Saturday, August 28, 2010
Baffert Mails Them In
When two of Bob Baffert's trainees, Richard's Kid and El Brujo, won a pair of Grade 1 races at Del Mar, their peerless conditioner was 3,000 miles across the country, tending to his stock at Saratoga (where he won a Grade 3 stake). Before he left California for New York, Baffert took the time to join the trashers of Del Mar's Polytrack racing surface, which has accounted for at least five deaths this season. The irony, of course, is that Richard's Kid and El Brujo get along swimmingly over Polytrack, and their latest efforts have made everyone in their camp $780,000 richer. Baffert's share is an estimated $78,000. I don't doubt for a moment that he will cash the check.
"If they don't (switch back to a dirt main track), they'll see the quality of racing continue to decline," Baffert said. ". . . I'm probably going to go somewhere else next year. . . A lot of my clients, they don't want to come back."
Starting in 1997, Baffert won seven straight training titles at Del Mar. Not since Farrell Jones, in the 1960s, had a single trainer dominated the turf by the surf for such a long haul. But since 2007, when Del Mar marched to the ill-advised synthetic-track mandate by the California Horse Racing Board, Baffert's owners and the trainer himself have frequently groused about the hand they were dealt. One of Baffert's clients, Ahmed Zayat, had a public shout down with Joe Harper, the CEO of Del Mar, after which Zayat ordered Baffert to move all of his Del Mar horses to Saratoga.
Before this season, Baffert had saddled 86 stakes winners at Del Mar, more than anyone. Immediately and well behind him in the standings were four Hall of Fame trainers--Charlie Whittingham, Ron McAnally, Bobby Frankel and Wayne Lukas. But before Richard's Kid and El Brujo, Baffert was on the schneid in stakes wins this summer, had won but seven races and was winning at only an 11 per cent rate. He complained that the Del Mar surface played different virtually every day. "I'm sitting on good horses here, but I can't risk this surface," he told the San Diego newspaper.
But with the Pacific Classic being run for the 20th time, it would have been criminal for even Baffert to leave Richard's Kid in the barn. The son of Lemon Drop Kid and Tough Broad (and if that isn't a mating made in Damon Runyon heaven, I don't know what is) won the stake last year, a 24-1 shot waking up on the big day while the favorites Rail Trip and Colonel John failed to fire. Richard's Kid had won only one of six starts since then, but was still the second choice in a Pacific Classic that was vanilla, from top to bottom. The Usual Q.T., the favorite even though all of his wins had come on grass, led until mid-stretch before finishing fifth.
An hour later, Baffert had entered three horses in the Pat O'Brien, but scratched everyone but the right one. His entire career, El Brujo has been running on synthetic surfaces one place or the other, and he was fourth, absent the cleanest of trips, in the Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar a month ago. Among others, he beat Smiling Tiger, winner of the Crosby, in the O'Brien. Won't you come home, Bob Baffert, won't you come home? Del Mar is moaning, the whole day long. . .