Game Winner Bob Baffert
Candy Ride (ARG)—Indyan Giving, by A.P. Indy
Baffert worked him in company with a tough older horse in Dr. Dorr and I like the way he laid off him early, hooked him and ran toe to toe with him, finishing on even terms in 1:01 3/5. This was a competitive work as the pair even brushed galloping out. The guess here is that he will go for the Rebel Stakes, the scene of the Wests’ first big stakes score. But no one keeps his cards closer to the vest than Baffert, so it is futile to try to predict what he’s going to do.
Improbable Bob Baffert
City Zip—Rare Event, by A.P. Indy
He’s like a machine. If you want him to work fast, he works fast. If you want him to work slow, he works slow. After a blazing fast work and then a slow work, he was back in full gear, working six furlongs in 1:12 4/5 by himself, once again displaying those smooth effortless strides and flawless mechanics. He is an absolute pleasure to watch in action. It seems like a such a long time ago that he and Game Winner ran, and it is an understatement to say their debuts will be greatly anticipated. Once they run in their respective races the Derby picture will become much clearer.
War of Will Mark Casse
War Front—Visions of Clarity (IRE), by Sadler's Wells
He continued his impressive winning streak on dirt with an authoritative victory in the Risen Star Stakes. You had to love the way he broke sharply from the 14 post and quickly made his way to the two-path, then eventually settled in stride and had no trouble putting the big field away, winning in workmanlike fashion. Being quick out of the gate the way he is will serve him well in a 20-horse Derby field where position into the first turn is so important. There are two ways of looking at the Risen Star scenario. On one hand you can say the pace collapsed leaving him with an easy lead. On the other hand you can say that proven stakes horses like Mr. Money and Manny Wah backing up, along with $2.6 million yearling Gun It makes him look better being the only horse attending the pace to go on. Can he become the first Risen Star winner and first horse to run in the Fair Grounds series of stakes to win the Kentucky Derby?
Win Win Win Michael Trombetta
Hat Trick (JPN)—Miss Smarty Pants, by Smarty Jones
I keep liking him more every week. Preparing for his stretch-out in the Tampa Bay Derby, he turned in a sharp six-furlong breeze in1:13 2/5. Remember, in his first five generations he has five Kentucky Derby (G1) winners, four Preakness (G1) winners, three Belmont (G1) winners, and three winners of the 2-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup. Sure he still has to prove himself going two turns, but so far he looks like the real deal. He was also flattered when his conqueror in the Heft Stakes, Alwaysmining, ran off with the Miracle Wood Stakes on Saturday, scoring in impressive fashion for his fourth consecutive victory.
Signalman Kenny McPeek
General Quarters—Trip South, by Trippi
I don’t know if he’s quick enough to handle a crowded and deep Fountain of Youth field with a short finish line, and could have a better setup in the Tampa Bay Derby. But he did turn in a sharp work at Gulfstream, going five furlongs in 1:00 breezing. So we’ll see if he stays at his home track. He doesn’t have to win, just be closing and competitive. As of now, McPeek said he is undecided where he will run. So far, five horses coming out of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes have run poorly this year, including the second- and third-place finishers. But two horses, Roiland and Everfast have placed in stakes at 69-1 and 128-1. But his signature race still may be his third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He just keeps coming at you.
Country House Bill Mott
Lookin At Lucky—Quake Lake, by War Chant
He and Nolo Contesto were my two big maiden-winning touts in the first Derby Dozen, and now that he has shown his class against a horse like War of Will, he has to jump into the Top 12. Of course I wasn’t crazy about him lugging in through the stretch, but I am going to attribute that to greenness that Mott will work on and hope that’s all it was. But his race was too good to ignore. To be honest, I’m not sure how good the Fair Grounds and Oaklawn horses are. He obviously likes Gulfstream, too, so we’ll see where Hidden Scroll stands come Florida Derby time before trying to figure out if Country House will return for the Louisiana Derby, which looks like the logical move right now. He has the look of a stayer, and assistant trainer Riley Mott said, “Physically, he’s built like a grown man. If you had a two-turn horse, you would want it to look like him.” He also has the Rasmussen Factor (RF) in his pedigree, being inbred 4x4 to the great broodmare No Class, dam of four champions – Sky Classic, Regal Classic, Grey Classic, and Classy N Smart, who in turn produced Canadian Triple Crown winner and Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Dance Smartly, as well as two-time champion sire Smart Strike.
