New Year's Day wins Breeders' Cup Juvenile, looks like a fit for Kentucky Derby

Common sense would dictate that the horse who wins the biggest 2-year-old race of the year would then be destined for greatness six months later in the Kentucky Derby.

But when did common sense and racing ever go together?

Instead, it has been more of a curse. In the previous 29 years, only one horse has won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby — Street Sense in 2006 and 2007.

New Year's Day is hoping to change that history on the first Saturday in May.

The lightly raced 2-year-old was guided by jockey Martin Garcia to seventh at the three-quarter-mile pole, fourth at the top of the stretch and won going away by 11/4 lengths. In other words, Saturday's winner of the Juvenile at Santa Anita has some distance in him, which makes him perfect for the Derby.

"Not only is it exciting to win a Breeders' Cup race," said trainer Bob Baffert, "but the minute he hit the wire, I started thinking about the first Saturday in May."

But Baffert knows the road to the world's most famous horse race is a precarious one.

"We'll just take our time with him," Baffert said. "The thing is to keep him healthy, that's No. 1. And we'll make our long-term goal the Derby. [Owner] Gary [West and wife Mary] has been wanting a really big horse to go to the Derby, a big horse to win these big races."

Baffert could not be more correct when it comes to a horse's health. A look at the last five Juvenile winners shows a recurring theme.

2012 — Shanghai Bobby, unbeaten as 2-year-old, lost his first two races in Derby preps and suffered a pelvic stress fracture. He recovered, raced one more time and was retired late last year.

2011 — Hansen did make it to the Derby but finished ninth. He tore a tendon later in the year, was retired and sold to South Korea racing interests.

2010 — Uncle Mo was the clear Derby favorite but came down with a liver disease and was scratched the day before the race. He ran one more time and retired at the end of the year.

2009 — Vale Of York never returned to the United States after winning the Juvenile and was retired after one race in his 3-year-old career.

2008 — Midshipman was a leading contender for the Derby but a soft-tissue injury that took him out of any of the Triple Crown races. He raced only once in 2009 and was retired after seven races.

Baffert has a theory for the lack of Derby success for the Juvenile winner.

"I think a lot of times the Juvenile colt race is won by a horse that's very precocious. The 2-year-olds that have a lot of speed, carry their speed. ... You can tell when you watch the race that he ran a great race, but you know down the road the pedigree might get to him or whatever. But you still need a lot of luck to get there."

Racing luck remains one of the most fickle factors in all of sports. But for this one day and likely the next few months, optimism and dreams can live

Twitter: @Jcherwa

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