Jinxes are Juvenile to Baffert

Nov 12, 2002 6:28 AM

            Bob Baffert doesn’t believe in jinxes.

            He believes in good race horses.

            That’s why he’s not concerned whether Vindication can become the first Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner to win the Kentucky Derby.

            He has his reasons. One is, before this year, the Juvenile was run at 1 1/16 miles. This year, on Oct. 26 at Arlington Park, it was run at 1 1/8 miles. A speed horse can win at 1 1/16 if it gets the right trip. But it takes a true stayer to win at 1 1/8 miles, especially as a 2-year-old.

            Vindication is a stayer. In fact, the son of the great Seattle Slew, who died early this year at age 29, is one of Baffert’s best 2-year-olds ever. That’s saying a mouthful considering he has trained the likes of Silver Charm, Real Quiet, General Challenge and Point Given.

            “He’s one of the best 2-year-olds I’ve had in a long time, just the way he does things,” Baffert said of Vindication, a $2,150,000 colt that is unbeaten in four starts. “He should be better than Seattle Slew. Vindication has a better sire (than Seattle Slew, whose sire was Bold Reasoning).To me, Vindication is as exciting as Silver Charm and he’s faster than Point Given. He’s handier and therefore has less chance of getting in trouble.”

            The only trouble the Padua Stables colt experienced to date came in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile, a race he won by six lengths. He broke in the air and came away nine lengths behind the leader. Despite going five-wide, he made up ground in a blur and won with authority.

            Mike Smith, who has ridden Vindication in all four races, wasn’t surprised he led throughout in the Juvenile. “The Kentucky Cup was the first time he shipped,” Smith said. “He got a little excited, it was his first time breaking in front of the grandstand where the fans congregate, and he went in the air at the break. Otherwise, he might have been in front in that race, too.”

            Despite the colt’s impeccable record, Baffert expects criticism of Vindication all the way to the Derby on May 3.

            “That’s the trouble with this business,” Baffert said. “Instead of looking at the good in a horse like Vindication, people start looking at his flaws, so he’ll be knocked from here on.”

            Since the inception of the Breeders’ Cup in 1984, no Juvenile winner has won the  Derby during those 19 years, a long enough span to be considered a “jinx” in some quarters. But Baffert isn’t buying.

            “I think all the 2-year-olds are in the same boat (as to) whether they can get a mile and an eighth or not,” Baffert said. “Vindication looked like he handled it fine, because I could tell when he came back he wasn’t tired. Another eighth of a mile isn’t going to hurt him. A mile and an eighth this time of year is just like a mile and a quarter in May, that’s how I feel about it.”

            Not that Baffert could do anything about getting a horse to win at a mile and a quarter anyway, even though he already has saddled three Derby winners--Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem this year. “You can’t train them do go a mile and a quarter,” Baffert said. “They can do it or they can’t. All the Seattle Slews are different. Vindication (from Seattle Slew’s last crop) has speed and he carries it. Most Seattle Slews want to get out there, get it on and keep going.”

            Baffert said he has “no idea” whether Vindication will take the Southern California route to the Triple Crown. The white-haired trainer also is preparing Kafwain and Bull Market, second and fourth in the Juvenile, for the Triple Crown.

            “He may run here, he may not run here,” Baffert said of Vindication. “I don’t know. It’s too far off. California doesn’t have a good (3-year-old) prep program. “I’ll probably run wherever they have the highest appearance fee. Vindication is an appearance-fee kind of horse, so we’ll go wherever the appearance fee is the highest.”

            Baffert was alluding to a $50,000 appearance fee he was paid by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority for running War Emblem in the Haskell Handicap at Monmouth Park last August.

            He was kidding abut Vindication, of course.

            I think.

            THE HOMESTRETCH:  These thoughts on the Breeders’ Cup Ultra Pick Six scam come from a veteran horseman who also is a computer whiz: “It really doesn’t take much of a hack job when you work on the system you want to make changes on. The only real surprise is that this hasn’t been detected before. It will make a great story line for the movies, especially with the irony of Volponi winning the Classic. They say truth is stranger than fiction.” . . . Wilson Shirley, consultant for the Thoroughbred Owners of California, reported at the November meeting there were deficits in pari-mutuel revenues from California on-track and off-track wagering, but they have been more than offset by advance deposit wagering revenues. As a result, purses are averaging a 2.6 percent increase from ADW in 2002 compared to 2001 . . . And this touching e-mail from the fiancée of the late jockey, J.C. Gonzalez, who was killed in a race at Fairplex Park in September of 1999: “I happened to be searching the web and came across your article on J.C. I was his fiancée and we were to be married just nine days after his death. Your article sparked many memories anew. I miss him very much still. Your article was very well-written. -- Elena.” Alas, Elena’s misfortune continued. After J.C.’s death, she married a promising 21-year-old quarter horse jockey, Oscar Andrade, who was paralyzed from the chest down in a riding mishap at Los Alamitos on Sept. 27, 2001, 10 days after their son was born. The courageous Elena is a fatalist, however. “Like J.C., it happened doing what he loved most,” she says of her husband’s accident. “And knowing them both, they wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, if it was to happen. Although I have a new life with my husband now, I still like to reminisce about the beautiful memories J.C. and I shared . . . That which the heart has cherished becomes a part of us forever.”