Omaha Beach Richard Mandella
War Front—Charming, by Seeking the Gold
He worked a half in a sharp :47 flat, second fastest of 55 works at the distance. Like with Win Win Win, I may be fooling myself in believing he’s a mile and a quarter horse when many feel both probably want shorter distances. But I still don’t believe it was the mile distance that got him beat against Nolo Contesto. I think he was just outrun by a very good horse in his first start on dirt. There is just something classy about him that I like and I believe he is just going to keep improving. He sure has the pedigree of a horse who wants to go long. Mandella has several possible races in mind for his next start.
Nolo Contesto John Sadler
Pioneerof the Nile—Applauding, by Congrats
Keeping sharp with a bullet five-furlong work in :59 3/5 in company. He has a tough assignment taking on one of the Baffert beasts and Instagrand in the San Felipe, especially having missed the Robert Lewis, but this will at least tell everyone just where he’s at and how he stacks up against the best before moving forward to the Santa Anita Derby. In his work, he broke off six lengths behind his workmate. He caught up on the turn and was being pushed along in the stretch, feeling one short smack with the whip. He wanted to get out a bit going into the turn while galloping out, and seems to still have a bit of greenness in him, which he showed in his maiden victory, but was good enough to win anyway. That’s why I would have loved to seen him in the Robert Lewis. But Sadler didn’t want to subject him to the sloppy track.
Mucho Gusto Bob Baffert
Mucho Macho Man—Itsagiantcauseway, by Giant's Causeway (IRE)
Baffert has a tough decision: do you run him against Improbable or Game Winner, either in the San Felipe or Rebel Stakes? But there are other options to keep them apart and all of them winning. He’s been 1 1/16 miles twice and could love cutting back to the one-turn mile of the Gotham, which would set him up for a race like the Blue Grass Stakes four weeks later. He’s third man on the totem pole right now, but from a visual standpoint, his victory in the Robert Lewis was exactly what you wanted to see, as he could not have won any easier, and his change of tactics will only help him and make him a much more dangerous opponent.
Hidden Scroll Bill Mott
Hard Spun—Sheba Queen, by Empire Maker
I have to admit, with so many horses deserving to be in the Top 12, it is a major gamble having him on here off only one race, but you won’t see a more impressive debut, especially going a mile, so you have to go with the flow, thanks to Justify. He breezed a half in an easy :50 at Payson Park as he readies to jump into deep water in the Fountain of Youth Stakes off that one maiden score. His negative-2 Thoro-Graph figure in that race is far and away the fastest figure of any horse on the Derby trail. So just how special is this colt? And can he duplicate that jaw-dropping maiden romp on a fast track? No horse’s next race will be more widely anticipated, maybe not even Game Winner’s and Improbable’s. He does have that mystique about him.
Dream Maker Mark Casse
Tapit—To Dream About, by Monarchos
I kept him on instead of Global Campaign only because he is more experienced and seems like he has made great progress from 2 to 3. But global Campaign has looked awesome in his two career starts. Casse has the luxury of having one of the Derby favorites in War of Will, so he can now turn his attention to out-of-town races for this colt. The most logical spot looks to be the Tampa Bay Derby on March 9. It’s a big step coming off a Fair Grounds allowance win, but this colt has a world of potential and if he can handle that quirky surface he could take a huge step forward. Again, it is more about the eye test with him, as he didn’t beat a particularly strong field. But I did love what I saw an am basically taking a shot with him.
