10/04/2012 5:04PM

Hoosier Park: Fed Biz can give Baffert yet another Indiana Derby victory

Benoit & Associates
Fed Biz, edging Jimmy Creed in the El Cajon at Del Mar, can give trainer Bob Baffert his third Indiana Derby win in four years.

Bob Baffert’s Southern California domination has been a recurring storyline during the 2012 racing season. Central Indiana is about to feel the power.

Baffert has strong contenders for all four open stakes races on an appealing 12-race program Saturday afternoon at Hoosier Park. Hoorayforhollywood will be among the choices in the $100,000 Schaefer, while Ellafitz figures a short-priced favorite in the $100,000 Mari Hulman George. In the Grade 2, $200,000 Indiana Oaks, the Baffert-trained Edens Moon can give likely favorite Grace Hall a tussle, while in the card’s headliner, the Grade 2, $500,000 Indiana Derby, Baffert sends his top 3-year-old Fed Biz into action.

Baffert, who won the Indiana Derby in 2009 with Misremembered and 2010 with Lookin At Lucky, has touted Fed Biz’s talent since this past winter, when the son of Giant’s Causeway emerged as a Triple Crown hopeful. Fed Biz was injured and taken out of training before he could compete in any of the big spring races but returned to action with a fast Del Mar mile win in the $100,000 El Cajon for 3-year-olds. Saturday’s race will be the longest of Fed Biz’s career and his first foray into graded stakes competition, and even if Fed Biz truly is a horse rich in talent, the Indiana Derby looks formidable.

Fed Biz, who has post 4 and will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano, was one of 12 3-year-olds entered in the 1 1/16-mile dirt race, and there are several other legitimate players, horses like Bourbon Courage, Neck ’n Neck, and Stealcase.

If not for Fed Biz’s glitzy connections, Bourbon Courage might be favored. The Lion Heart colt burst onto the scene in his debut February at Fair Grounds, earning a 103 Beyer Speed Figure in a runaway sprint win. Amazingly, the front-end speed Bourbon Courage showed at six furlongs has morphed into a closing kick in route races: Bourbon Courage rallied from more than 12 lengths behind to finish a close second in the West Virginia Derby and closed from eighth place capturing the Super Derby by five lengths.

“It has definitely surprised me a little bit the way he’s coming off the pace,” trainer Kellyn Gorder said. “To try him first time going a mile and an eighth, there were some question marks in my mind about how he’d handle it. It just looks to me like he’s maturing mentally a little bit more every time. He’s very sharp right now.”

Neck ’n Neck was among the best 3-year-old route horses stabled at Saratoga this summer, but after a good second to Alpha in the Jim Dandy Stakes, Neck ’n Neck checked in a flat sixth in the Aug. 25 Travers.

“He just never really picked up the bit,” trainer Ian Wilkes said. “He had trained very well for the race, but Leandro [Goncalves] never had any horse at any point.”

Goncalves, Hoosier’s leading jockey, rode Bourbon Courage in the Super Derby and sticks with that mount. Brian Hernandez Jr. picks up the ride on Neck ’n Neck, who has worked to Wilkes’s satisfaction since returning to his home base at Churchill.

“I’ve been very happy with him in the morning,” Wilkes said.

Stealcase finished just behind Neck ’n Neck in the Travers, but rebounded to win the Ontario Derby on Sept. 16 when allowed to drop well off the lead, a far different trip than he had when pressing the pace in the Travers.

“I think the Travers had a lot to do with bad instructions,” trainer Mark Casse said. “I’m hoping that’s what makes the difference.”

Easter Gift, winner in three of his five starts, comes off a blowout score in the Grade 2 Smarty Jones at Parx Racing, but must deal with a rail draw that could force him to set quick fractions. Tritap, a good second facing older horses in a Saratoga allowance race last out, is an under-the-radar possibility for trainer Steve Asmussen, who won this race last year with Wilburn.