As many of you know, there aren't many horses in training that I like more than Fabulous Strike. The gutsy 6-year-old will try for his second Vosburgh win next week and then a decision will be made whether to send him back to California for the Breeders' Cup Sprint, where he finished fifth a year ago.
Until very recently, I thought Fabulous Strike was the best sprinter in the country. Not anymore. Zensational, or the "Beast" as Bob Baffert affectionately calls him, is a far and away No. 1. And he is only getting better.
How good is he? In a recent TVG interview, I heard Baffert say that the best three horses he's ever trained were, in no particular order, Point Given, Midnight Lute...and Zensational. I did a double take when I heard that. And this was before he won the Pat O'Brien.
As deep as the sprint division is this year, the BC Sprint might be the easiest Pick 6 single of the championships. Yes, I know we are still more than six weeks away, but Zensational looks unbeatable.
So far we know that Kodiak Kowboy and Vineyard Haven probably won't go, and the status of Munnings, Benny the Bull, Capt. Candyman Can, and of course, Fabulous Strike, are still in doubt. But I don't think it matters who shows up. This horse is so fast, and so deadly on synthetics, that they are all probably running for second.
I decided to call Baffert and ask him just how special this 3-year-old son of Unbridled's Song really is. After the interview, I came away thinking he is even better than I originally thought. Scary. You'll think so too after you read Baffert's comments.
JS: What is the plan for Zenzational leading up to the Breeders' Cup?
BB: I'll just work him up to the race. He's athletic and strong; very easy to get ready. He hasn't worked since the Pat O'Brien, so I'm going to work him tomorrow morning (Sept. 23). I have him here (at Santa Anita) now. I have to get him used to this surface.
JS: He won at Santa Anita last year so we know he likes the surface. But how much different is it than Del Mar and Hollywood (where he won his grade I races)?
BB: It's very different. They are all different. And we won't know how it is until the meet starts. It's tricky. When it's cool, it's a lot better. When it's hot, it gets like cake. It rises. We'll have to figure it out.
JS: When did you know how special Zensational was?
BB: We knew he was fast right away, but he wasn't mentally mature at first. When I ran him long (a mile March 27 at Santa Anita in an optional claimer), it was a disaster. He didn't know what was going on and still hung on for second.
He came back in that Friday night race (May 29 at Hollywood) and had every reason not to win. We hauled him over the day of the race; then it was bad atmosphere in the paddock. There was a speed horse in the race that just cooked him. He ran a :21 and then like a :43 half. It was crazy. Zensational had to move early at the three-eighths pole. He got the lead in like three jumps but it looked like there were a bunch of horses that were going to go by him like they always do on these tracks. But then Victor (Espinoza) hit him and he re-broke. We all just went ‘wow.' And he wasn't even tired after the race. Anyone who watched that race that day was amazed. That's when I nicknamed him the ‘Beast.'
JS: I saw that TVG interview when you said he was one of the top three horses you've ever trained. That took me by surprise.
BB: Well, what I meant by that is pure, raw talent. I have my top 5 in regards to that kind of Rachel Alexandra talent when they do things that just make you say ‘wow.' They are Midnight Lute, Silverbulletday, Indian Blessing, Point Given, and Zensational (in no particular order).
This horse is good and he is getting better. His sire was that way, but not like this. I think this might have been the perfect genetic mix. He's strong and big-boned. He's special. And he's just three.
He's fast, but he's a different kind of fast. I once saw where someone said a cheetah is the only animal that can go from zero to forty in two jumps. I think that's wrong now. This horse can do that.
The thing is, I told Victor not to ask him yet. I told him to wait until the Breeders' Cup. Hopefully then we'll see how good he really is.
JS: Wow. And I guess the fact that he is running at Santa Anita gives him even more of an edge in the Breeders' Cup?
BB: Honestly, I think he's at a disadvantage on synthetics. I think he'll be better on dirt. On synthetics it's hard to separate from other horses.
JS: That's saying a lot. Will you run him on dirt or at a longer distance next year?
BB: I'm not sure yet. We have time for that. I'm just trying to get him ready for the Breeders' Cup now. I don't want to jinx myself. I always get nervous when I run this horse because he is so good and I know he is going to win if nothing (bad) happens. I always wonder, is this going to be the day when he doesn't do what I know he can do?
JS: Zensational started out with Bill Mott. How was it that he came into your barn?
BB: I forget exactly what happened. He made his debut at Saratoga (for Mott) and something happened. Everyone knew about him at Saratoga. He was working like a monster. But I'm not sure what happened (when he ran fourth). He might have come out of the race with shins so they sent him back to the farm and turned him out the rest of the year. Mr. Zayat sent him to me (this year) and it turned out to be an awesome pick up.
He's changed so much in the last 60 days. I'm just trying to keep him happy and we'll keep our fingers for the Breeders' Cup. If all goes well, we'll find out how good he really is.