HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, February 6, 2022 — Where are all the aspiring three-year-old classicists in California? Clearly not in today’s G3 Robert B Lewis, which has drawn a robust handful, two trained by Mr. Baffert, one with a strong inside track.
Messier (6-5) rates to score, making amends for a recent upset loss in the G2 Los Al Futurity for which he added blinkers, but they are off today, a productive 34% efficient for this barn.
As often happens in the era of the super trainer, Baffert has himself to beat. If racing has taught us anything–see what we did there?–is never to disregard the longer “other Baffert.”
messier returns to the scene of his comprehensive maiden triumph in October, his only run in Arcadia. Today, Johnny Velazquez replaces Flavien Prat. Baffert also has the favorite in the G3 Las Virgenes, Eda.
But remember not to go to sleep on Wharton, owned by the exact same connections. Both are bred to run long. Juan Hernandez rides the stablemate.
EARLY VOTING IMPRESSES
Once more, Early Voting, who ran the competition off its feet when breaking maiden on debut, handle the rise to stakes company with aplomb was he embarrassed 10 rivals in the G3 Withers at nine furlongs by open lengths.
Taking the lead from his high draw curling into the clubhouse turn, the son of Upstart went to the front and improved his position. He showed some inexperience down the lane but might have been bored by the task at that point.
Early Voting was ridden out most of the way, staying away from the deeper inside throughout, and went under the line 4-1/2 lengths to the good, but it really wasn’t even that close.
The second and third finishes also raced well on the outside and finished up in good fashion without threatening the winner and also showed some greenness down the center of the track. Both will also improve next out but have too many lengths to make up on the winner.
Early Voting gives Chad Brown another serious Derby bullet to fire. The highly rated Zandon is scheduled to make his season’s debut in the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds. Unusual spot for Brown, the thought being the longer NOLA straight will best suit the style of the narrowly beaten Remsen runnerup.
Cooke Creek broke tardily from the #11 slip and never was engaged during the running.
WHITE ABARRIO BEST IN HOLY BULL, OR WAS IT SIMPLIFICATION?
I respect the work of horse racing’s gate crews, who are as important to the outcome of races as the horses themselves. But bad communication and execution might have cost Simplification a Holy Bull victory.
“There was so much noise and everybody screaming ‘no’ and he backed up a little bit, explained jockey Javier Castellano. “When he backed up they opened the gate. It was the wrong time when they opened the door and he didn’t break sharp. But I don’t have anything negative with the horse.”
These workers have my admiration, potentially putting themselves in harm’s way every time the enter the stalls to accompany the equine contestants. But yesterday’s error appears to be on the head starter himself.
Coo-coo-ca-choo, where have you gone Bobby Duncan?
Simplification seems to get a little anxious before his races. The same was the case yesterday. However, he settled down a minute before the start of the Holy Bull and walked into the gate kindly. The trouble came after.
The field was standing in place after the last horse, Giant Game, got into line. At that juncture, Simplification began throwing his head around. He stopped briefly then did it again shortly thereafter.
Corrected inside the gate and standing well, he would have been best served by a one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi, or a bit longer, count as an assisted starter held the colt’s head in place.
Instead, the field was sent away just as Simplification started jerking his head up and down. Resultingly, he broke in a tangle, his forelegs working at cross purposes, Javier Castellano forced to gather and straighten the colt for the run into the first turn.
How many times have horseplayers seen a lone speed horses get left, circled the field wide to loom a brief threat approaching headstretch? Correct, not very often.
Full disclosure: His eventual runnerup finish cost us the 7-2 straight wager and every vertical pool offered, Super Hi-Five notwithstanding.
Of course, it might not have mattered given the powerful performance of White Abarrio, given a dream run beneath Tyler Gaffalione, his second stakes score of the day. (The remaining three stakes were taken but leading rider Luis Saez).
Getting over quickly and easily from a wide draw to stalk longshot leader Galt around, into and through the backstretch run until headstretch, Tyler set him down soon after straightening away and the colt did the rest, never threatened, an open lengths winner in racehorse time.
The trip nearly cost Simplification the place as well. In the end, Mo Donegal’s grinding style didn’t suit the speedy Gulfstream dynamics, especially given the first-finish-line conditions. After being ridden hard approaching headstretch, he finally settled suddenly into high gear but ran out of ground.
“I thought he finished really well, it just took him a little while to get out in the clear and get going,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “The last hundred yards he was making up a lot of ground.”
Added distance or a venue switch can be the difference maker next out.
For his part, it would seem that White Abarrio likely would skip the Fountain of Youth on the first weekend in March and await the Florida Derby on April’s first weekend. The spacing would be similar to Saturday’s, a good fit.
Feel badly for Simplification and trainer Antonio Sano as both were primed for a career effort in the Holy Bull. Seldom do horses return going a similar effort, especially after Saturday’s hard race. We shall see.
Picking nits aside, the first truly interesting weekend of Derby preps produced some meaningful results and all that remains is the G3 Lewis. Then again, if one of the Baffert horses win…