The flavor of the month on the road to the Kentucky Derby is Labamta Babe.
Henceforth known as “The Babe,” the son of 1986 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and 1985 Santa Anita Derby winner Skywalker won the Santa Catalina Stakes by 5Â½ lengths on Jan. 19, upsetting 1-10 favorite Siphonic.
Siphonic lost all chance of winning when he went to his knees as the gates opened.
The minority opinion, of which mine is one, holds that Siphonic would have been beaten by Labamta Babe, even with a fair start. Of course, we will never know. The two could meet again in the March 17 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, unless Bobby Frankel turns up his nose at the $250,000 offered in the San Felipe in favor of the $1 million in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on March 16.
Trainer David Hofmans has committed Siphonic to a California campaign prior to the Kentucky Derby on May 4. That includes the San Felipe, followed by the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 6.
The Kentucky Derby is light years away in horse racing measure. Anything can happen in three months, but if the race were held tomorrow, jockey Kent Desormeaux would have to be pried kicking and screaming from the mount on Labamta Babe, whom he rode to victory in the Santa Catalina.
“I don’t think any 3-year-old was going to beat him on that day,” Desormeaux said. “He was very, very, very good. He’s an exciting prospect.”
Desormeaux is riding as well as ever and focused on dethroning Alex Solis and Laffit Pincay Jr. from their riding conquests of every recent Southern California race meet. Desormeaux wants to win the Santa Anita riding title. He ranks second nationally in money won with some $900,000. Siphonic defeated Labamta Babe by 6Â½ lengths when the latter finished fourth in the Hollywood Futurity last December 15. But Labamta Babe set the pace in that race. Both Frankel and Desormeaux agree that being in front early is not in the colt’s best interests.
“No, I don’t think that’s his best style,” Desormeaux said. “We had our reasons for attempting to win the race that way. In the Santa Catalina, we just allowed the horse to find his own stride. Generally, that’s the ticket to success and it worked with Labamta Babe.”
Frankel rarely sends a horse to the races that doesn’t look like it’s ready to have its portrait painted by Richard Stone Reeves, and Labamta Babe was no exception in the Santa Catalina post parade.
Desormeaux concurs. “He was definitely full of himself,” the three-time Eclipse Award-winning rider said. “He was very energetic and feeling good and touting himself just by the way he was carrying his body. He was very good in the flesh.”
Desormeaux, too, looks very good in the flesh these days, especially on horseback.
Attribute it to pugnaciousness, over-confidence or not taking care of business, but Desormeaux found himself tossed in the maelstrom of a downward spiral after 1993, following a meteoric rise to the top of the racing world.
His ascendency began soon after he embarked on his career in 1986. Three years later, he won 598 races, breaking Chris McCarron’s 15-year-old record for most wins in a year. Desormeaux is the youngest rider (at age 25) to reach 3,000 wins. He will be 32 on February 27 and already has two victories in the Kentucky Derby, aboard Real Quiet in 1998 and Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.
Last year, he was beset with personal problems. His youngest son, Jacob, was born deaf, and Desormeaux and his wife, Sonia, devoted all their energy and emotion towards Jacob’s well-being. Following Jacob’s second cochlear implant (the first was defective) and a three-month riding stint in Japan during which his family joined him, Desormeaux feels whole again. Enjoying peace of mind in knowing the family has done its best for Jacob, a ponderous burden has abated. Desormeaux can now concentrate on what he does best ””win races.
“I certainly feel lighter,” Desormeaux said. “There was a lot of weight on my shoulders trying to figure out what to do with Jacob. Now that we’ve gotten that behind us, I can focus my energies where they belong and that’s being the best I can be as a jockey here in the United States.
“And I can tell you this: I’d rather be a champion in my back yard than in Japan.”THE HOMESTRETCH: Add News You Can Bet On: In the January 8-14 editions of GamingToday, I wrote that Beat Hollow’s U.S. debut was imminent and that Bobby Frankel will find a spot for him “in a race he can’t lose.” I added that the bad news was Beat Hollow “is likely to be 2-5.” Beat Hollow made his American debut last Thursday at Santa Anita, winning by a length with a late turn of foot that gave jockey Alex Solis whiplash. I was a tad off in the odds. Beat Hollow paid $3. You might get a better price on him in his next stop, the $700,000 Explosive Bid Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on the turf at the Fair Grounds on March 24 . . . Siphonic co-owner John Amerman, on the colt’s fiasco in the Santa Catalina: “We must have somebody upstairs watching us because Siphonic’s stumble at the start could have caused great problems. The fact that he was able to recover and finish second is a testimonial to his athletic ability.” . . . Bob Baffert says last year’s Strub Stakes winner, Wooden Phone, will be out three months with a fractured shoulder . . . Craig Dollase has crack sprinter Swept Overboard jogging at Hollywood Park after a brief vacation. The trainer says the fourth-place finisher on a dead rail in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint could be back in action before Santa Anita closes on April 21.