Came Home outruns Mayakovsky  in the Hopeful.

Came Home outruns Mayakovsky in the Hopeful.

NYRA/Adam Coglianese

Saratoga Race Report: Safe at Home

Published in Sept. 8 issue of The Blood-Horse
One day after the crushing news of Point Given's retirement, it was time to start all over again. Time to start searching for that one special star whose mere presence assures record crowds and sends turf writers searching for new superlatives. Will this be the one who stirs the soul? Will this be the one who causes hearts to race? More importantly, will this be the one who endures?

Point Given, like so many before him, departed way too soon. But hopes and dreams are what drive this sport, and despite its untimely losses, it must constantly look to the future. On Sept. 1, seven 2-year-olds paraded to the post for the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I), looking to set off a spark that one day might ignite into the raging fire lit by Point Given a week earlier in the Travers Stakes (gr. I).

When it was over, that spark glowed brightly in the yellow and silver colors of John Toffan and Trudy McCaffery. Their latest star is Came Home, who has spent his entire life coming home. Since he was a baby, Toffan and McCaffery had been trying to peddle him off.

Three times they attempted to part company with the son of Gone West, and on two of those occasions, they even shipped him across the country to try to sell him. But each time they arrived back home, there he was, like Lassie, returning from some new adventure. No matter how far his journey, he always managed to find his way back. He knew where he belonged, so why go off with some strange owner and trainer when he could stay home and be cared for by the gentle hands of Paco Gonzalez and get smothered with kisses from McCaffery?

The first time Came Home saw a sales ring, it was at the Keeneland November mixed sale in 1999, and he was only a weanling. His mother, Nice Assay, was put in the same sale in foal to A.P. Indy and went for $1.7 million. Toffan and McCaffery put a $700,000 reserve on the colt. The bidding quickly shot up to $400,000, in $100,000 jumps, so the little guy had to do some fast thinking. Then he had a brainstorm. He reared up and flipped over on his back. "Just like that, the bidding stopped," Toffan said. It did manage to trickle slowly up to $650,000, where it ended. Time to come home.

From then on, the colt made sure his value kept plummeting. The following year, at the Keeneland September yearling sale, Toffan and McCaffery were forced to buy him back for only $300,000. "He just didn't draw a crowd," Toffan said. "I couldn't understand it." The colt obviously was giving off some bad vibes. Time to come home again.

They tried one last time this year, putting him in the Barretts 2-year-old sale. This was the colt's final obstacle. If he could get through this sale, he was home free. This one was easy. All he had to do was work slowly and the speed-obsessed buyers would ignore him. He did and they did.

"He didn't draw a single live bid," Toffan said. He and McCaffery now had to take him back for a mere $145,000. At this rate, if they kept trying to sell him, they'd have to pay someone to take him. So, the colt finally came home for good. And he even helped out by naming himself.

Thus began the tale of Came Home, who now spends his time coming home first in races. After winning his first two starts--a maiden race at Hollywood Park by eight lengths in :57.53 and the Hollywood Juvenile Championship (gr. III) by four lengths in 1:09.20, a decision had to be made. Stay home and face Bob Baffert's undefeated monster Officer or head for points east in order to avoid an early gut-wrencher against the brilliant son of Bertrando?

It was decided to let Officer pick on the privates and corporals out west and head to Saratoga for the Hopeful, which wasn't exactly easy pickins, with track-record holder Mayakovsky and D. Wayne Lukas' talented pair of Jump Start and Proud Citizen.

"It's not that we're totally running away from Officer," Toffan said just before leaving for the Spa. "He's an awesome horse, but so are we."

A deep blue sky, dotted with white puffs of clouds, and cool temperatures made for a spectacular afternoon following overnight rains. Came Home was sent off as the even-money favorite, with Saratoga Special (gr. II) winner Jump Start next at 5-2. At 9-2 was Mayakovsky, who had broken Saratoga's 55-year-old track record for 5 1/2 furlongs on opening day in his only start. Earlier on the Hopeful card, the colt Mayakovsky defeated, Thunderello, destroyed a maiden field by 14 1/4 lengths in 1:03.56, which was only a tick off the record Mayakovsky set.

At the start of the Hopeful, Proud Citizen broke in the air, costing him all chance. Came Home, under Chris McCarron, shot to the front, but it was Roman Dancer, another California refugee fleeing Officer, who took over along the rail through fractions of :22.40 and :45.47. McCarron cruised up alongside Roman Dancer nearing the quarter pole, as Mayakovsky came charging up on his outside to join the battle. Jump Start was going nowhere, nor was Proud Citizen, who was unable to get into the hunt following the bad start.

Came Home and Mayakovsky both switched leads perfectly after turning for home and began to draw off from the others. Mayakovsky made a threatening run at Came Home, but the California invader had another gear left. He drew clear in the final sixteenth to win by two lengths. Although the Hopeful has only been run at seven furlongs since 1994, Came Home's time of 1:21.94 still was a full second faster than the previous record held by High Yield. Thunder Days ran on well to finish third, 6 3/4 lengths behind Mayakovsky.

"This race says to me that he's a very good horse," Gonzalez said. "When he came out of his last race, he was a little sick. He caught a cold and we had to back off him a little bit. So, I was a little bit worried at the eighth pole. He's a little horse, but he gets his head down and he's got a nice, long stride. We're thinking very hard about staying east and running him in the Champagne (gr. I)."

That should make for a super rematch with Mayakovsky, who ran a sensational race, coming off only one 5 1/2-furlong maiden race five weeks earlier. After the Champagne comes the World Thoroughbred Championships, and then, once again, Came Home will come home, but this time he may just come home a champion in the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I).

Continued. . . .