11/03/2013 7:00PM

Breeders' Cup Juvenile: Baffert hopeful New Year's Day is his 2014 Kentucky Derby horse

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Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Bob Baffert says he was impressed with the way New Year's Day won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile following a two-month layoff in his stakes debut.

ARCADIA, Calif. - New Year’s Day had barely crossed the finish line in the eighth race at Santa Anita on the first Saturday in November before trainer Bob Baffert started thinking about the 11th race on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs.

“When he started drawing off I thought this is a serious Derby horse,” Baffert said the morning after New Year’s Day drew off to win the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by 1 1/4 lengths on Saturday.

Immediately after the race, the connections of every Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner often dreams of the Kentucky Derby six months hence. However, from the first 29 runnings of the Juvenile, only Street Sense, the 2006 Juvenile winner, was able to return to win the Derby the following spring. None of the horses that ran in last year’s Juvenile even competed in this year’s Derby.

As a three-time Derby winner and now a three-time Juvenile winner, Baffert believes that most Juvenile winners are simply precocious sorts that can’t handle the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Derby.

“Every year there are a lot of really fast horses that can carry their speed,” Baffert said. “He reminded me of Street Sense, the way he was kicking on there.”

Though Santa Anita’s main track played much fairer on Saturday than it had on Friday when it had a pronounced speed bias, New Year’s Day impressed by how much dirt he took, the fact he hadn’t run in two months, and was making his first start in a stakes race.

Baffert hopes that is enough to convince Eclipse Award voters that New Year’s Day is worthy of being crowned 2-year-old champion. He has won 2 of 3 starts.

“He proved he was the best horse because he took the worst of it,” Baffert said. “The light really hasn’t gone on yet. He won that race just on raw talent. If it was a mile and an eighth he was just going to open up on them. It was a pretty tough field compared to last year. Beating a field like that pretty handily … I guess it’s all up to the voters.”

Baffert said he would sit down with owners Gary and Mary West and map out a plan to get to the Kentucky Derby. He didn’t know if it would include a start in the CashCall Futurity at Betfair Hollywood Park in December.

“We’re going to sit down and talk about it with the Kentucky Derby being the main goal,” Baffert said.

Baffert said the Wests “really want to get to the Kentucky Derby.” Baffert said that last year, he had a nice horse in Flashback but that horse came up with an issue and missed the Triple Crown.

“The other horses we had weren’t good enough,” Baffert said.

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner Havana, who won the Grade 1 Champagne, was headed back east and will most likely start his 3-year-old campaign in south Florida for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Strong Mandate, the Hopeful winner who ran third in the Juvenile, is not expected to run again this year, according to trainer D. Wayne Lukas. He will spend the winter at Oaklawn, where last year Lukas prepared his 3-year-olds Oxbow, who won the Preakness, and Will Take Charge, who won the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby and was beaten a nose in Saturday’s $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Asked his opinion on the 2-year-old championship, Lukas said, “they haven’t sorted it out yet. I’d like to get out of the 14-hole and see what happens. We really had to use him from there.”

- additional reporting by Jay Privman