Super Steed Larry Jones
Super Saver—Totally Tucker, by Elusive Quality
He was my third big tout in the first Derby Dozen even after his defeat in the six-furlong Sugar Bowl, but I admit I gave up on him after his shockingly dismal performance in the Smarty Jones Stakes. Sent off at 62-1 in the Southwest Stakes (G3) he again showed off that same explosive move on the turn he showed in his maiden score, inhaling the field and quickly drawing clear. This was a huge bounce-back performance. Yes, his three-length lead at the eighth pole dwindled down to three-quarters of a length at the wire, but when you make that big a move on the turn and open such a big lead so quickly, it is understandable if it starts to take a toll in deep stretch. You know he has the kind of turn of foot you like to see in the Derby, so it’s just a question of timing it right. What gives me confidence is that Jones never gave up on him, always believing he was very talented, and thought enough of him to run him back in the Southwest after the Smarty Jones. Even Bankit, who also ran poorly in the Smarty Jones as the favorite, came back with a much-improved performance in the Southwest, while the Smarty Jones winner Gray Attempt finished last in the Southwest, which leads one to believe the Smarty Jones was an odd race that meant little and that you can’t really a get a good line yet on the Oaklawn horses.
KNOCKING ON THE DOOR
Right now there is a major log jam for the No. 12 spot, with SUENO, who ran a terrific race in the Southwest Stakes, INSTAGRAND, GALILEAN, GUNMETAL GRAY, BOURBON WAR, MAXIMUS MISCHIEF, TAX, NOT THE BRADY, MUCHO, and GLOBAL CAMPAIGN, just to name several, who are right on the cusp. More on them later. I'm still a fan of Bourbon War, even though Cutting Humor, who finished second to him last time, came back and finished out of the money in the Southwest Stakes as the 2-1 favorite.
There isn’t much to say about GALILEAN’S victory in the Cal Cup Derby except I’m not sure if it helped him any when he makes that huge leap to the Santa Anita Derby. With Jerry Hollendorfer having two possibilities for the San Felipe in Instagrand and Gunmetal Gray, there really wasn’t any other place to run him. He dominated his four overmatched opponents on Thoro-graph. In their 18 combined starts, every one was a double-digit Thoro-Graph figure, while Galilean was coming off back-to-back figures of “4 1/2.” That put Galilean in another stratosphere speed-wise. The best part of his race was that he rated kindly in third and bided his time until it was time to inhale his field nearing the head of the stretch. He drew off under a light hand ride to score by 4 1/2 lengths over the longest shot on the board Feeling Strong.
As I’ve been saying, Galilean is an impressive-looking horse and you have to love the way he moves with those powerful strides. He is a magnificent specimen and there is a reason why they paid $600,000 as a 2-year-old at Barretts. But now it’s time to enter a different realm when he throws down the gauntlet in the Santa Anita Derby. There is a reason I had him in the original Top 12, but it was difficult to keep him there for so long when he is still toying with Cal-breds. Now we will finally find out what he’s made of.
Getting back to COUNTRY HOUSE, as I’ve been saying, his 70 Beyer speed figure in his last start looked to be way off base. The crowd at Fair Grounds obviously agreed making him the co-second choice at 6-1 in the 14-horse Risen Star Stakes. In his previous start, it was very impressive the way he overcame a horrendous start, dropped far back in last and then turned in a big sweeping run on the far turn, powering home with strong final fractions of :23 2/5 and :06 flat to win off by 3 1/2 lengths. I was most impressed with his physical presence and long strong, as if he had a lot of scope for improvement.
His runner-up performance in the Risen Star bodes well for future improvement, but his antics in the stretch made one wonder just where he’s at, considering he didn’t do them in his last start. He again broke a step slowly and had only two horses beat going into the first turn. He settled near the back of the pack and made a strong steady run around the far turn. He had a good clear path turning for home, but immediately started lugging in and continued to do it nearly the entire stretch despite occasional left-handed whipping. At one point he ducked in about five paths getting precariously close to the rail, then tried it again until he finally settled into his stride and straightened out in the last 70 yards, with Luis Saez, who had to keep yanking him out, just mildly hand-riding him to the wire.
