Baffert 2-year-olds are a real gamble

By Ron Flatter  (VSiN.com) 

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Hall of Fame Bob Baffert (l), shown with assistant Jimmy Barnes on horseback, is banned from the 2022 Kentucky Derby. That is not stopping him from running horses in prep races. (Ron Flatter photo)

Louisville, Ky.

Imagine for a moment being loaded with money. So loaded there was plenty to unload on any of the three sure-fire ways to blow an investment. As some financial wizard told Tony Kornheiser, they are a private plane, a restaurant and a racehorse.

Forget about the plane and the restaurant. How about being someone like Jack Wolf? He and his wife Laurie have actually been successful with their horses. They have been partners in such winners as 2018 Triple Crown champion Justify and 2020 horse of the year Authentic.

What they have in common is that they were trained by Bob Baffert, who in the turn of a drug test has become persona non grata at Churchill Downs. Not only have he and his horses been banned from the next two Runs for the Roses, they are also ineligible to collect points from Derby preps.

That creates a dilemma for owners who are unfailingly loyal like the Wolfs. Their Starlight Racing, George Soros’s SF Racing and Sol Kumin’s Madaket Stable are together again with Baffert to campaign 2-year-old colts like Rockefeller, who will be racing Friday in the $300,000 Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes on opening day at Santa Anita.

“We plan on using Baffert,” Wolf declared on the Ron Flatter Racing Pod. “He’s done a great job for us. We’re loyal to him.”

More than seven months before a May 1 urine test turned Medina Spirit from a Kentucky Derby winner into a disputed Kentucky Derby winner – and Baffert from a messiah to a pariah – the Wolfs and Soros and Kumin spent $750,000 to buy Rockefeller, then an unnamed Medaglia d’Oro colt, at the Keeneland September yearling sale.

As he and his legal team have fought to restore his good name, Baffert has quietly kept racing and winning in southern California. Rockefeller did his part, winning his six-furlong debut by 2¼ lengths Aug. 28 at Del Mar.

On the back of a bullet work last Saturday at Saturday at Santa Anita, Rockefeller (3-1) is a co-second choice to win the American Pharoah, a race named for Baffert’s first Triple Crown winner. And a race that this weekend has three of Baffert’s 2-year-olds.

Texas oilmen Peter Fluor and K.C. Weiner dropped $1.5 million this spring to buy Corniche (6-5), the Quality Road colt that is favored to win Saturday’s race. Also coming out of the Baffert barn, Corniche made a Del Mar debut that was rewarded not only with a victory but also a 98 Beyer Speed Figure from Daily Racing Form. That was the best for a 2-year-old so far this year.

The reclusive Denmark jewelry magnate Michael Lund Petersen spent $850,000 this spring for Flying Drummer (10-1), who has raced twice, finished second twice and been a beaten odds-on favorite once. This Gun Runner colt also races for Baffert.

Even if they were to finish 1-2-3, the 10, 4 and 2 points that would apply toward their Kentucky Derby campaign will completely dissolve.

“Effective Sept. 30, 2021, points from any race in the ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby’ will not be awarded to any horse trained by any individual who is suspended from racing in the 2022 Kentucky Derby or any trainer directly or indirectly employed, supervised or advised by a suspended trainer,” Churchill Downs announced Sept. 10. “Should a horse trained by a suspended trainer, or any trainer directly or indirectly employed, supervised, or advised by a suspended trainer, finish in a position that would have earned points in a ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby’ race occurring after Sept. 30, 2021, the points associated with that finish position will be vacated.”

Sept. 30, eh? What a coincidence that the American Pharoah Stakes falls the day after. And how the Iroquois Stakes that Baffert was never going to enter came before that.

By going to federal court, Baffert successfully forced the New York Racing Association to let him race this summer at Saratoga. It figures he will try to do the same thing with Churchill Downs, although it is said he has a different lawyer for that. Craig Robertson, who is handling the Baffert cases against NYRA and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, reportedly deferred to Clark Brewster, who also represents Medina Spirit’s owner Amr Zedan and famously worked for Trump administration femme fatale Stormy Daniels.

“Churchill Downs reacted in a way that they felt nobody’s bigger than the Kentucky Derby, so I guess they’re right,” Wolf said with more than a hint of sarcasm. “I’m the last person who wants to have a lawsuit. My vote would be it is what it is. We’ll have to wait and see. The last place I want to be is in court paying attorneys to do this stuff.”

For now Wolf is content to wait and see how the early preps go. No one is going to qualify for the Kentucky Derby by winning the American Pharoah Stakes. It has been said the Derby trail does not really begin until the February running of the Fountain of Youth. That certainly gives Brewster time to figure out how he will approach the ivory towers – or twin spires – of Churchill Downs, presumably with the help of a process server.

One has to figure Peter Fluor and K.C. Weiner and Michael Lund Petersen and the partnership that includes Jack Wolf will be very interested bystanders. Because the points they cannot get this weekend might yet fall their way with the rap of a gavel.

Bettors eventually paying attention to Kentucky Derby futures ought to remember that. Jurisprudence could create value for a horse that appears to be ineligible to run May 6 at Churchill Downs. Jurisprudence could also be the caveat that prevents a horseplayer from taking that action.

Jurisprudence was also the name of a lightly raced and winless Ogden Phipps mare that Mike Smith rode for Shug McGaughey in the late ’90s. If life could only be that simple again.

