HOT SPRINGS — Assessing Bob Baffert's double dip in the Southwest Stakes, I'm in denial.
HOT SPRINGS — Assessing Bob Baffert’s double dip in the Southwest Stakes, I’m in denial.
Despite witnessing his two colts win and sleeping on the results, I don’t believe four trainers who have won Triple Crown races, another who is in the Hall of Fame, and some other very good horsemen were simultaneously wrong about their 3-year-old thoroughbreds.
The quick read is that victories by Castaway and Secret Circle say that Baffert’s third- and fourth-stringers were superior to the best trained by Steve Asmussen, John Servis, Lynn Whiting, D. Wayne Lukas, Jerry Hollendorfer, and others.
To knock down that theory, excuses are needed. A review of the tape reveals a few.
In the first division of the two $250,000 races, Longview Drive and Unbridled’s Note were co-favorites at 3-1. The former finished in a three-way dead heat for sixth and the latter was right behind that threesome.
The public was wrong. So what?
Trained by Hollendorfer, Longview Drive was on or near the lead in all but one of his six previous races, the one in November at a six-furlong bull ring in south Louisiana. On Monday, he was a step slow out of the gate and was on the rail in the early going. Martin Garcia maneuvered Longview Drive to the outside, but he was five wide at one time — not the place to be when the leaders turn for home and the short stretch run that is part of the one-mile race.
Trained by Asmussen, Unbridled’s Note, 10-1 on the morning line, was so well thought of that he opened up as the favorite even though his resume consisted only of a 4 1/2-length victory in a maiden race at Churchill Downs last October. That day, he was in front soon after the start. On Monday, he broke last and never threatened.
“When we left the gate … we were way far back and we didn’t want to be there,” said jockey Julien Leparoux, who did not punish the colt.
Call that race a learning experience.
In the second division of the Southwest, Cyber Secret was the biggest disappointment. The second choice in the race after an impressive front-running victory on Feb. 4, he finished a dozen lengths behind the other “Secret.”
Whiting used the 1992 Southwest to teach eventual Kentucky Derby winner Lil E. Tee how to be content off the pace and that was the immediate thought when Cyber Secret was fourth early on and third into the far turn. At that point, he regressed.
The next day, I heard track announcer Frank Mirahmadi tell the TVG audience that Cyber Secret was “a little bit wet” when he entered the track. If the wet was sweat, the colt might have been nervous.
There is also a case to be made for Scatman, a gritty second to Secret Circle in his first race at more than six furlongs.
In addition to giving some of the Southwest competitors a second chance, there will be new faces for the $500,000 Rebel on March 17. Some horsemen passed on the Southwest because they believe the one-mile distance of the Southwest is quirky and that the extra sixteenth of the Rebel is more fair. In addition, Baffert has two other 3-year-olds in the Daily Racing Form’s top 15 Derby horses and either is possible for the Rebel.
Before Lukas became an Oaklawn regular, the wagering advice was “D. Wayne off the plane.” If Baffert ships in again and makes off with the money, the new suggestion will be “Never mind, bet Bob blind.”
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.