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Baffert weighs agony of
defeat with Roman Ruler

Nov 9, 2004 5:40 AM

It was a case of good news, bad news, when Bob Baffert went to Lone Star Park in Texas on Oct. 30 to saddle Roman Ruler in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

The bad news is, Roman Ruler finished a dull fifth as the 2-1 favorite. The good news is, Baffert and his entourage had a great time.

True, Roman Ruler was beaten only four lengths by British invader Wilko, who paid $58.60 to win. And true, this wasn’t the greatest band of male 2-year-olds ever to look through a bridle, but still, it was significantly disappointing, because Roman Ruler is a son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, a promising young sire, and Roman Ruler’s owners, Fog City Stables, doled out the tidy sum of $500,000 for him.

Less than a week after the defeat, Baffert was reconnoitering, re-evaluating and reconsidering, especially about removing blinkers from Roman Ruler for the Juvenile after he had worn them in a four-length victory in the Norfolk Stakes on Oct. 3.

"I took the blinkers off because I thought if he didn’t break well, he wouldn’t get too rank," Baffert explained. "He broke all right but this is the kind of horse that has to be in the mix of things. Corey (Nakatani) decided to take back and he didn’t like that.

"The horse was already done by the time they reached the stretch. Half the horses went by him by that time. He had trouble with the track. Some horses liked it, some didn’t."

Nakatani, who won the Oak Tree riding championship with 21 victories, concurred.

"He was slipping the whole way and not handling the track," the jockey said. "He’s better than that. He never tried. His head was in the air the whole way."

So it was back to the drawing board, or more precisely, the operating table, for Roman Ruler, who last Sunday underwent surgery to remove an undescended testicle. He has been a ridgling since Baffert got him, and not a colt, as listed in the Daily Racing Form’s past performances on Breeders’ Cup day. "He’s always been a ridging," Baffert said. A ridgling, monorchid or cryptorchid is, in veterinarian’s terms, "is a male horse of any age that has only one testicle in his scrotum—the other testicle was either removed or is undescended."

Running under such a physical impairment can smart, especially at speeds approaching 40 miles an hour.

"I’ll freshen him up now," Baffert said. "The undescended testicle needed to be taken out because it was hurting him. It’s very painful for some horses and his attitude was getting bad because of that. If all goes well I’ll bring him back in February."

Losing aside, Baffert raved about the hospitality he ­­received at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie near Dallas, cite of the 21st Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.

"It was fantastic," Baffert said. "They did a great job. Corey Johnson, the president of Lone Star, he’s awesome. His staff feeds off of his attitude and his attitude is really positive. He’s one of the reasons I race in Texas. He hires people with the right attitude. A smaller track like that actually does a better job than the bigger tracks because they know they have to work harder at it.

"Sometimes the major tracks take things for granted. They figure all they have to do is open the gates and people will show up."

Baffert even had praise for Lone Star’s racing officials, specifically the stewards who allowed Better Talk Now to stand as the winner of the Turf despite an eventful incident involving him and three other horses in the stretch run.

"That was a good call," Baffert said. "They realized that there was a little something going on but the best horse won."

Which may not have been the case in the Juvenile, but only time, and perhaps surgery, will tell.

The homestretch

Gary Stevens chose not to ride in the Breeders’ Cup, citing insufficient insurance coverage for jockeys at Lone Star Park. It was not a grandstand play, the Hall of Fame rider said, but the jury is still out as to how effective the move was.

"Their insurance bumped up to $500,000 for the days of the Jockey Challenge and the Breeders’ Cup, but the reality of it is, I think they’re going back to $100,000 coverage when the regular meet starts, and that’s unacceptable," Stevens said. "I’m not necessarily trying to make a statement. I’m trying to look out for myself and the other riders. I’m not going to take that chance with my family’s future in jeopardy."

”¡ It was a depressing week for Richard Mandella. The Hall of Fame trainer lost two stars to retirement, 2003 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Pleasantly Perfect and 2003 Juvenile Fillies champion Halfbridled.

"It was the same problem we found when we turned her out earlier this year," Mandella said of the 3-year-old Halfbridled. "It was a reaction between her cannon bone and the splint bone." In a business where it can hurt to fall in love with horses, Mandella understandably grew fond of both, especially Pleasantly Perfect, who, as a 6-year-old, was with Mandella longer than Halfbridled. "It will be tough to find another one like him," Mandella said.