Tag Archives: Bob Baffert

2010 Indiana Derby card live blog

3:09 p.m. After some issues with the wireless connection, I am coming to you live from the makeshift Hoosier Park press box. I’ll be keeping you posted with check-ins, updates and photos for the rest of the Indiana Derby card, or until I get too busy to write stuff.

We are coming up on the eighth race, so here is a quick update of what has been going on so far…

– The rain has been heavy and steady through the afternoon. The apron is sparsely populated, but the grandstand is packed. That many people in a fairly tight space can generate a pretty good sound as the field comes down the stretch.

– Michigan trainer Bob Gorham has been on a tear today, with two stakes wins on the card already. He saddled Perfectly Candid to victory in the $84,000 Miss Indiana Stakes with Leandro Goncalves aboard. He then followed up by giving Fernando De La Cruz the leg up aboard Bellamy Jones in the Indiana Futurity. Gorham. Both are owned by Mast Thoroughbreds, LLC. The pair will send Shakaleena to the post in the Indiana Oaks (G2) later in the evening.

– The track classed up the restaurant area for the big day, and there is a silent auction near the entrance. The thing about racing industry silent auctions is they are normally conducted among the wealthy owners, so I get blown out of contention early. Still, some pretty nice stuff there.

– Wandering around the grandstand are, in no particular order: Hoosier Buddy, the Hoosier Park mascot, a jockey on stilts and a handstanding Charlie Chaplin impersonator. The latter is easily the most awesome. Because I am here for you, I will try to get photos of all three of these figures doing something awesome. So far, I am one for three…

The aforementioned jockey on stilts, in all his glory.

Look for more check-ins as things get crazier. Until then, here are a couple more photos…Click to enlarge.

The Hoosier Park press box/dining table/press table. Among those pictured are Ed DeRosa, Molly Jo Rosen, Bruno DeJulio and superstar freelancer Claire Novak.

Oh yeah, and there is some racing, too. A muddied Benson returns to unsaddle under jockey Derek Bell.

4:35 p.m. After nine races, I’m finally on the board. I hit the exacta in the Hoosier Breeders Sophomore Stakes for a respectable payout, largely thanks to a big stretch drive by Northern Candyride and rider Leandro Goncalves.

Goncalves and Northern Candyride helping me cash a ticket.

The sun has come out just in time for the big boy/girl races and the rain has slowed for the time being. Hopefully it lasts for the main event. The apron is becoming more and more populated as time goes on. I’ll be curious to see how full it gets.

Two down, one to go. I’m coming for you, Charlie Chaplin…

Hoosier Buddy, the Hoosier Park mascot, photographed by an onlooker.

5:03 p.m. This is way more fun than I imagine my five-year high school reunion would have been. Just saying.

I just realized the tickets for Indiana Derby day feature a smiley face. Sometimes it’s the little things that count.

I was going to post a picture of Shakaleena in the paddock for the Indiana Oaks for regular commentator Ragman, but I just looked up at the simulcast feed and she has been scratched. Boo-urns.

The Indiana Oaks is up next. Until then, here are a couple more photos to tide you over.

Francisco Torres heads back to the jock's room after unsaddling from Nomorewineforeddie.

Orlando Mojica describes his ride after guiding Differentkindagreat.

6:47 p.m. Bob Baffert didn’t ship to the middle of Indiana to come home with anything less than two graded stakes wins. Fortunately, his charges held up their end of the bargain.

The California-based trainer took the first half of the Derby/Oaks double courtesy of a front-running trip by Always a Princess and jockey Martin Garcia.

The start of the Indiana Oaks.

The thrilling conclusion of the Indiana Oaks, with Always a Princess comfortably in the lead.

I wanted to poke in between the big races to throw the Oaks photos up, but the crowd became so dense around the paddock for the upcoming Indiana Derby I knew I had to get down there or risk missing the whole thing.

The crowd was was easily five deep when I arrived, all to see Eclipse Award winner Lookin At Lucky. One particular fan holding a sign declaring herself “Lucky’s No. 1 Fan” drew the attention of owner Michael Pegram, who promised the girl a spot in the winner’s circle should his horse pull it off. That was cool. Racing needs more of that.

It took some elbowing, but I managed to get to the gate and into the paddock (with an assist to Claire Novak and Pegram). I then worked my way over to the grass island that became the refuge for turf writers and photographers…and pretend turf writers alike.

While Lookin At Lucky was the star of the show, St. Maximus Gato acted like he owned the crowd. The gray gelding from Calder Race Course posed for any lens that looked in his direction. This was his first big effort, but he looked more than ready.

