Vindication will make his 3-year-old debut out of town, and not at Santa Anita.
Trainer Bob Baffert hasn’t made that official, but reading between the lines, it sounds like it’s all but a done deal that the undefeated Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion and Kentucky Derby future book favorite will make his first start since last Oct. 26 anywhere but in the Golden State.
"There’s nowhere to run at Santa Anita," said Baffert, referring to the Arcadia track’s 3-year-old races that lead to the April 5 Santa Anita Derby, a major springboard to the Run for the Roses on May 3. "He’ll have two races (before the Kentucky Derby), but probably not (start) until March. For him, two races will be fine, because he’s a light horse. I’ve always been leaning for two races. I didn’t know where. There’s nowhere to run at Santa Anita, so I’d have to go out of town and I didn’t want to do that this early."
Santa Anita’s most significant preps on the Derby road, prior to the Santa Anita Derby, are the one-mile San Rafael Stakes on March 1 and the 11/16-mile San Felipe Stakes on March 16.
Baffert has long bemoaned the spacing of Santa Anita’s 3-year-old stakes races leading to Churchill Downs, so starting his most talented 3-year-old on the Triple Crown trail off-Broadway would be nothing new for him.
Vindication, a $2.15 million colt from the last crop of the late Seattle Slew, won his four starts as a 2-year-old with consummate ease under Mike Smith, but Baffert jettisoned the likeable Smith in favor of Jerry Bailey, who climbed aboard Vindication for the first time in a five-furlong workout at Santa Anita on Jan. 25. The pair toured the track in a bullet :58.40, fastest of 57 drills at the distance.
The workout was so fast, Baffert opted to delay Vindication’s next workout two days beyond the standard. Usually, horses in training work every five to seven days, but Baffert spaced Vindication’s two workouts eight days apart.
"He worked really fast the other day (Jan. 25)," Baffert said. "He got pretty charged up. He worked a little too fast. He’s getting pretty antsy, so I’ve got to let him know, ”˜Not now, Kato.’"
Meanwhile, the racing world is counting the minutes until Vindication’s 3-year-old debut. Baffert advises patience, because the colt still has further to go in his workouts.
"When we get to seven furlongs," Baffert said, "you’ll know we’re getting serious."
THE HOMESTRETCH: As if Vindication and Santa Catalina winner Domestic Dispute aren’t enough, Baffert has other talented Triple Crown prospects in Apalachian (sic) Thunder, Spensive, Truckle Feature and Kafwain, who outclassed four rivals in Saturday’s San Vicente Stakes. "Every week is different with my 3-year-olds," Baffert said. "Kafwain is a very impressive horse. He reminds me of Silver Charm. He’s a big, heavy horse and a beautiful-moving horse. He’s matured a lot."
One of Bobby Frankel’s top Triple Crown hopefuls is Empire Maker, who makes his 3-year-old debut in Friday’s Sham Stakes at 11/8 miles. Jerry Bailey rides. Two impressive maiden winners, Wally Dollase’s Ten Most Wanted and Neil Drysdale’s Minister’s Wild Cat, are likely for the Sham.
Gary Stevens says he’ll resume riding on Feb. 14 at Santa Anita. The Hall of Fame jockey, who portrays the late George Woolf in the upcoming Universal film, "Seabiscuit: An American Legend," has spent the last four months working on the movie, which is scheduled to be released on July 25 of this year. "Everybody’s pretty excited about it," said Stevens, who will be 40 on March 6. "Everything’s on schedule and we’re almost finished filming. It’s been a great experience and I’m really excited about the movie coming out." Based on the best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand, "Seabiscuit" the movie is a real tear-jerker. I was reaching for the Kleenex after watching the film’s trailer.
General Challenge, the 2000 Santa Anita Handicap winner, had his first workout on Jan. 31 since joining Baffert’s barn on Jan. 16, breezing three furlongs in :35.20. "He looked awesome," Baffert said of General Challenge, now seven. The gelded son of General Meeting, who won the Pacific Classic as a 3-year-old in 1999, has not raced since finishing fourth behind Skimming in the 2000 Pacific Classic.