08/13/2013 12:28PM

Arlington Park: Baker returns with Solid Appeal in Beverly D. attempt

Michael Burns
Solid Appeal, with Jesse Campbell riding, wins the Dance Smartly Stakes for her second straight Grade 2 turf win at Woodbine, after the Nassau.

Reade Baker has worn many hats and been many places in his 66 years on this earth, always as a Canadian. He can recall his last foray onto the backstretch at Arlington Park in 1968, when he was a groom for an unplaced horse named Sharp Eyed Quillo in what was then one of the premier events for 2-year-old Thoroughbreds in North America, the Arlington-Washington Futurity.

“Bill Resseguet won it,” Baker said this week from his barn at Woodbine near Toronto, referring to a colt named Strong Strong, ridden by Danny Gargan. “King Emperor was second.”

Baker was in attendance in 2002 at the only Breeders’ Cup held at Arlington – “I went to the first 25 or so as a fan, but it wasn’t the same anymore after I’d run one in it,” he said – but did not visit the stable area that cold and rainy day.

Years later, Baker finally will be back doing Arlington top to bottom, a tour he hopes will include a visit to the winner’s circle following the Grade 1 Beverly D. with a rapidly improving filly named Solid Appeal. With three wins from as many starts this year, the 4-year-old Kentucky-bred arrived Monday from Woodbine with at least as much momentum as any of her rivals in what shapes up as a pivotal race in the filly-mare turf division, and Baker, in typical fashion, is confident she can win it.

“I think her chances are excellent,” he said. “I don’t see a big pile of Grade 1 winners in there, do you?”

Indeed, the only Grade 1 or Group 1 winner in a prospective field of nine is Marketing Mix, the solid favorite for the 24th running of the $750,000 Beverly D. on Saturday at the suburban Chicago track. Solid Appeal, owned by Jim and Susan Hill of Calgary, Alberta, figures among the next set of wagering choices, especially with Joel Rosario, perhaps the hottest jockey in North America, having agreed to ride the filly after his initial pre-entered mount, Dream Peace, was declared from consideration.

“This filly has really gotten good,” said Baker, whose career has included stints as a stablehand, stable manager, jockey agent, breeder, author, racing enthusiast, and chicken-and-duck farmer, among other things. He has run his own stable since 1989 and has become one of Canada’s top trainers in recent seasons.

Solid Appeal, by Successful Appeal, has made giant strides in the last year or so. After six defeats to open her career, she was switched off the Polytrack at Woodbine to try the turf on July 8, 2012, and promptly won.

“I was a little slow on the draw getting her on the turf,” Baker said. “After a while, we realized she’d found a home.”

In October, Solid Appeal won a first-level turf allowance at 1 1/16 miles at Woodbine, after which Baker took a shot by sending her to Churchill Downs for the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere. Dismissed at 53-1, the filly certainly was not disgraced when she pressed the pace throughout and checked in fourth behind Centre Court, a standout filly who surely would have been one of the Beverly D. favorites if trainer Rusty Arnold had opted to send her to Arlington instead of keeping her at Saratoga for the Aug. 24 Ballston Spa.

“The Mrs. Revere was the first big race of her life, and she handled everything very well,” Baker noted.

The day after the Mrs. Revere, Solid Appeal was sent to Margaux Farm in Midway, Ky., where she spent the winter months before gearing back up with four workouts at Keeneland. During the final week of the spring meet, coming off a five-month layoff, the filly rallied from last to win going away in a second-level, off-the-turf, 1 1/16-mile Polytrack allowance with Rosario aboard.

“I didn’t think I had her fit enough to go three-quarters,” Baker said. “Then she went out and won easy.”

“We gave her 45 days off after the Mrs. Revere and let her come down,” said Kevin Noltemeyer, a 25-year-old Louisville, Ky., native who has served as the farm trainer for Margaux since last August. “Around the first of January, we jogged her a month, then galloped her a month.”

Then, Noltemeyer said, Margaux sent the filly to the Thoroughbred Training Center in Lexington, Ky., and started breezing her, “and in mid-March she caught back up with Reade over at Keeneland. She was always classy, trained really well, never missed a day.”

Baker said: “I’m calling it the Margaux magic. I don’t know what they did with her, but whatever it was, it worked. Both her and Go Blue Or Go Home,” a 4-year-old gelding who romped in the Grade 3 Highlander at Woodbine for the Hills in his last out. “I sent them a couple of allowance horses, and they came back to me as graded-stakes horses. It’s pretty remarkable.”

Solid Appeal springboarded from her Keeneland comeback by winning back-to-back Grade 2 races over the spacious Woodbine grass course, the May 25 Nassau and July 7 Dance Smartly. And now here she is, a legitimate contender in one of America’s great filly-mare turf races.

Employing a familiar stalking style that figures to serve her well again Saturday, Solid Appeal earned a life’s-best 90 Beyer Speed Figure in her 1 1/2-length triumph in the one-mile Nassau, then came back with another career-topper when she earned a 95 Beyer Figure in the 1 1/8-mile Dance Smartly. The slightly longer distance of the Beverly D. is not of major concern to Baker.

“Obviously, she’s handled everything we’ve asked of her this year,” Baker said.

No Canadian-based filly has won the Beverly D. since its purse was greatly enhanced for its second running in 1989. Baker is looking to make a mark for his country at a venue he first visited 45 years ago, when the purse for the Arlington-Washington Futurity was a whopping $385,350 and a field of 18 started.

“I imagine things have changed some since then,” he said with a laugh. “No matter. We’ll just lead this filly over and try to do some good.”