I have a lot of questions, more than a few answers and even some things to make you go hmmmm. For instance, whatever happened to C C Music Factory? And Arsenio Hall?
Well, we’re waiting. Wasn’t Medina Spirit supposed to have lost his Kentucky Derby victory by now? Nearly two weeks after Bob Baffert’s media tour de force outside his barn at Churchill Downs, the testing of that second split sample has yet to go forward. The popular question has been what is taking the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission so long? But veterinarian Dr. Mary Scollay, the respected head of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, said the question might be better pointed toward owner Amr Zedan and Baffert. As she told the Louisville Courier-Journal, “I imagine the initial strategy was, ‘Let’s see if we can drag our feet so that the split isn’t back before the Belmont,’ thinking that (the New York Racing Association) would be less willing to issue a suspension if it weren’t a fully confirmed finding in Kentucky.” But NYRA did drop the hammer. (See below.) “I don’t know how that impacts the urgency or lack thereof in running the split,” Scollay said. The KHRC is bound by privacy laws not to say anything, even though Baffert pre-empted a lot of leaks with that ballsy media gaggle May 9. After the first test came back positive for betamethasone, the Medina Spirit team had three business days to demand the examination of the split sample. And it did. Apparently, though, there is no regulatory hurry in to declare which laboratory that it wants to do the testing.
Why now? Which brings us to the New York Racing Association’s decision to indefinitely ban Baffert, his horses, his employees, his thoughts, his dreams, his prayers, etc. It was like a fine wine that had been stored in a steamy attic. The first impression of that declaration might have been a good sip from a public-relations standpoint, but there was no getting around that acrid aftertaste. Like Churchill Downs in its decision not to let any of Baffert’s horses enter its races, NYRA made a bold statement as if to declare that no man is bigger than the sport itself. That seems to have been well received in the main. But why the wait until after Medina Spirit lost the Preakness before drawing that line in Big Sandy? Had he won at Pimlico, would the NYRA ban have been announced after the June 5 running of the Belmont Stakes? Precarious though it may have been, a live Triple Crown chance would have fueled more buzz for the sport, not to mention money. Medina Spirit’s third-place finish in the Preakness made the point moot – and the timing of Monday’s announcement convenient.
Prat fall. Flavien Prat’s decision to ride Hot Rod Charlie rather than Rombauer in the Belmont Stakes has made the odds go longer for the Preakness winner. Rombauer went from 4-1 to 9-2 at one global bookmaker to win the Belmont. That is exactly where Hot Rod Charlie has stood for the past few days. Now that Godolphin confirmed in a Tweet that Essential Quality is targeting the Belmont, the beaten Kentucky Derby favorite has steadied at a shortest-priced 3-1. Rock Your World is 5-1, and Midnight Bourbon has curiously drifted to 6-1. Maybe it was the fact Rombauer overtook him in the stretch at Pimlico, but it says here that 6-1 for Midnight Bourbon would be a profound overlay.
Not so fast. What looked like a tsk-tsk matchup of Baffert and Preakness-winning trainer Michael McCarthy from Saturday’s tiny field in the Grade 2 Santa Maria Stakes might not live up to its billing. McCarthy told Jon White, the morning-line maker at Santa Anita, that his two-time Grade 1 winner Ce Ce (6-5) might be scratched to point her toward the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap on the Belmont Stakes undercard. That leaves Baffert with Coolmore’s 4-year-old filly As Time Goes By (2-5) to assume an even bigger role as the likely favorite coming off her 9¼-length score last month in the Grade 2 Santa Margarita. That was at nine furlongs; Saturday’s early 4:30 p.m. EDT feature is 8½. Only three other fillies and mares were entered; one was already scratched, and the other two look overmatched. Baffert has lost with his last nine starters, including eight since the Medina Spirit betamethasone announcement. Five of the last eight were favorites. It is hard to imagine Baffert still being on the schneid by Saturday night.
Sneaky good. Forget the Santa Maria. In fact, forget Santa Maria. I did 44 years ago when a TV station there did not see fit to give me a job. So there. The better race Saturday looks like Grade 3 Honeymoon for 3-year-old fillies going 1⅛ miles on the Santa Anita turf at 7:19 p.m. EDT. It is not necessarily for value but to see a rivalry budding. Going Global (6-5) brings in a four-race winning streak, including two graded stakes for trainer Phil D’Amato. Madone (9-5) is 4-for-5, the only flaw being an eighth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. While Madone was cutting her teeth last summer at Del Mar, Going Global was racing in Europe for Michael Halford, one of The Aga Khan’s trainers. After three poor results on softer turf, she broke her maiden last November on the all-weather track at Dundalk, England. Since her new owners shipped her to California, Going Global is 3-for-3, including a nine-furlong, Grade 3 victory in April her last time out. Madone has raced just once since the Breeders’ Cup, winning a Grade 3 at Santa Anita. This will be her first time going longer than a mile. Midnight Diva (12-1) should lead early, but this is a big step up for her. In the end Going Global should get first run with Prat, and it will be up to Madone to try and close late with Juan Hernández and steal the victory. I will key Madone with Going Global and Midnight Diva boxed in on the exacta and trifecta tickets.
Adieu, Baltimore. My lasting memory of my trip to the Preakness will be Baffertgate – and the long days covering it. My next most-lasting impression is that it seems Baltimore is showing signs of a true rebound from COVID. Although they still have a way to go, the downtown and Inner Harbor are regaining their pre-pandemic mojo. It was not hard to find good restaurants again, and my hotel was spectacularly good. (Since I almost never say that, bookmark the Residence Inn on Light Street.) Alas, there is poor old Pimlico. Rotting. Crumbling. Eroding. All those old-school newspaper words still apply, because the place looks like it was built when Joey Pulitzer was still cranking out yellow copy. The Maryland government agreed last year to spend $375 million to rebuild Pimlico, but there has been no sign of a groundbreaking. The best guess now is that construction will not begin until at least 2022 – after next year’s Preakness. So the can gets kicked down Northern Parkway as it has been for generations. Bring on another year of rotting, crumbling and eroding. Oh, yes. About an hour after the Preakness was run, a fire broke out in a car parked just outside the clubhouse turn. It was quickly put out by the Baltimore City Fire Department. Too bad. Maybe that was the last, best chance to replace Pimlico.
Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday at VSiN.com. It is posted more frequently during coverage of big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday morning at VSiN.com/podcasts. With a break in the Triple Crown, this week’s episode features a look back on the Preakness with winning owners Diane and John Fradkin talking about Rombauer. The Bob Baffert controversy and next month’s Belmont Stakes are discussed by Louie Rabaut, Megan Devine and Mike Gandolfo of “The Horse Racing Happy Hour.” VSiN’s Vinny Magliulo handicaps weekend races. Every episode of the RFRP is available via free subscription at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.