A dinner conversation in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. this summer turned a bit sour for trainer David Fawkes when the person he was talking to offered an unsolicited opinion on starting from the rail.
"The man said, 'The one hole? That's the kiss of death. No horse wins out of the one hole,'" Fawkes recalled of the conversation that took place the evening before he would saddle Bahamian Squall to a runner-up finish in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course. "I said, 'Thanks.'"
For Fawkes the conversation felt like a bad omen and the next day he would watch as Bahamian Squall struggled for position.
"Johnny (Velazquez) on (Vanderbilt winner) Justin Phillip did a great job of race riding. He kept us down on the rail," Fawkes said.
South Florida-based Fawkes hopes for some improved racing luck Saturday when he saddles Bahamian Squall in the $1.5 million Xpressbet Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park. The racing week started with some good news when the 4-year-old Gone West colt drew post position 6, sparing Fawkes further rumination about racing from the inside post.
"I said, 'Thank you,' when we drew the six," Fawkes said.
That post should suit the running style of Bahamian Squall well. The dark bay or brown colt with a white blaze typically races from just off the pace. He won this year's Smile Sprint Handicap (gr. II) July 6 at Calder Race Course by rallying from fourth and also advanced from fourth to second in the Vanderbilt.
"The Smile was a great race for him," Fawkes said. "I was very proud of him."
Fawkes said the Sprint should have three or four horses challenging for the early lead. He hopes Bahamian Squall and jockey Luis Saez are able to find a position just behind them.
"It looks like there's plenty of pace in this one," Fawkes said. "It looks like there's three or four horses with plenty of gas."
A homebred for Donald Dizney, Bahamian Squall is a half brother to Dizney's Apriority, a grade III winner who placed second in the 2011 Carter Handicap (gr. I) and finished off the board in the 2011 Sprint. The two horses are out of the Storm Bird mare Midway Squall, who also has produced stakes winner Squall City.
Fawkes will be trying for his second Sprint victory since 2010, when he sent out Big Drama to victory as the son of Montbrook nailed down champion sprinter honors. While Bahamian Squall and Big Drama both won the Smile, Fawkes said the similarities end there.
"He's much more like his half brother Apriority," Fawkes said of Bahamian Squall.
Bahamian Squall showed talent from the start but injury slowed his debut and first racing season last year. As 2012 turned to 2013, Bahamian Squall began to find his best stride, winning a stakes at Gulfstream Park to close the year and opening 2013 there with a runner-up finish in the Sunshine Millions Sprint Stakes. While the Smile is Bahamian Squall's only other win this year, he has earned three other stakes placings.
Fawkes attributes his fifth-place finish in the Vosburgh Invitational Stakes Sept. 28 at Belmont Park to not liking the surface.
"He's not the first horse to not like Big Sandy," Fawkes said, noting that he has been handling the Santa Anita surface well.
His only other out-of-the-money finish this year was a fourth in the Ponche Handicap at Calder Casino & Race Course where he uncharacteristically went to the lead early and faded to fourth.
"That was not (jockey Juan) Leyva's fault, that was my fault," Fawkes said. "There was no speed in the race and the track was biased that day. I said, 'Just put him on the lead; there's nobody in there, you should be all right.' But he just doesn't like that. We came right back and he won (the Smile)."
With a field of 12 expected to bring plenty of competitive fire in the Sprint, Fawkes believes Bahamian Squall's cool demeanor will prove useful.
"He's a good boy all the time, on the track, in the paddock," Fawkes said. "He rates well for the jockey."