Racing notes and opinions

If there is one circuit that values speed more than any other, it is southern California. So why not go with the fastest horse in the $300,000 Grade 1 Awesome Again on Saturday? Bris ratings say that horse is Tripoli (3-1), the winner of the Grade 1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar. The problem is that field was not very good for a race of that caliber. Express Train (4-1) had beaten Tripoli one start earlier, and the cut back to 1⅛ miles might work out for him. Then again, has he faced the sort of competition that morning-line favorite Medina Spirit (5-2) saw in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness? I will not go with Medina Spirit, because it seems like he needs a loose lead, and he will not get it this weekend. Tizamagician (4-1) has shown legitimate, front-end speed in his last two races, including a second-place finish in the Pacific Classic, but he needs longer distances, not shorter. I say toss them all, at least from the top of the ticket. I am turning to Idol (5-1), last seen winning the Grade 1 Big ’Cap last winter. A bullet work Sunday did not hurt his case, and neither does a jockey like the suddenly at-home-in-California Joe Bravo. Give me Idol boxed with Tripoli, Express Train and Medina Spirit. The Awesome Again starts Saturday after 8 p.m. EDT.

Corniche (6-5) is forecast to be the heavy favorite in the American Pharoah on Friday at 7:29 p.m., but I will go with the other Baffert. Oh, wait. Which one? My eyes might be completely wrong, but Rockefeller (3-1) looks like he might be able to get the 8½-furlong distance better than Corniche. Oviatt Class (3-1), a maiden winner that has raced three times for Keith Desormeaux, also seems to be getting better with added distance, and he has won going two turns. One more thing to note about these first three days of racing at Santa Anita. It is going to be hot with highs in the 90s. So don’t discount a horse simply because it is sweating.

It is not a “win and you’re in” race, but Saturday’s $500,000 Grade 1 Woodward Stakes on Saturday at 5:45 p.m. EDT still might be a stepping stone to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Art Collector (3-1) is 2-for-2 since he was moved from Tommy Drury’s barn to Bill Mott. The pace here could set up perfectly for him as could the 1⅛-mile distance. His stablemate Forza Di Oro (5-1) was a nervous, even-money favorite last month in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, and it showed in his third-place finish. He should feel more at home this weekend at Belmont Park, where he is 2-for-2 going longer than a mile. Brendan Walsh is adding blinkers to the favorite Maxfield (7-5), a curious move for a horse that has lived up to his billing all but once in his nine-race career. Code Of Honor (5-2) and Dr Post (6-1) need more early pace than this field presents, and Mo Gotcha (50-1) is overmatched. Art Collector is the key horse here, and he will be in exotic boxes with Forza Di Oro and Maxfield.

Quick hitters on other weekend races:

* My Prankster (5-2) won by 10 lengths in a $100,000 maiden debut. The bet in the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont Park (Saturday, 4:40 p.m. EDT) is that he makes the first run against Grade 1 Hopeful winner Gunite (4-1) and catches him before the wire.

* He is already the Breeders’ Cup Classic futures favorite. At Churchill Downs this weekend, Knicks Go (2-5) should be a single on any multi-race ticket that includes what should be his gate-to-wire run in the $400,000 Grade 3 Lukas Classic (Saturday, 4:22 p.m. EDT). I don’t want to hear about Tacitus (5-2). He has been an 0-for-4 money pit since he won the 2020 Suburban.

* It is Peter Miller. It is a sprint. It is C Z Rocket (5-2). I will take him to win his second consecutive $200,000 Grade 2 Santa Anita Sprint Championship (Saturday, 7 p.m. EDT) over Flagstaff (7-2) and Dr. Schivel (2-1).

* I find it difficult to separate Rideforthecause (15-1), Dogtag (4-1) and Neige Blanche (8-1), who finished 1-2-3 on June 13 in the Possibly Perfect going the same 1¼ miles off the downhill turf course that they will use in the $300,000 Grade 1 Rodeo Drive (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EDT) at Santa Anita. But someone will screw up that trifecta and split them. My candidate for that is Going To Vegas (5-2), a Grade 2 winner last month at Del Mar. I will also throw in Luck (3-1), a Kitten’s Joy filly that used to be based in Paris. This is the quintessential spread race in horizontal bets.

* As noted Wednesday in Point Spread Weekly, I like co-favorite Tarnawa (3-1) to win the $5.8 million Grade 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Sunday, 10:05 a.m. EDT) in what will be rainy Paris. I will include Chrono Genesis (12-1), Japan’s best hope to end 100 years of European winners of the race, and Love (25-1) with six-time Arc-winning jockey Frankie Dettori, a real value play to bounce back after three straight losses.

* The Arc is part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series. There are four others on the Arc undercard Sunday. My win plays in those races are Fleur d’Iris (5-1) in the Boussac (8:15 a.m. EDT), Ebro River (3-1) in the Lagardère (8:50 a.m. EDT), Audarya (7-2) in the Opéra (10:50 a.m. EDT) and Winter Power (6-1) in the Abbaye (11:25 a.m. EDT). The early part of the Arc card will be shown live on FS2 in an 8-10:30 a.m. EDT telecast.

After 13 consecutive years of attending the Arc, this is the second in a row that I will have missed. Something about a worldwide health crisis. I am hoping to be there in 2022 if, as Hank Williams Sr. said, the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise.

Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday at VSiN.com. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is also available every Friday morning at VSiN.com/podcasts. On this week’s episode, Belmont Park morning-line writer David Aragona of TimeformUS previews Saturday’s Woodward Stakes. Starlight Racing’s Jack Wolf talks about the horses he has racing during opening weekend at Santa Anita. Racing Post’s Scott Burton looks at Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. VSiN’s Vinny Magliulo handicaps weekend races. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is available for free subscription at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.

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