St. Maximus Gato looking awesome in the paddock.

I am still on the lookout for the Charlie Chaplin impersonator. I have crossed paths with him on several occasions, but every time I get my camera in place, he stops doing whatever cool thing he was doing. A picture of Charlie Chaplin just standing around is no good to any of us.

It’s time to go piss away my earnings in the casino. I’ll wrap it all up later tonight.

10:28 p.m. Okay, where were we?

The field made its way through the post parade, with Lookin at Lucky as the overwhelming favorite. I watched on from the winner’s circle with the press box contingent pictured somewhere above. Turf writers have the most interesting conversations. If you follow enough of them on Twitter, you likely know this first hand, because they love to quote one another when someone says something interesting or witty.

The race was mostly spent watching Lookin At Lucky get mud thrown in his face and wondering if and when he was going to make a move. Because I am a Michigan guy all the way, my inner Matt Hook was shouting “Lookin At Lucky needs to move and he needs to move now.” Lookin at Lucky was too wide, too far back and too covered with mud to make any noise at the top of the stretch, but he responded to jockey Martin Garcia’s urging and willed his way past Thiskyhasnolimit.

Meanwhile, St. Maximus Gato appeared primed to move up the rail and also overtake the leader. With a 6-9 exacta box ticket sitting in my pocket, this was a sight I was overjoyed to see. However, the part of the exacta that did not have an Eclipse Award on the mantle back home came up empty and finished third. Lookin at Lucky crossed the wire to win by a length.

Lookin At Lucky powers by Thiskyhasnolimit to win the Indiana Derby.

As soon as the race concluded, the crowd packed the area around the winner’s circle even deeper than they had in the paddock. Camera shutters clicked for the also-rans, but became more frequent when the winner approached.

Lookin At Lucky gets a quick wipe-down before getting his picture taken. Martin Garcia stayed muddy.

Pictures were taken, trophies were handed out, hugs were administered, then the media swarmed. First the TV networks got the winning connections, followed by the print media. As Baffert finished up with the TV crews, the reporters interviewed a still-muddy jockey Martin Garcia.

Garcia answers questions from the media following the Indiana Derby.

After Garcia was released from the media’s clutches, the swarm turned its attention on trainer Bob Baffert. Baffert, never at a loss for words smoothly fielded the questions. When asked if his charge had the chops to compete against super-mare Zenyatta in a potential Breeders’ Cup matchup, Baffert simply replied “Let’s find out.” Afterward, Baffert signed autographs and had pictures taken well after the last reporter left. I got tired of watching him sign programs before he got tired of signing them. It’s good to see a major horseman interact with the fans that came out to see him and his horse instead of treating the day like the smash-and-grab it ultimately was.

Baffert answers questions from the media following the Indiana Derby. I am too short to pull this shot off effectively.

This is where I picked up in my previous update. Baffert got his two trophies and the fans went home happy – even moreso after Zenyatta’s routine miracle victory. That horse is magic.

I never again ran into the Charlie Chaplin impersonator after stating my goal in the last update. Take my word for it. He was awesome.

Following the races, my group splintered off and grabbed a bite to eat, then splintered off again. My now smaller group headed back to Hoosier’s casino. In my first spin of the slots, I hit for $15. This put me in a small moral dilemma. Do I quit after one spin like a badass, but sacrifice the rest of the night, or do I risk blowing it all just to keep my somewhat rare casino visit going for a while longer?

I didn’t feel like going back to my hotel just yet so I chose the latter. In the short term, it was a bad decision. I ended up losing most of it in a combination of unforgiving slots and a cruel roulette wheel. After finishing ahead of the game at Prairie Meadows, I really wanted to play blackjack, but the the tables never opened up. Just as I was thinking about calling it a night with less than I came, a Breeders’ Cup slot machine opened up. Within a few spins, I was back to $16 above my starting point. I love horse racing. With my bankroll back to where it was after my first spin, it was finally time to quit while I was ahead like a badass.

So what can we take away from all of this?

Saturday’s Indiana Derby was a prime example of what can happen when things go right for the industry. The crowd came out, despite the rather miserable weather, to see arguably the best three-year-old in the country who came to town to cash in on a purse infused with casino steroids. Money barreled through the betting windows, and later the casino. The champ came back a winner and everybody went home happy. The weather could have been nicer, but all things considered, the day had to be considered a success.

