JC / Railbird

Front Runners

Since the start of the Santa Anita meet, trainer Bob Baffert has once again become a familiar face in the track’s winner’s circle:

It wouldn’t be inappropriate at all if “Happy Days are Here Again” was being piped on a continuous loop at Baffert’s Santa Anita barn. Or if there was the overall feeling that the clock had been turned back a decade or more.

Baffert horses have won 17 races and finished in-the-money in 28 races out of 33 starts. That’s a win rate of 46%, an ITM rate of 76%. Of his 17 winners, all on the dirt, nine have won going wire-to-wire and another five have been within a length of the lead at the start. Always a Princess, winner of the El Encino Stakes on Sunday, counts among the latter. The 4-1 third-favorite chased Champagne d’Oro through early fractions of :22.38 and :45.41, drawing away in the stretch to finish 3 1/2 lengths ahead of favored Blind Luck with a final time of 1:41.47. Blind Luck, making her 4-year-old debut:

… never appeared comfortable in the El Encino as jockey Joel Rosario tried to get her going while racing from well off the pace in a field reduced to five 4-year-old fillies by three scratches. She shied from the whip a couple of times in the stretch.

She also appeared to take a bad step mid-stretch and then stumbled after the wire, dumping Rosario (the rider was uninjured). Despite her apparent dislike of the going, Blind Luck still ran the final 2 1/2 furlongs almost a second faster than did Always a Princess. DRF Formulator gives her closing time as :31.78, Always a Princess :32.73. Being a deep closer on a speed-favoring track is never easy, and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer seemed to be considering his options for the filly after the race, telling Steve Andersen, “We may have to do something else. If the track stays the same way, I don’t think we’ll run here.”

In the Sham Stakes on Saturday, even-money Tapizar went wire-to-wire to win by 4 1/4 lengths over Clubhouse Ride. The race marked the start of Santa Anita’s sophomore glamour series — otherwise known as Kentucky Derby preps — making Tapizar trainer Steve Asmussen’s newest Derby prospect.

If we’re starting to talk about Derby prospects, that means it’s also the time of year I start updating the big Derby Prep Schedule and Results chart.


Tiz nice to see the return of the Derby Prep Race spreadsheet.

Posted by The_Knight_Sky on January 17, 2011 @ 12:15 pm

Can’t imagine Blind Luck won’t be going to Oaklawn for the Apple Blossom. Maybe in between she can run at FG or Gulfstream, although I’m sure they’ll still think long and hard about the Santa Margarita since that’s a G1.

Posted by EJXD2 on January 17, 2011 @ 1:11 pm

Bafferts success would not be possible without the custom designed asphault Santa Anita has designed for him and the other quarter horse trainers. What a shame you praise people for these type of numbers yet folks like Zenyattas team rarely get this type of press. Possibly because they run their horses less and rest them as they should be. Praise to the Bafferts, O’Neills, Pletchers, and Assmussens for putting up the numbers at the expense of the animal. Great article.

Posted by s/s on January 18, 2011 @ 8:51 am

s/s – you’ve misread the post. I suppose sometimes it’s hard to tell that someone is pointing out a questionable situation (how out of hand the SA track is by way of stats) unless there’s name calling involved.

Posted by dana on January 18, 2011 @ 9:49 am

S/S: Interesting you mention Zenyatta since her trainer, John Shirreffs, was one of synthetics’ most out-spoken critics.

This notion that Baffert is suddenly relevant again is silly. The guy trained champions on synthetic. He’s the best in the game.

Posted by EJXD2 on January 18, 2011 @ 11:16 am

Take Control
El Corredor
Silver Charm
Real Quiet
War Emblem
What A Song

All injured or euthanized. So do you think they are singing Happy Days are here again. Oh, and by the way Sheriffs is stabled at Hollywood Park his choice of training track and yes it is synthetic.
When some day you breed and own horses and know the facts. Chime in.
The author of the article called out the name so no calling here. Once again, my point is not to praise trainers that dominate on dangerous tracks at the expense of these fine animals, Hold them accountable and stop drinking the koolaide.

Posted by s/s on January 19, 2011 @ 1:48 am

Thanks for the comments, everyone. My point about Baffert was not that the trainer is “suddenly relevant again” or that his stats are awesome. It was that after a few years in which he wasn’t so dominant at Santa Anita for various reasons — including the synthetic surface, which Baffert openly disliked — the trainer is resurgent at his favorite track, and that he is so with the sort of front-running, early-speed horse he believes brilliant, aided by a speed-biased surface. I’m not much a fan of that running style, or a training style that’s just as limited, and I think that on Sunday all combined to deprive a very nice filly of a win.

Posted by Jessica on January 19, 2011 @ 8:35 am

Someone who won’t sign his name telling me to chime in when I know something about horses is rich.

S/S: John Shirreffs is on the record in various publications expressing his distaste for synthetic surfaces and saying that he prefers dirt.

Your list of Baffert’s breakdowns is shameful. Real Quiet? A Grade 1 winner at 2, 3, & 4? Silver Charm? Both those horses raced sound in their careers.

Posted by EJXD2 on January 19, 2011 @ 9:01 am

I’m all for people chiming in when they’ve actually understood what they’ve read and have something to contribute to the conversation.

Posted by dana on January 19, 2011 @ 10:23 am