Steve Haskin's Road to the Kentucky Derby: Baffert Brigade Marches On

Steve Haskin's Road to the Kentucky Derby: Baffert Brigade Marches On
Photo: Benoit
Haskin says Kafwain won the San Vicente in "magnificent style."
Talk about hot on the Derby trail, Bob Baffert has won the first two major Kentucky Derby preps at Santa Anita, with different horses – Domestic Dispute and Kafwain. In addition, both horses won in magnificent style, and neither of them are even Baffert's main Derby hope. That, of course, is 2-year-old champ Vindication. Baffert also won a recent allowance race with Apalachian Thunder and sends out Truckle Feature in Friday's Sham Stakes.

But not even a wealth of riches is assurance of a blissful journey to Louisville. Every trainer is aware that this is a perilous path, and they must learn to accept any pitfalls along the way. But when they have an undefeated champion and winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, they must also accept the microscopic scrutiny that comes with every trip to the racetrack. It's simply the nature of the beast. If you're Bob Baffert, however, that scrutiny seems multiplied several times over. While Baffert has reveled in the victories of Domestic Dispute in the Santa Catalina and Kafwain in Saturday's San Vicente Stakes, he has had to deal with several issues concerning Vindication, and it's only the first weekend in February.

Forget the controversial jockey switch from Mike Smith to Jerry Bailey. That was Baffert's decision, and it's over and done with. Forget Baffert's indignation over certain comments that have appeared in print. That's meaningless in the long run. And, according to Baffert, forget Vindication's missed workout last week. The bottom line, again according to Baffert, is that the son of Seattle Slew "is fine;" he returned to the track (Monday) and everything looks good;" "a few extra days off isn't going to hurt him right now;" and "he'll breeze this week."

Those are the facts according to Baffert, and that's all that matters. Baffert has won three Kentucky Derbys in the past six years and had the favorite in two other years. There's nothing to do but let him try to get Vindication to the Derby the best way he knows how and hope for smooth sailing the rest of the way.

In the meantime, Baffert has two other noble steeds who have already made the transition from 2 to 3 in grand style. If you ever want a textbook lesson in Thoroughbred class, you need only watch the San Vicente Stakes. Here you had three exciting speedsters – Southern Image, Runnin' on Nitro, and Sum Trick. All three had demonstrated blazing speed, but had only five career starts between them. Their only stakes experience was Sum Trick's victory in the Riley Allison Futurity at Sunland Park as a maiden. Kafwain, on the other hand, had won the Norfolk Stakes and ran second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Hollywood Futurity, and Del Mar Futurity.

In the San Vicente, he totally outclassed his opponents, stalking them through blistering fractions of :22 and :44. After blowing by all three turning for home, he opened a clear lead under a hand ride, passing the eighth pole in 1:08 flat. He continued to draw off, winning by 4 1/2 lengths in 1:21 flat.

Being by Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Cherokee Run, who was badly beaten in the Travers and Belmont Stakes, there is a question regarding his ability to stay a mile and a quarter. In making a case for him, one has to remember that Cherokee Run was an extremely versatile colt who finished second, beaten a half-length, in the Preakness Stakes, while breaking from the disastrous 12 post. He also won the 1 1/8-mile Dwyer Stakes by 6 lengths in 1:47 3/5, and his sire, Runaway Groom, won the Travers. With Kafwain's tail-female family, perhaps being able to handle nine to nine and a half furlongs will be enough.

Kafwain's broodmare sire, Moment of Hope, won two stakes in New York at 1 1/8 miles and is by Timeless Moment, who has been predominantly a speed influence from the Damascus line.

The tail-female family is another story. Kafwain's second dam's sire is Greentree's classy Hatchet Man, who beat Forego going 1 1/4 miles and is the broodmare sire of Kentucky Derby winner Strike the Gold. His third dam is by Quack, who held the world's record on dirt for 1 1/4 miles (1:58 1/5) before it was broken by Spectacular Bid. Quack's time (winning the Hollywood Gold Cup) still is the fastest 1 1/4 miles ever run by a 3-year-old. Kafwain's fourth dam is a daughter of Your Hostess, who is the dam of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Majestic Prince. Also tracing to Your Hostess are English Derby winner Secreto, French Derby winner Caracolero, and Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet. So, top and bottom, you have an excellent cross-section of speed and stamina, and there certainly is no doubting Kafwain's versatility. He has a dosage index of 3.00.

Another interesting winner over the weekend was Robledo, who upset the brilliant Siberland on his home track in the Turf Paradise Derby. And this is a colt who was pulled up and vanned off the track in an ambulance two weeks earlier in the Santa Catalina Stakes after getting plowed into from both sides at the start. He got his feet tangled up pretty badly and wound up hitting himself on both tendons. Julie Krone sensed something was wrong and pulled him up, a move for which trainer Vladimir Cerin is very grateful. Prior to that race, Robledo had won two in a row, at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park.

In the Turf Paradise Derby, he tracked the 3-10 Siberland in second, then found himself boxed in, dropping back to fourth. Jockey David Flores found an opening and came through to challenge on the outside of Siberland nearing the head of the stretch. Siberland hung on gamely, but Robledo finally wore him down in the final furlong to win by three-quarters of a length. It was a gap of 17 3/4 lengths back to the third-place finisher in the five-horse field. Robledo came home his final quarter in :24 and his final sixteenth in :06 1/5 to complete the 1 1/16 miles in 1:41 3/5. By comparison, the final time for the Arizona Oaks run the same day was 1:43 2/5. Although the winner won big, she was under a full-out drive to the wire.

Robledo is quite a story having failed to meet his reserve as a yearling at the Keeneland January mixed sale for, get this, $1,900. He was bought back by his owner and breeder, Sergio Levenzon, who gets the award for the best stable name of the year so far. Levenzon is an obstetrician and races under the name Push Push Stable.

This is a colt who is by Robannier, a son of Cavonnier's sire Batonnier, who in turn is a son of His Majesty. Robannier's second dam, Fairs Fair, is a full-sister to Horse of the Year and dual classic winner Arts and Letters, making Robledo inbred 4 x 4 to Ribot on his sire's side.

Continued...

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