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Baffert's pair punch tickets to BC
DEL MAR, Calif. - Trainer Bob Baffert was inducted into the Hall of Fame last month and since then has set about showing everyone why.
On Sunday at Del Mar, he lined up two Breeders' Cup starters with victories by Richard's Kid in the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic and Zensational in the Grade 1, $300,000 Pat O'Brien Stakes. Both races are linked to the Breeders' Cup through the Win and You're In program, so Richard's Kid has earned a berth in the BC Classic and Zensational in the BC Sprint. Both races are Nov. 7 at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.
Both horses came out of their races well, Baffert said Monday morning. At least that's what he seemed to say. In one of the rare feats of modern time, Baffert had trouble speaking.
"I lost my voice," Baffert said Monday morning, sounding like a frog with laryngitis.
He had plenty to cheer about. Richard's Kid gave Baffert his fifth stakes win of the meet, tops among trainers. It was his second victory in the Pacific Classic. And it was his 85th stakes winner at Del Mar, best all-time among trainers.
Richard's Kid and Zensational will head to Santa Anita later this week to prepare for the fall Oak Tree meeting. Baffert said he did not know if Richard's Kid would race in the Grade 1 Goodwood Stakes on Oct. 10 as a prep for the BC Classic.
"I'm just going to wait and see how he does up there," Baffert said. "Get him on that surface, see how he responds. He ran three times down here."
Zensational ran twice here this summer, winning the track's two Grade 1 sprints - the O'Brien and the Bing Crosby. Baffert said Zensational would not race again until the BC Sprint, which Baffert won the last two years with Midnight Lute.
"I'm going to freshen him up," Baffert said. "He's had two nice races here. He's got a good foundation. Now I have to get him fresh."
Zensational has won five times in six starts this year, his lone loss coming in his only race around two turns. He is 4 for 4 with jockey Victor Espinoza.
"Victor hasn't turned him loose yet," Baffert said. "Come Breeders' Cup Day, Victor will turn him loose."
Zetcher celebrates his biggest win
Arnold Zetcher, the owner of Richard's Kid, won races like the Fantasy Stakes with House of Fortune, the Del Mar Derby with Fairly Ransom, and the Acorn Stakes with Gabby's Golden Gal, but called the Pacific Classic victory with Richard's Kid "unbelievable."
"I never really thought this could happen," he said.
In truth, though, it was Zetcher, Baffert, and bloodstock agent Don Brauer who made it happen. Brauer called Baffert a couple of months ago, saying he thought Richard's Kid could be purchased.
"He's the same guy who found War Emblem," Baffert said of the 2002 Kentucky Derby winner, "and about 20 bad ones."
Richard's Kid had raced 16 times by then and had won five, all for trainer Richard Small and the Meyerhoff family's Fitzhugh Stables. His biggest previous win came in the John Campbell at Laurel in February.
"Bob felt good about him," Zetcher said. "He looked like he had great potential."
Richard's Kid finished seventh of eight in the Eddie Read Stakes on July 25 in his first start on turf. He then was moved to Polytrack and finished second in the Cougar II Handicap on Aug. 5.
"After the Cougar II, he sort of came to life," Baffert said. "I've always felt that if a horse is in the zone, you take a shot."
Right place, right time for Smith
Jockey Mike Smith was walking around lucky. He had no mount for the Pacific Classic. He tried to get on Parading, but Rafael Bejarano was already in that spot. Baffert was considering running both Misremembered and Richard's Kid. Had just one of those two run in the Pacific Classic, Espinoza would have had the mount. But when Baffert decided to run both horses, Espinoza cast his lot with Misremembered. Richard's Kid needed a rider, and Baffert asked Smith.
"It's funny how things work out," Smith said. "Bob came to me and said, 'How'd you like to ride this horse? He'll run big, trust me.' "
Baffert told Smith before the race that he would bow down on his knees if Smith won. In the winner's circle, Baffert made good on his promise.
Business strong on Classic Day
Attendance was up, but handle down when comparing Pacific Classic Day to one year ago, when the race was held a week earlier, but there was an increase in both categories when compared to the corresponding Sunday of the Labor Day weekend.
The crowd was 42,459, the second-largest ever on Pacific Classic Day to the 44,181 who came to see Cigar's bid for a 17th straight win in 1996. Many in this year's crowd arrived late or even after the races in order to attend a post-race concert in the infield featuring Ziggy Marley. There were 30,102 at last year's Pacific Classic, when it was run on a Saturday and was not part of the holiday weekend.
The Sunday crowd was the second biggest this season to the all-time Del Mar record of 44,907, which came opening day.
Sunday's all-sources handle totaled $20,349,753, a decline from last year's Pacific Classic Day total of $23,521,813. But on the corresponding Labor Day Sunday a year ago, the handle was $17,816,086, and the attendance was 23,949, so Del Mar was up considerably this year by comparison.
Crown of Thorns returns in sprint
Crown of Thorns ran three times in two months to begin his career, one that looked full of promise after he won the Robert Lewis Stakes, a major prep for the Santa Anita Derby, in February 2008. But not until Wednesday, 19 months later, will he get back to the races, when he competes in a second-level allowance going 6 1/2 furlongs at Del Mar.
"He came out of the Lewis with a fractured shin," trainer Richard Mandella said Monday morning. "We put in screws, then took them out. After that, there was a lot of trainer error. Just a lot of little things."
Mandella said Crown of Thorns was ready for a race earlier this meet, but then developed an entrapped epiglottis that needed "a little procedure."
"I'd have run him three or four weeks ago. If I'd have done that," he said, joking, "this layoff wouldn't have seemed so long. Us trainers, we tell our owners, 'You're going to run at Del Mar.' We just don't say which year."
All joking aside, Crown of Thorns has the potential to be a serious horse. He won twice in three starts before going to the sidelines.
"We still have big hopes," Mandella said. "He's a good horse. The race Wednesday is probably not at his ideal distance. I'm sure he'd prefer more distance. It's a place to get him started."
Rosario, Rendezvous score in derby
Jockey Joel Rosario, en route to the riding title at Del Mar, won four races Sunday, including on Rendezvous, who got up in the final stride to nose out Battle of Hastings in the Grade 2, $350,000 Del Mar Derby.
"I didn't give Joel any instructions," said trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who also is a co-owner of Rendezvous. "I decided that Joel was riding super and I left him alone."
Afleet Eagle was pulled up on the far turn and vanned off with what was believed to be a tendon injury, according to steward Ingrid Fermin, acting on information from the track veterinarian. Trainer Vladimir Cerin said after the race that the injury "was not life-threatening" but declined to comment further.
- additional reporting by Steve Andersen