When I look at what Hoosier Park has done with the Indiana Derby, and the state’s program in general, I believe Michigan is capable of becoming something close to the same thing, assuming it is allowed the tools to do so. There was a time when Michigan and Indiana were on similar ground in terms of their racing industries. Then Indiana went in one direction and Michigan went another, far less pleasant way.

Granted, the competition, both economically and politically, of tribal and Detroit casinos may dilute the effectiveness of expanded gaming in Michigan, but even if it helped purses jump from mediocre to above average the state is better off than it was before. The Indiana Derby shows that the formula can work, and it gets more apparent with every horseman that leaves the state to see for themselves. Heck, they got me down there.

To quote Family Guy patriarch Peter Griffin: “Why aren’t we funding this?”

Thanks to everyone at Hoosier Park, the media war table, my traveling companion Niki and everyone else that made my first Indiana Derby an interesting one. I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts and observations throughout the raceday and afterward. If I find myself at a major event and lacking something to occupy my time again, perhaps this might become a regular thing. But we’ll burn that bridge when we cross it.

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Derby Fever: The Build-Up

One of the highlights of Kentucky Derby weekend was watching the contenders head out to the track for their morning workouts. Among them was Arkansas Derby winner Line of David.

Historically, Michigan-breds have had little impact on the Kentucky Derby.

Participation in the race by Michigan horses is not well documented, and the only immediately available example is Bass Clef, who finished third in the 1961 installment of the classic race.

With that in mind, there was very little precedence to draw from as I spent the weekend at Churchill Downs reporting, absorbing and just trying to keep up during all the excitement surrounding the Kentucky Derby and Oaks.

The festivities began for me Wednesday night. After a seven-hour drive and paying way too much for the last hotel room in Sellersburg, Ind. (my originally scheduled hotel was in Frankfort, Ky., about an hour from Churchill Downs, which, looking back, would have been nearly impossible for me to pull off), I quickly made myself presentable and headed into Louisville for the Kentucky Derby Media Party.

The party was a cocktails-and-dancing affair, with blinding stage lights and a live band that spread the ball around in terms of lead singers and genres. I spent my bulk of my time with Thoroughbred Times news editor Ed DeRosa, Sale Guru Emily and her friend Natalie trying to spot notable figures in the racing world.

The most immediately recognizable figure of the evening was trainer Chip Woolley, who saddled Mine That Bird to victory in last year’s Derby. His trademark black cowboy hat and mustache easily stood out among the hatless masses, who frequently swarmed him for the chance to have a picture taken together. Woolley did not have a horse on the Derby trail this year, much less one in the race, but his popularity was apparent throughout the weekend by the size of his entourage. Even if he never has another big-time horse, Woolley is the kind of figure who will remain popular around Derby time at Churchill Downs for years to come because he has the right look, a great story and he appears to connect well with race fans. One could only imagine how the sport would be different if it had more high-profile characters like him.

Other high-profile figures seen around the party included owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey and Robert LaPenta. The latter was partially responsible for a wager between Emily and I to see who could procure the most Derby contender pins over the weekend after a member of his group gave Emily one of his Jackson Bend buttons. I regret to say I was soundly blanked by a margin of 3-0. However, in my defense, the rules of journalistic ethics more than likely prohibit me from asking for free swag from connections. That’s the excuse I am giving for my shoddy performance, at least.

The next morning started on the backstretch as the Derby and Oaks contenders headed out for their morning jogs. In the past, I have normally come across big-name horses one or two at a time – perhaps at a stakes race at Keeneland or dropping into lighter company elsewhere. That morning, however, horses I had seen on TV and in magazines were walking by every few moments, made easily identifiable with their named yellow or pink saddlecloths signifying them as Derby or Oaks contenders.

This leads us to Surreal Moment #1 of the weekend. After the horses had returned from their workouts, Ed, Emily and I headed to the barns for interviews with the Derby trainers. Similar to the horses walking out to the track, the sheer concentration of high-profile trainers in the barn area bordered on mind-boggling. Within a span of three barns housed mega-trainers Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher and Nick Zito – all of whom were mobbed by cameras, microphones and tape recorders absorbing their every thought on the Derby, their charges and whatever else may come up in the course of the conversation. As Baffert mugged it up for the cameras, his two Derby entries, Lookin at Lucky and Conveyance, took turns getting hosed down in the background as photographers snapped away.

Simply put, I was no longer in Kansas…or Michigan for that matter.

After all the quotes had been gathered and the horses put away, we headed over to the front side for the rest of the day.

