12/08/2010 12:59PM

Flores may be sitting on next 'big horse' in Turbulent Descent

Benoit & Associates
Turbulent Descent, David Flores up, wins the Moccasin.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Considering the logistics, the offer may not have been the most appealing at the time.

In late summer, trainer Mike Puype contacted jockey David Flores, asking him to drive from Del Mar to Hollywood Park, about 120 miles, to work an unraced filly named Turbulent Descent. For Flores, that would consume his whole morning, but there was something in the way Puype talked that said the journey would be worth it.

“The first time I breezed her I knew Mike was high on her,” Flores recalled last weekend. “He said, ‘Let’s see what she’s got.’ I could feel there was something to the horse.”

So far, that something is perfection. Turbulent Descent is unbeaten in two starts, including the Moccasin Stakes at Hollywood Park last month, and has the role of favorite in Saturday’s Grade 1, $300,000 Hollywood Starlet Stakes at Hollywood Park.

For Flores, containing his excitement about the filly’s potential is a losing cause. Her performances have left him wondering how much she can accomplish on Saturday – and into 2011. He is allowing himself to wonder whether Turbulent Descent will be his “big horse”, the sort of mount that all jockeys covet and one he has been desperate to get for more than 2 1/2 years.

“That’s what we chase every day and that’s why we work every morning,” he said.

Three years ago Flores had such a big horse and he wants one back.

Flores, 42, was the first jockey to ride Zenyatta, riding her in her first three races in the fall and winter of 2007-08, including a win in the El Encino Stakes at Santa Anita in January 2008. But when Zenyatta was sent to Oaklawn Park for the 2008 Apple Blossom Stakes that April, Flores gave up the mount to ride El Gato Malo in the Santa Anita Derby the same day, hoping to find a leading contender for the Kentucky Derby, a race he has never won.

El Gato Malo was beaten in the Santa Anita Derby and did not run in the Kentucky Derby. Zenyatta won the Apple Blossom and her next 15 races – under jockey Mike Smith – and is widely considered among history’s finest female racehorses.

Flores never rode Zenyatta again.

Last weekend, Flores reflected on that decision, and how jockeys and their agents must choose between mounts for all kinds of races regularly. When the one that got away is Zenyatta, it can sting.

“I’ve been in that situation thousands of times,” he said. “I’ve been on the good side and the bad. It’s a balance. Sometimes you’ve got to make a call. I’ve had to accept that. You have to make a decision.”

In late November, he recalled, Flores had the option of riding Kid Edward or Sebastian Flyte in the $250,000 Hollywood Derby. He committed to Kid Edward, but was left without a mount when that horse was sidelined a week before the race with a knee injury. Sebastian Flyte ran second in the Hollywood Derby.

“What can you do?” Flores said.

Focus on the future, he said.

Flores has yet to ask Turbulent Descent for her best effort. In her maiden race win on Oct. 3, Turbulent Descent rallied from fourth in the stretch to win a maiden race over six furlongs by three-quarters of a length. Flores never used his whip.

Turbulent Descent’s victory in the seven-furlong Moccasin Stakes on Nov. 21 was just as easy. Turbulent Descent was within a length of the lead on the backstretch, took over in early stretch, and won by 1 1/2 lengths.

In the Starlet, Turbulent Descent will race at 1 1/16 miles for the first time. Puype’s confidence in the filly, already high, soared after Flores worked Turbulent Descent five furlongs in 1:00.80 last Sunday.

“She wasn’t even breathing,” Puype said. “She’s the real deal.

“He hasn’t asked for anything more. He hasn’t turned her loose. It’s like driving a Ferrari and not using the gas pedal.”

Flores says he has been deliberately patient on the filly.

“Both races have been pretty easy for her,” Flores said. “I’ll take it a race at a time. What’s necessary is to let her run enough to learn the right way.

“We don’t want her to get too burned too early. She’s only had two races. We’re looking forward to big races. Now she’ll go two turns. I think this will be the first big test, like Zenyatta going long.

“It’s always exciting because she has the ability that not many horses have.”

If he’s right, Flores and Turbulent Descent will have a long partnership.