Tom VanMeter II hopes he has the bases covered in Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). A principal in Eaton Sales along with Reiley McDonald, VanMeter has sold many "home run" runners, but he has two of his own on deck for the $1-million race for 2-year-old fillies: Be Gentle and Victory U.S.A.
Besides having two talented fillies in the race, it helps that in his corner is a deadly double-play combination of trainers in D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert. The high-profile trainers are among the biggest players in the auction arena. "You have to support those who support you," VanMeter said of the dynamic duo.
The fillies have another connection beside ownership.
"What's interesting is that they were both in the same sale as 2-year-olds at the Calder sale in Miami," VanMeter said. "They were hip numbers 305 and 309, and now they're both in the Juvenile Fillies in gate eight and 13."
Victory U.S.A., trained by Baffert will break from post 8, and Be Gentle, the Darley Alcibiades (gr .II) winner trained by Lukas, will break from 13. Victory U.S.A. was a $525,000 purchase out of the February sale, while Be Gentle failed to meet her reserve as an Eaton Sales consignee and VanMeter bought out some of his partners in a pinhooking venture to gain ownership.
Victory U.S.A. created a little buzz around the track with her overall good looks and condition and her 1:14 six-furlong work on Sunday.
VanMeter, who arrived in Los Angeles on Wednesday has been busy shuttling back and forth between barns to check up on his runners, as well as networking with clients. On the track apron Friday, VanMeter hung out with Baffert and was joined later by Satish Sanan, owner of Class Above, another of Baffert's fillies in the race.
"I was the man at 6:30 (a.m.), but then Satish showed up," VanMeter said jokingly of sharing his time with Baffert. But all kidding aside, as VanMeter wishes his clients well, he's here to win the race for himself.
"I want to beat him," VanMeter said of Sanan, and everyone else in the field for that matter. "John Gaines once told me, 'Sometimes in order for you to do good, you're friends have to do bad.'
"I never wish people good luck in the paddock, because when they do it to me, I know they don't really mean it. They want to win, too. We're all here to beat 'em."
VanMeter worked his way back to Lukas' barn on the Santa Anita backstretch. "Everything's good," Lukas reported. "She's right."
"She's 30-1 (on the morning line), and that's when he does his best," VanMeter said. Lukas has had quite a knack over the last few years winning Breeders' Cup and Triple Crown races with high-odds horses. A few examples are Cash Run and Cat Thief in the 1999 Breeders' Cup at Gulfstream Park, and the 2000 Belmont (gr. I) with Commendable.
That helps give VanMeter confidence, but he noted "they're all winners today," alluding to the hopes and dreams of the connections of Breeders' Cup horses on the eve of the World Thoroughbred Championships. His confidence is high because he's been down this road before as an owner, with Brahms in the 2001 Mile (gr. IT).
"Brahms had a little ankle chip that we were dealing with and in his previous race he was fourth in the Shadwell Turf Mile," he said. 'He had lost a step that fall and I wasn't that confident. I was hoping to get a piece." Brahms finished sixth.
On Saturday, VanMeter is hoping for more than a piece of the action. "I think we can win," he said. He's just not sure which one he prefers.