At first glance, it looked as if he just ran very greenly in the 14-horse field. In his last start at Gulfstream there were only five other horses in the field. So I am going to assume that he will learn from this experience and we’ll see a much more polished and professional colt next time.
The Risen Star third-place finisher ROILAND is a hard horse to figure out. We know he has a strong late kick and has won at Churchill Downs. The Risen Star was second race blinkers on, a favorite handicapping tool of mine. He doesn’t have a pedigree that shouts mile and a quarter, although his tail-female family is loaded with stamina, so we’ll just see how he progresses. Right now he looks like a horse who can pick up the late pieces of a race, but the pace would have to totally collapse for him to have a chance to win. The pace actually did collapse in the Risen Star except for the winner.
The sleeper in the Risen Star was HOG CREEK HUSTLE, second in the LeComte, who dropped back to next-to-last and unleashed a powerful move outside horses on the far turn and then fanning eight-wide, out there by himself. He closed steadily without threatening and simply couldn’t sustain that big run and going so wide. He was passed by Roiland in the final sixteenth and had to settle for fourth, beaten six lengths. What I like about this son of Overanalyze, especially considering his running style, is that he had previously won or placed at five furlongs, six furlongs, seven furlongs, and a mile and 70 yards, and now finished on the board going 1 1/16 miles. His half-brother was a stakes-winning sprinter and his tail-female family is geared for speed, so we’ll just have to see how much farther he wants to go.
Although there were five other stakes on Saturday, there are questions regarding how many Derby horses they produced, as two were on a synthetic surface, one was in Maryland and more than likely produced a legitimate Preakness horse, one was for Cal-breds, and the other was at Turf Paradise.
The one beaten horse over the weekend that really impressed me was SUENO, whose performance in the Southwest Stakes boosted the California form noticeably. He was stuck behind and between horses the whole way and when the real running began he was trapped behind horses and totally boxed in as Super Steed was charging past him. He finally found an opening and closed strongly, but Super Steed had built up too big a lead. I loved the way he was striding out in the final sixteenth. This colt is improving with every start and definitely is one to watch, especially in the hands of Keith Desormeaux. You also have to give high grades to third-place finisher LONG RANGE TODDY, who was stuck down on the inside and had to steady nearing the quarter pole, He split horses in the upper stretch and rallied along the rail to finish a close third, beaten only two lengths.
The two races on synthetic were won in impressive style, with SOMELIKEITHOTBROWN, a close third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and placed in two other graded grass stakes, really took to the Polytrack at Turfway Park, rolling to a 3 1/2-length victory as the even-money favorite. We do have to remember that in his only start on dirt, he was up the track in the slop in his career debut at Saratoga. A son of Big Brown, out of a Tapit mare, he probably will target the Jeff Ruby Stakes at Turfway and would be an unknown factor returning to the dirt in the Kentucky Derby.
At Golden Gate, ANOTHERTWISTAFATE, made it three romps in a row on the Tapeta surface, cruising home by seven lengths over the Bob Baffert-trained KINGLY after setting all the pace. You can’t knock his final three-eighths in :36 2/5 with a final eighth in :12 flat. Like Somelikithotbrown, he never picked his feet up in his only start on dirt, getting beat 15 lengths in his career debut at Santa Anita.
In the Miracle Wood Stakes at a mile at Laurel, ALWAYSMINING, who had been training brilliantly at Fair Hill, made it four straight victories, all wire-to-wire, as he drew off to a 4 1/4-length score, coming home his last two eighths in :11 3/5 and :12 1/5 and covering the mile in a snappy 1:35 1/5. He has a ton of stamina on top and bottom and should be able to carry his speed a long way. It would seem more logical for him to go the Maryland route and point for the Preakness, but you can never underestimate the lure of the Derby. And let’s not forget, he did beat the highly regard Win Win Win in the Heft Stakes going seven furlongs and we all saw what Win Win Win did in his next start. But he has been one-dimensional and didn’t really get good until turned over to trainer Kelly Rubley. Since then his Beyers have increased with each start and he has run seven furlongs in 1:21 4/5, easily defeating subsequent Jerome Stakes runner-up Our Braintrust, and 1:22 3/5, defeating Win Win Win, and as stated, both those horses went on to run huge in stakes their next start.
