Patriot only received a 66 Beyer for this win, he was flattered when the second-, third-, and fourth-place finishers all returned to graduate next out.

Considering the late-developing and distance-oriented pedigree, it was somewhat surprising that Baffert wheeled Awesome Patriot back in two weeks to contest the six-furlong Jack Goodman Stakes at Oak Tree. Awesome Patriot tracked the pace while three wide and looked to be in good position turning for home but faltered to finish fifth, beaten four lengths by Premier Pegasus. If Baffert could take some solace out of the defeat, it was that Awesome Patriot remained on his correct lead for the entire stretch run and improved his Beyer 13 points while facing a pair of next-out winners.

Baffert remained fairly aggressive with Awesome Patriot, running him a month later in the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue Stakes at seven furlongs. Awesome Patriot prompted Premier Pegasus’s pace to the top of the stretch but again couldn’t keep pace late and drifted in during the final sixteenth-mile.

Baffert had been waiting to run Awesome Patriot around two turns, where the early pace would likely be kinder to his stoutly bred colt. Switching to dirt for the first time at Santa Anita on Dec. 29, Awesome Patriot only faced two other rivals over “wet-fast” going. Although the field was short in quantity, the second choice in the wagering behind Awesome Patriot was Riveting Reason, third in the Del Mar Futurity and Norfolk earlier in the year. Awesome Patriot broke well from post 2 but was pressured going into the first turn by Riveting Reason on the rail. Garrett Gomez eased Riveting Reason off the inside, and Awesome Patriot cleared to the fence entering the backstretch. The two favorites contested surprisingly solid fractions (22.47, 46.42, and 1:10.44) before Riveting Reason put a head in front at the quarter pole. The pair bumped off each other several times in upper stretch, but Awesome Patriot would not be denied. He came home his final half in 48.63, with a last quarter in 24.61 to win by a half-length. Awesome Patriot received an 89 Beyer, and that number may have been validated when Riveting Reason returned to finish a nose shy of Anthony’s Cross in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 12.

It will be interesting to see if Baffert follows in Lookin At Lucky’s hoofprints by sending Awesome Patriot to the Rebel for his 3-year-old coming-out party. He still must prove that he can handle fast dirt and has yet to successfully rate and win. However, a horse with this kind of pedigree, form, and connections must be respected. He’s welcomed with open arms into our Radar stable.