The rail proved to be doubly golden for Baffert and Bailey. The pair teamed up earlier on the Gold Cup card to swipe the $400,000 Swaps Stakes (gr. II) with Jim McIngvale's During, who scotched the return of favored Ten Most Wanted.
In retrospect, the Swaps outcome wasn't much of a shock, for Baffert has always thought a great deal of During. The colt's development this spring, in fact, foreshadowed a bright future. But the 3-year-old son of Cherokee Run stalled a bit in a series of stakes back east, and most expected him to do the same in the nine-furlong Swaps.
Bailey's hopes rested in During's ability to set a conservative pace against a field that lacked a bona fide front-runner. The strategy worked like a charm, at least until During reached the far turn and found five snarling closers on his tail. By the quarter pole, though, it had boiled down to just two--Eye of the Tiger, fresh from an impressive run in Hollywood's Affirmed Handicap (gr. III), and Ten Most Wanted, last seen stretching Empire Maker to the hilt in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Here, Bailey was not brimming with confidence.
Jockey Pat Day, on the other hand, was thinking the Swaps was just about in the books. Concerned with Ten Most Wanted's early nonchalance--the son of Deputy Commander was last after During's :48.18 half-mile--Day gave his colt a signal to move in down the backstretch. Ten Most Wanted responded with an outside attack that soon put him in a three-way battle for control.
Leaving the turn, Day had Eye of the Tiger and During right where he wanted them. A few strides later, Ten Most Wanted had the lead, Day had switched his stick, and one left-handed swat should have been enough for Ten Most Wanted to put the others away for good. Instead, he lost it. His focus, that is.
"When he discovered he was in front by himself, he drifted out a little bit, his ears went up, and he quit running," Day said. "It just really caught me by surprise. It's like taking your foot off the accelerator."
Oh, that confused kid. Day said Ten Most Wanted had no problem delivering the final blow under similar circumstances in April's Illinois Derby (gr. II). His momentary lapse in concentration this time, though, opened the door for During, who had far from quit along the fence. By the time Day got Ten Most Wanted straightened out, it was too late. During hit the finish a head in front. Eye of the Tiger and Outta Here dead-heated for third, three-quarters of a length behind Ten Most Wanted.
"He was giving me all he had anyway," Bailey said, recounting During's final quarter-mile. "They cruised up there like they were going to beat me several lengths, but to his credit, he kept going. He kept digging."
During was bred in Kentucky by Gulf States Racing Stables II. A GLEAM IN O'NEILL'S EYES
Ah, Tahiti. The turquoise waters. The pristine shores. Waterfalls, windsurfing, tikis! A chance to visit the Polynesian paradise, courtesy of Hollywood Park management, has been awaiting the track's leading trainer since April. In truth, the contest has never been close. The meet--and the trip for two--have pretty much belonged to Doug O'Neill from the start.
Tahiti or not, though, it's been a cool summer for the O'Neill stable thus far. Heading into Hollywood's final week, the Michigan native had already sent out 35 winners, the highest total since Laz Barrera's 37 led the meet back in 1979. Even O'Neill is astonished by the good fortune.
"We had a pretty good idea that we'd run a lot," he said. "The one certainty was that if they stayed sound, we were going to have a lot of starters. But it's been a happy surprise, that's for sure."
The barn got a huge boost on Gold Cup day when Cee's Elegance downed grade I winners You and Affluent to win the $250,000 A Gleam Invitational Handicap (gr. II). A daughter of Cee's Tizzy bred by the late Cecilia Straub-Rubens, Cee's Elegance has developed an affinity for races at the long end of the sprint spectrum, and the seven-furlong A Gleam was a perfect fit. Under jockey Victor Espinoza, she cast aside front-running Bear Fan and blew things open at the top of the stretch. You and Affluent closed in together but never gave Cee's Elegance any real scare. Owned by Cees Stable, the 6-year-old California-bred mare won by a comfortable 1 1/2 lengths, while You edged Affluent for second. The time was 1:21.47.
"She was competing with some really, really nice fillies," O'Neill said. "It is surprising, but at the same time, she's run fast enough at times to make her competitive there." b AT THE WIRE
Full Moon Madness shows up about as often as a lunar eclipse, but when he does, he's one tough competitor. The son of Half a Year made his latest comeback on July 12, and again, not even a one-year absence could keep him down. Owned by the Corey Family Trust, the 8-year-old gelding held off late-running Sea to See for a half-length victory in the 5 1/2-furlong Robert K. Kerlan Memorial Handicap on turf. Full Moon Madness has now won five of seven sprinting over the Hollywood grass, including his first Kerlan score three years ago. He is trained jointly by Bob Marshall and Ruben Cardenas...Jockey Julie Krone returned to action on July 10. The Hall of Fame rider had been sidelined with severe back problems stemming from a riding mishap in early March at Santa Anita.