With Riley Allison Derby winner NITROUS passing the Turf Paradise Derby, SENOR FRIDAY, favored at 7-5, had no trouble stalking the pace and drawing off to a 2 1/4-length victory in 1:44 2/5 for the 1 1/16 miles. Nitrous remained at Fair Grounds, where he breezed a half in :50 4/5.
One non-stakes race of interest was the impressive maiden victory by the Bret Calhoun-trained BY MY STANDARDS, who after a pair of seconds and a third, finally found the winner’s circle at Fair Grounds despite breaking from the 12-post, a bumping incident at the start, and racing wide the whole way. Tracking the favorite Free Speech in fourth, he moved up to challenge and had no trouble drawing away to win by 4 1/4 lengths, covering the 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.04, which was only 45 one-hundredths of a second slower than the Risen Star and faster than the Mineshaft Handicap for older horses. I’m not sure how far this son of Goldencents wants to go, but he sure looked going 1 1/16 miles.
Todd Pletcher has been getting a late start with some of his more brilliant 3-year-olds, with two of them not making their career debuts until February. First there was one of the most impressive maiden winners seen this year, SOLDADO, who breezed a half in :49 2/5. On Feb. 18 at Oaklawn, Pletcher unleashed first-time starter INTREPID HEART, who looked awesome cruising to a 7 3/4-length victory going a mile after dueling for the early lead. The son of Tapit came home his final eighth in :12 2/5 to cover the mile in 1:38 flat. Out of the Touch Gold mare Flaming Heart, he is a half-brother to Commissioner, winner of the Hawthorne Gold Cup and Pimlico Special and a narrowly beaten second in the Belmont Stakes. If you want versatility in a mare, Intrepid Heart is also a half-brother to Breeders’ Cup Sprint runner-up Laugh Track. It will be interesting to see if Pletcher tries to pull a Justify and puts Soldado and Intrepid Heart on the Derby trail, knowing they would have only three career starts without having raced at 2. His big disappointment was CUTTING HUMOR, who had a rough and very wide trip in the Southwest Stakes as the 2-1 favorite. He made a bid approaching the far turn, but tired in the stretch, finishing seventh. He no doubt would have been close had he not been taken out going into the first turn and stuck wide the entire race.
In the other division of that Oaklawn maiden race, the Steve Asmussen-trained COMEDIAN also was very impressive as he drew off to a 3 1/2-length victory, coming home his last eighth in :12 1/5 to complete his mile in 1:38 1/5. The son of Ito Mischief was coming off a pair of seconds at Oaklawn and apparently loved the switch to Oaklawn.
The following race, Asmussen struck again with LAUGHING FOX, who was coming off an impressive stretch rally to break his maiden by a neck over a track that was conducive to speed. This time he made his move earlier and was game in the stretch to come again after being headed by SLEEPY EYES TODD, drawing clear late to win by 1 1/4 lengths. His time of 1:44.08 for the 1 1/16 miles was only three one-hundredths of a second slower than the Southwest Stakes.
At Gulfstream Saturday, SHANCELOT won at first asking going seven furlongs, scoring by a neck, with the 3-5 favorite FORT WORTH, trained by Pletcher, finishing third after a rough trip.
In Japan, the two Derby-nominated horses, DERMA LOUVRE and MASTER FENCER, closed well in the Hyacinth Stakes, but had to settle for third and fourth respectively behind unbeaten OVAL ACE, a son of Henny Hughes who had won his debut by nine lengths before winning an allowance race, and WEITBLICK, who got nailed late by the winner.
