Baffert continues road to success

Baffert continues road to success

September 26, 2017 3:00 AM
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Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert shipped two good horses from his Southern California base to run in a pair of $1 million races at Parx Racetrack on Saturday, and he left with a win and a second.

While Baffert’s West Coast was scoring his fourth straight stakes victory in the 1-1/8 mile Pennsylvania Derby, he moved closer to gaining an Eclipse Award as America’s top 3-year-old colt.

On the same racing card, Baffert’s 3-year-old filly Abel Tasman finished second to the Jerry Hollendorfer trained It Tiz Well in the $1 million Cotillion. But, we should see a rematch in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Del Mar on Friday, Nov. 3.

Baffert, a dominating stakes winning trainer for more than 25 years, reached a new plateau in 2015 by training American Pharoah to be the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. The Pharoah then went on to defeat older horses in the BCup Classic.

In 2016, Baffert kept on rolling, developing the outstanding Arrogate, who burst on the scene to win the Travers at Saratoga in track record time and the BCup Classic over eventual Horse of the Year California Chrome.

This year, Arrogate won two of the richest races in the world – the Dubai World Cup and Pegasus World Cup Invitational, to push his career earnings to $17 million, tops in racing history. But then, in two races at Del Mar this summer Arrogate failed to produce a top effort, leaving most horseplayers wondering if we had seen the last of this great horse.

Did Arrogate suffer an injury? Is he recovering from whatever left him so flat in those two races at Del Mar? Will he make it to the 2017 BCup Classic? And, if he is OK, is there something about the Del Mar racing surface that will compromise Arrogate’s return to form?

In a brief but excellent exchange with Baffert a few days ago, the master horseman answered all but one of those questions:

“Arrogate is moving right along now, looking like his old self,” Baffert said. “Weight loss was his main issue and slowly but surely, he is building back to his naturally large frame.” Baffert’s final comment was about as positive as a trainer of race horses can express.

“I couldn’t be happier,” he said.

So, going forward, we all should expect Arrogate to put in serious training drills to get fit enough to meet Gun Runner and other top horses in the 1-1/4 mile BCup Classic. One or two of those works are likely to be at Del Mar – to see if he does handle that racing surface. Regardless, Baffert just might have as many as three other horses in that $6 million race, including Collected, West Coast and possibly even Cupid.

To appreciate the strength of Baffert’s Classic contenders, Cupid posted a 108 Beyer Speed Figure earlier this season. Collected earned a 111 in June and a 115 when he defeated Arrogate in the Pacific Classic. For his part, West Coast followed up the 108 he earned in the Travers with the 107 he scored in the Pennsylvania Derby. By comparison, only the Steve Asmussen trained Gun Runner has earned competitive Beyers this year – 115, 112 and 110.

Of course, if Arrogate shows up at his best, Gun Runner and others will have to deal with an historic 4-year-old who earned 122, 120 and 119 Beyer Figures in the three victories he scored before arriving at Del Mar this summer.

That’s a lot of firepower. But Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will not merely be a major player in the BC Classic. He actually has 13 highly ranked contenders scheduled to compete in six of the 13 BCup races. This compares favorably to the 11 contenders for six BCup races trained by Chad Brown, a rising star among eastern based horsemen.

Otherwise, Todd Pletcher – a seven time trainer of the year during his great career – has only six highly rated horses scheduled to run in five of this year’s BC races.

While I will dig into every BCup race in future columns, here are Bob Baffert’s BCup horses that players should keep an eye on, as they train up to the most important weekend in American Racing. All are listed among Daily Racing Form’s top 10 contenders for their respective races.

On Friday, Nov 4: In the $1 million BC Mile, Mor Spirit is Baffert’s top contender. In the $2 million Distaff, he has Abel Tasman, Vale Dori and Faithfully.

 On Saturday, Nov. 5: In the $2 million Juvenile Fillies, Alluring Star is Baffert’s top rated threat. In the $2 million Juvenile, lightly raced Zatter and Solomini are in the mix. In the $1.5 million sprint, his Drefong should be favored, while American Anthem will be a longshot. And, in the $6 million Classic, Baffert has Arrogate and the three other good horses I mentioned earlier in this column.

Stay tuned, a terrific Breeders’ Cup is less than six weeks away.