Photo Credit: Susie Raisher

 

A quick check of the calendar says it is July and the year is half over…Wow time flies faster than a Thoroughbred fresh out the gate. With that in mind, let’s take a quick gander at a few recent happenings that could make the rest of the year very interesting.

BAFFERT MIGHT BE CALLING ON HIS UNCLE

The delayed Kentucky Derby might have robbed trainer Bob Baffert of a chance to tie Ben Jones for all-time wins (6) in the world’s most famous race…or did it?

Big Race Bob was primed earlier in the year with the extremely talented Nadal and the ever-improving Charlatan. Unfortunate injuries have removed both from Kentucky Derby contention and caused the California-based conditioner to re shuffle the deck. But don’t count the hall of famer out of the Derby just yet.

In years past, Baffert has had plenty of top horse and won two Triple Crowns (American Pharoah 2015, Justify 2018). What might be overlooked by the everyday sports fan, however, is the fact he has also been fantastic at developing three-year olds later in the season who were not ready to run their best in the spring. In 2016, Arrogate did not make his first graded stakes start until the Travers in late August and then went on perhaps the most powerful four race swing in the history of the sport. West Coast also blossomed later in 2017 as he also took four consecutive Stakes including the grade 1 Travers and grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby.

With the Kentucky Derby slated for September 5, it is time for Baffert to pull out his ace in the hole. There are a couple of prospects with one of those being Uncle Chuck. Owned by long-time clients Paul Weitman, Mike Pegram, and Karl Watson, this lightly raced son of Uncle Mo might be the one. In just his second lifetime start, Chuck got a graded stakes win when he whipped a small field in the Los Alamitos Derby on July 4. “He’s very green and has to improve mentally,” says Baffert. “His talent is over the top. We’ll know after his next race whether he is ready for the Kentucky Derby.” So could a horse that didn’t run his first race until mid-June be ready to win the world’s most famous race in September? He’s trained by Bob Baffert…that’s all we will say about that.

WITH TOTAL REGARD TO WINNING

Any race can produce a thrilling finish, but sometimes the trip on the turf is more likely for a white knuckler at the wire. A grass horse sometimes seems to possess that big burst to the finish. There is just that extra gear they seem to find as the desire to win allows for a flight to the finish. If you are not sure about what we speak of, watch the Manhattan Stakes that was run at Belmont Park on July 4.

A star-studded lineup assembled for this grade 1 mile and a quarter journey over the New York grass. Turf training titan Chad Brown had his usual contingency of top flight runners, with one of them being Instilled Regard. An interesting runner that had finished fourth in the 2018 Kentucky Derby, under Brown’s care he had been finding his best stride of late on the turf. As the race unfolded, it looked as if the five-year old son of Arch would not be getting his second consecutive win on grass.

Trapped behind a wall of horses, jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. was looking for running room as he sat sixth at the top of the stretch. With just an eighth of a mile to run, he still was behind a group of runners. The eighth became a sixteenth and suddenly it happened. With a complete Regard for winning Instilled in his blood, the grandson of Forestry found a way between horses and strode for glory. With an amazing turn of foot, Instilled Regard was urged by Ortiz and guided just past stable mate Rockemporer at the wire. Prevailing by a widening neck, Instilled Regard absolutely proved it ain’t over til it’s over, especially if you are a good turf horse.

VEKOMA…LIKE A BOSS

The Met Mile at Belmont Park is traditionally one of the toughest races of the year because it is appealing to many top runners. The distance is perfect as sprinters can stretch out and distance horses can cut back. The vastness of Big Sandy means it is a one turn race and all kinds of players want to take a swing.

The 2020 edition ran on July 4 was exactly that, a loaded mix with lots of talent. So how do you win a race like this with the different styles mixed in? I think Vekoma laid down the perfect blueprint.

There are times in this sport when if a horse thinks he the best he simply needs to run like the best. Be the boss is a great strategy if you can back it up. This four year old son of Candy Ride did exactly that when the gates opened.

Breaking like a shot, Vekoma jetted to the lead and never relinquished. Leading at every call, the George Weaver trained colt fended off several challenges along the way and seemed to get stronger in the stretch. Covering the one mile distance in 1:32.88, the 2019 Bluegrass Stakes winner was just .64 off the track record.

The Met Mile marked the third win in as many starts this year and sixth victory overall from eight lifetime races. Putting his talent on display, Vekoma ran like a boss. If things continue, he’s likely to be supervising right into year end award contention.