Trainer Greg Sacco said Hopeful and Jerome winner MIND CONTROL is right on schedule for the March 9 Gotham Stakes and should be a “fresh, strong horse” coming off the two-month break. The son of Stay Thirsty backed up his trainer’s comments by turning in a bullet five-furlong work in 1:01 3/5 at Belmont, fastest of 23 works at the distance.
The big questions surrounding Sam F. Davis winner WELL DEFINED is how far can he carry his speed and can he prove he’s not a one-dimensional speed horse who needs the lead. Well, the truth is, his sire, Withdistinction, is by Storm Cat, out of an Alydar mare, and his broodmare sire is stamina influence Medaglia d‘Oro, who is by stamina influence El Prado, who is by stamina influence Sadler’s Wells, who is by stamina influence Northern Dancer. Also, his dam is inbred to Hall of Famer Damascus, winner of the Belmont and two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup among his many stakes winners, through his sons Bailjumper and Private Account, both mainly stamina influences. So with the astute veteran Kathleen O’Connell training him, perhaps he can stretch out his speed farther than people think.
Last year’s impressive Champagne Stakes winner COMPLEXITY had his second short blowout at Stonestreet training center, breezing thre furlongs in :39. I doubt Chad Brown is thinking Derby with this colt, who still has to avenge his poor showing in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Brown told DRF’s Dave Grening that NETWORK EFFECT is off the Derby trail with an undisclosed minor setback. GLOBAL CAMPAIGN, who I am sure will be back in the Top 12, breezed three furlongs in a bullet :36 2/5 at Palm Meadows.
The Fountain of Youth Stakes on March 2 is shaping up to be a very deep field of top-class 3-year-olds who are either making their 2019 debut, coming off victories, or trying for redemption after a defeat. And there is even one horse looking to move up to superstar status. So this race could result in major changes in the Top 12 and the Derby picture in general. In addition to Top 12 horses pointing for the race, Hidden Scroll and Bourbon War, Holy Bull winner HARVEY WALLBANGER breezed a half in :50 3/5. Undefeated VEKOMA, making his 3-year-old debut, turned in a sharp five-furlong work in 1:00 3/5 breezing at Palm Beach Downs. Looking for redemption after a disappointing effort is CODE OF HONOR, who breezed five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 and then followed it with an identical breeze on Tuesday. Another looking to bounce back off a defeat is MAXIMUS MISCHIEF, but he has not worked since finishing third in the Feb. 2 Holy Bull Stakes. MUCHO, another who had been absent from the work tab, returned with a bullet half-mile breeze in :48. Time is running out for him. But if Mott can get a few more works in him and two starts he still has a shot. Also returning to the work tab was Mucho Macho Man winner MIHOS, who disappointed in the Holy Bull Stakes. The son of Cairo Prince just went an easy three furlongs in :38.
Activity has been heating at Santa Anita, as the San Felipe Stakes draws closer. The undefeated an brilliant INSTAGRAND, who could be any kind, was given a stiff six-furlong work in 1:13 2/5, breaking off about five lengths behind a pair of workmates, who battled with each other before opening the inside for Instagrand, who came through under just some nudging by his rider and hit the wire a nose in front of one of the workmates before galloping out strongly. With the colt coming off a seven-month layoff and only two short sprints, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer understandably has been tightening the screws.
The work that really turned heads was the powerful six-furlong work in a bullet 1:10 3/5 by the Bob Baffert-trained ROADSTER, who at one point looked to be Baffert’s best young horse. Coming off a 5 1/2-length layoff, the son of Quality Road came charging out of the gate in company and was pushed along pretty vigorously. Laying three-quarters of a length off his workmate, he quickly blew by him on the turn, opening a five-length advantage in just a few strides. He came wide into the stretch and just kept rolling while being pushed along with his ears pinned. It will be interesting to see what Baffert does with him with such a powerful arsenal already.
