Baptize hasn't seen a patch of grass from Texas to New York he doesn't like. The 3-year-old took his winning ways to Saratoga and a late surge put him in the winner's circle Monday after the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Handicap (gr. IIT).
Saint Verre led through the first six furlongs of the Hall of Fame Handicap and covered the distance in 1:12.25. Midway through the turn the pack started getting closer to the leader, escorted by Baptize. He took the lead leaving the turn, but appeared to hang for just a second, giving Strategic Partner and Saint Verre an opportunity to come on again. But Baptize also had a final burst of speed which powered him across the finish line 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Strategic Partner. Saint Verre held on for third. The winner covered 8 1/2 furlongs in 1:47.94 and paid $3.70. First Spear was fourth, followed by Royal Ambition, Tempest, and Dayton Flyer.
Gary and Mary West's pink and black silks went perfectly with Baptize's nearly black coat. The couple has the horse in training with Bill Mott, who chose jockey Jerry Bailey to be on board Monday. Bailey rode Baptize to a win in Keeneland's Transylvania Stakes in April and to a second-place finish behind Strategic Partner in the Crown Royal American Turf Stakes (gr. IIIT) in May. Since then, Larry Melancon and Mark Guidry have been aboard for the May 28 Diamond Stakes and a win in the June 30 Arlington Classic Stakes (gr. IIT), respectively.
Ron and Lori Kirk's Woods Edge Farm bred the winner with Michael Riordan. The son of Dynaformer was a $230,000 purchase at the 1999 Keeneland September yearling sale. He has never finished worse than third in 10 lifetime starts and now has earnings totaling $462,396.
It was Bailey's sixth victory in this race, formerly known as the Gallant Man. His previous winners were Dance of Life (1986), Posen (1988), Sir Cat (1996), Rob 'n Gin (1997) and Marquette (1999). The victory was worth $3.70 to the $2 win players in the crowd of 16,630.
"I was wondering where the speed would come from on paper," Bailey said. "Saint Verre was one I thought would possibly be it. It was a slow pace, but we were close enough that I wasn't worried about it. He always runs his race, and that's what he did today. I had plenty of horse in the stretch to hold off Mark Hennig's horse (Strategic Partner)."
"There were two in front of us, and being the favorite, I guess they were trying to keep us tight in there," said winning Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. "But Jerry was able to swing him out at the half- mile pole. Then, at the three-sixteenths pole he hit him left- handed, and the rest is history. He likes the firm going, doesn't like soft going. We'll have to look at the stake at the end of the meet, but we didn't look too much more beyond this. This was the first one on the list. I'm used to getting great rides with Jerry. It was nice to win this race today and get my picture taken with other Hall of Famers."
"He rebounded well to finish second here and we're happy with that," said trainer Mark Henning of Strategic Partner. "I just don't know what happened to him in his last race, but he has been a decent and consistent horse. We were confident he would get things rolling again. Our goal is to get him to the Hollywood Derby (Nov. 25), but we need to go backwards from there to figure out a plan."