Touchdowns and Stretch Runs - By Evan Hammonds

For most of us the opportunity to land a championship of any variety comes through a very small window. For a precious few that play at the highest level, brilliance and consistency put them in a position to excel year after year.

We were reminded of this over the weekend that culminated with Super Bowl Sunday, an American holiday of football, spectacle, and indulgence. It’s serious business on the gridiron, however, and no one has been more successful than Tom Brady who, as quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, made his 10th appearance in a Super Bowl Feb. 8. The Bucs’ 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs gave Brady his seventh victory. His first six came at the offensive helm of the New England Patriots, notching titles in 2001, 2003, 2004, 2014, 2016, and 2018.

The day before the Super Bowl trainer Bob Baffert continued his annual assault on the North American classic Thoroughbred races. Much like Brady, he’s a six-time winner of his sport’s most important event, the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1). Not far off Brady’s arc, his first Derby victory came with Silver Charm in 1997 and his latest was last year’s winner, Authentic.

Baffert, with three runners on Byron King’s Derby Dozen for 2021, had two of the five starters in the Feb. 7 San Vicente Stakes (G2) and ran one-two with Gary and Mary West’s Concert Tour and SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Golconda Stables, Siena Farm, and Robert Masterson’s Freedom Fighter. While Brady has made 10 Super Bowl appearances, Baffert has won a record 11 runnings of the San Vicente.

The day after the San Vicente, Baffert unveiled the ultra-hyped Bezos for SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Stonestreet Stables, Golconda Stable, Siena Farm, and Robert Masterson a few hours before Brady took the field to face off against the Chiefs. The seven-member ownership group might have been top heavy as the Empire Maker colt ran seventh at Santa Anita.

Much was made of Brady’s run this year as it came with a new team. He had left New England for a fresh start in Tampa Bay… a team that appeared to be on the rise, that had plenty of offensive “weapons” for his disposal. Baffert has to reload for the classics each year. His “weapons” include a talented team and willing owners to provide the capital for him to select the best and brightest from the yearling and 2-year-old auctions.

Despite having a lot of backers, both Brady and Baffert have their fair share of detractors. Baffert’s string of medication positives in 2020 adds fuel to those who believe there is something below board going on, but he’s far from the only trainer to face the scrutiny of industry naysayers. In this sport it comes with the territory; it comes with being a winner.

Will Baffert collect his seventh Derby win this year? We’ll find out May 1.

Keeneland released its 2021 spring stakes schedule Feb. 2, or Groundhog Day. Regardless of what Punxsutawney Phil told us—which is six more weeks of winter—we know it’s eight weeks to opening day in Lexington.

We’re hopeful more patrons (and media) will be allowed on the grounds, but we understand the precautions necessitated by COVID-19. The announcement brought to mind a bit from former editor Kent Hollingsworth in this space named “A Season Of Plenty.”

“About 73 per cent of all racing in North America is a bore, that is, claiming events and races at less than a mile. This is fortuitous, as Candide pointed out just the other day, for it sets off in relief and permits special enjoyment of infrequent good racing.

“If Keeneland ran 240 days, or if Saratoga started in July and dragged on through September, these meetings probably would become tiresome, too. As they are, however, Keeneland and Saratoga provide brief, bright, fun interludes, 15 days in April and 24 days in August, that break the monotony of the 6,867 other race days in North America.

“Keeneland in the spring presents the sport at its best—good horses, well-kept grounds, colored by dogwoods and pervaded by the fragrance of honey locust blossoms, displaying the promise of new 2-year-olds, building hopes and anticipation as the Kentucky Derby starters are sorted.”

Here is to the hope—and warmth—that spring will soon bring.

Recent Posts

More Blogs