Although GUNMETAL GRAY’S half-mile breeze in :48 didn’t have any jaws dropping, it was one of the more impressive works I saw this week. The Sham winner broke off sharply with his head down into the bit. He cut the corner beautifully and finished strong, striding out with good extension, while never being asked. He then continued to gallop out strongly and was still going at a good clip down the backstretch. He has very quick strides, so we’ll have to see how far he wants to go.
Dick Mandella sent out recent allowance winner EXTRA HOPE for an easy :51 1/5 half-mile breeze for a likely start in the San Felipe Stakes.
Breezing for the first time since October was the undefeated PREAMBLE, who blew out three furlongs in :38 for trainer Rudy Brisset.
Gotham Stakes prospect NOT THAT BRADY, a gutsy second in the Withers Stakes, will have 10 percent of his purse winnings going to benefit the Belmont Child Care Association. The gelded son of Big Brown is co-owned by Michael Imperio and Vinny Vivelo’s Lianna Stables.
Imperio’s wife Libby is president of the BCCA. “My husband and I thought it would be a great way to give back and it’s something a lot of other owners do,” she said. “Barbara Banke has always been very generous donating percentages of her horses’ earnings to various charities, and Charlotte Weber and the New York Women's Foundation have also been extremely generous to backstretch charities. We want ‘Brady’ to run for the kids, but we want him to run for everybody.”
For our nugget of history for the week, Feb. 18, 2019 was Cal Cup Derby day. Can this race for state-breds produce another Kentucky Derby winner in the exciting Galilean? It is an important date in the recent history of the Derby trail. On Feb. 18, 2011, a Cal-bred, by a sire who stood for only a $2,500 stud fee, out of a mare who ran for an $8,000 claiming tag, was born at Harris Farm. It was not an easy birth, as the mare had lacerated the wall of her uterus and could not be re-bred that year. She was bright and active and outwardly unaffected by the ordeal, but she and her foal had to remain confined to the stall for an extended period of time while the mare was treated and recovering.
“He got to develop quite a little personality and became pretty independent,” said Harris Farms general manager Dave McGlothlin, who remembered the birth of another big strapping colt at the farm named Tiznow. “He wasn’t able to be out with the others to socialize and carry on so he was a little more focused on people than he was on horses. Once he got out and adapted he came around fine. He had a rather unremarkable childhood otherwise. But he could be a little bit impetuous.”
That colt, of course, was California Chrome
When California Chrome began training, he impressed Harris Farms trainer Per Antonsen.
“He always had a lot of class,” Harris Farm trainer Per Antonsen said. “He was very precocious and very forward and never missed a beat. He was a sound horse; never had a temperature, never got sick, and never had a pimple on him the whole time he was here. He enjoyed training and I told the owners, ‘You’re going to have a lot of fun with this one.’”
And, boy, did they ever.
Now fast forward to Feb. 18, 2018, seven years later to the day.
Santa Anita racing secretary Rick Hammerle had carded a seven-furlong maiden race for 3-year-olds. At this late date, it was too late to start looking at first-time starters sprinting. But Bob Baffert walked into Hammerle’s office several days earlier to make sure that the race was going to fill. It had to.
Baffert had a first-time starter named Justify entered in the Feb. 18 race and impressed upon Hammerle the importance of that race going. Baffert seems to have a horse in every maiden race, so why, Hammerle thought, was this particular one so important? That's when Baffert dropped a bombshell on him.
“I got a horse in there that can win the Kentucky Derby.” he said.
What? Hammerle was floored when he heard that. Baffert at the time had three of the leading 3-year-olds in the country in McKinzie, Mourinho, and Solomini, all major stakes horses, and he's telling Hammerle on Feb. 18 that he can win the Kentucky Derby with a horse who had never raced?
“I have seen lot of good horses over the years, and I’d never heard anything like that before," Hammerle said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, the enormity of that statement.’ I had never even heard anyone say that about a horse going into the Santa Anita Derby, never mind a first-time starter going into a maiden race in February. It was unbelievable.”
So, will Feb. 18 be an important date once again when it comes to the Kentucky Derby? So far, there is still hope following Galilean’s impressive victory.