There weren't a lot of fireworks in the $150,000 Swaps Stakes (gr. II) as Blueskiesnrainbows dictated an even tempo and held on gamely for his first stakes victory in the Independence Day feature at Betfair Hollywood Park (VIDEO).
Blueskiesnrainbows opened a two-length lead at mid-stretch for jockey Joe Talamo and outfought the closers Nonios and Liaison to the wire.
Trained by Bob Baffert for owners Bad Boy Racing and Whizway Farms, Blueskiesnrainbows continues to impress after a humble start to his career. The son of English Channel nearly stole the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) at odds of 42-1 three months ago when teamed with Talamo for the first time, finishing third, a half-length behind I'll Have Another .
Reunited with Talamo for the Swaps after an unsuccessful try on grass at Churchill Downs May 4, Blueskiesnrainbows defeated six other 3-year-olds while wearing blinkers for the first time. He was sent off at odds of 7-2.
Baffert earned his record fifth Swaps victory, all since 2000, passing D. Wayne Lukas. Blueskiesnrainbows triumphed by three-quarters of a length over Affirmed Handicap (gr. III) winner Nonios (Pleasantly Perfect —Stylish Manner, by Touch Gold) ridden by Martin Pedroza. Liaison , the 2-1 favorite, rallied from last under Rafael Bejarano to just miss the runner-up spot by a head.
Blueskiesnrainbows was coming off a ninth-place finish in the American Turf Stakes (gr. IIT) at Churchill May 4.
"The owners wanted to take a chance in the turf race at Churchill Downs, so we gave it a roll," Baffert said. "It didn't work out. He didn't ship well and got really hot. I'm not ruling out turf for this horse yet because it didn't count that day. It took him a while to get back in the swing of things and now he's finally getting back into his groove."
Carving easy quarter mile fractions of :24.15, :48,18, and 1:12.88 on Hollywood's Cushion Track, Blueskiesnrainbows repelled a challenge from Nonios, who advanced smartly on the outside rounding the far turn. Blueskiesnrainbows took command in the lane to lead by two lengths at the furlong pole and came home in 1:50.89 for the 1 1/8-mile distance.
Talamo said he was instructed to sit tight on Blueskiesnrainbows and save as much horse as possible for the drive.
"We went so easy the first part so we had a lot of horse left when those two horses came at him," Talamo said. "He fought really hard, just like he did in the Santa Anita Derby."
Nonios, who kept coming in deep stretch following a wide move around the turn, made it close at the end while the fast-closing Liaison was widest of all while trying to win for the first time since taking the CashCall Futurity (gr. I) at Hollywood last December.
Liaison was making his first start since finishing sixth for Baffert in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) May 5. Rousing Sermon, in his first appearance since running eighth in the "Run for the Roses," was next, followed by Called to Serve, Empire Way, and All Squared Away.
Edward P. Evans bred Blueskiesnrainbows in Virginia. The chestnut colt is out of Cho Cho San, by Deputy Minister. Part of the Evans' dispersal last year, Lane's End, agent, sold Blueskiesnrainbows for $33,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale.
Blueskiesnrainbows could have been had for $30,000, the tag he raced for when graduating at Hollywood in his third start Dec. 31. In his next start, the chestnut colt defeated a $40,000 starter allowance field by 7 1/4 lengths. Blueskiesnrainbows made a major jump into the April 7 Santa Anita Derby where he set a solid pace and came up a bit short when passed late by top 3-year-olds I'll Have Another and Creative Cause.
Blueskiesnrainbows has now won three times in eight starts with a pair of thirds and earnings of $221,242.
Carrying a feathery 113 pounds, Blueskiesnrainbows paid $9.60, $6.60, and $3 as the third choice. He topped a $41 exacta with Nonios, who returned $4.20 and $2.60. Liaison, who toted top weight of 120 pounds, paid $2.40.
"Joe did a great job of slowing it down," Baffert said. "I thought I could run first and second, but Liaison kind of struggled a little bit with that slow pace. I was a little disappointed, but they ran their races. I'll get them down to Del Mar and decide what to do with them. They'll be nominated all over the country. There are Derbies everywhere."