The Churchill Downs press box is on the sixth floor of the grandstand. It is an expansive area with rows of long tables for turf writers to ply their trade and a row of self-service betting machines for them to practice their hobby. Suspended above the room are television monitors of varying sizes displaying the races from several different venues, though most were tuned to the Churchill Downs signal.

The front of the room is lined with windows which overlook the track, though an even better view can be obtained by walking out onto the balcony. As someone with a mild fear of heights, it took several races before being able to look at the finish line, which is almost straight down, without white-knuckle gripping the railing. Throughout the weekend, I remained terrified I was going to drop something over the edge, particularly my camera, but I made it through the weekend without incident. When the uneasiness finally subsided, the view was breathtaking.

Another perk of the press box was that it was catered. I did not partake as much as I probably should have (especially given my well-noted cheapskatedness), but the fare was varied throughout the weekend and they kept it fresh. Not to sound too much like a bad Yakov Smirnoff joke, but where I come from, the press box is the driver’s seat of my dinged up Trailblazer catered by the hot dog I bought at the concession stand. On my end, everything above a desk, chair and internet access was gravy.

My primary goal for Thursday’s race day was to get a lay of the land and situate myself for what was to come for the weekend. Having gone through a similar experience covering the 2008 Stephen Foster Handicap when I interned for Thoroughbred Times, I had some background on where to go and what to do, but a reboot was definitely needed after a two-year absence. I did not have any responsibilities in regards to producing work for Thoroughbred Times, so I was able to sit back and enjoy the day of racing. Getting that day at half-speed was a big help to prepare for the full-contact days that lied ahead.

This concludes part one of what looks to be a three-part adventure. Behind the jump are some photos from the morning workouts and media frenzy around the Churchill Downs backstretch.

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Rolling In the Bluegrass – Part 2: The Sale

The Keeneland Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale gives race fans a chance to see the horses that will be making headlines in the coming year, and the well-off a chance to buy them. Hip #61 - a colt by Bluegrass Cat was a horse of interest due to his Michigan ties.

Outside of the racing and all the festivities that come with it, one of the draws of opening weekend at Keeneland Race Course is the Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale.

Prior to this, my experience with horse auctions was limited to Michigan’s yearling sale and the occasional Amish-run Draft Horse sale in Indiana. Attending a sale of this magnitude felt on the same level as visiting a new racetrack, even though I had been to Keeneland many times before.

The sale unofficially began a few days before the auction itself when the juveniles posted public workouts on preview day. Potential buyers and members of the general public gathered on the apron and in the grandstands to watch each entry breeze between one and three furlongs on Keeneland’s Polytrack.

After some wandering around to find a catalog and try to get a feel of what was about to happen, I settled into one of the box seats in the grandstand. I think it was Cot Campbell’s. Unless I come into a considerable sum of money and/or influence somewhere down the road, a day like that was probably going to be my only opportunity to watch a horse do anything meaningful on the track from such a location. The view was nice, but for the money said rich, influential people likely pay for the right to sit there, the seats were rather uncomfortable and wobbly.

Preview Day was a fairly straightforward affair. The announcer introduces the “on deck” horse making his way through the turn and how far he intends to breeze, the horse approaches the pole, he guns it, the announcer goes over his information, the clock stops, the horse gallops out and the process starts over again.

Having just picked up a physical copy of the sale catalog that morning, there was not much time to identify and analyze the horses whizzing past before the next one started to wind up for his workout. Instead, I used the opportunity to work on my camera timing for the weekend’s races.

Shortly after the first intermission, I was beckoned to Zaxby’s by Ed and Tim from Thoroughbred Times. The call came just moments after finishing a large hot dog with sales editor Pete Denk, but I went anyway. I was on vacation.

I returned to the track about an hour later and the juveniles were still breezing. As I fiddled through the program, I realized I may have missed the one horse I set out to see that weekend, Hip #61 – an unnamed colt by Bluegrass Cat out of Maid’s Broom. Regular readers may recall I highlighted this colt for his connections to some of the better Michigan-breds in recent memory, including all-time leading MI-bred earner Tenpins. The horses breezed in random order, so I was unsure if he was in queue or back in the barn.

My concerns were settled when the announcer informed the crowd that Hip #61 was making his way around the turn to breeze. He was gone just as fast as he came, but I got a decent shot and his time was respectable. Preview day soon came to a close and I returned to my hotel with a mild sunburn and a head start on what to look for in the auction.

The day of the sale began for me around 9 a.m. Monday morning, waiting in the Keeneland barn area for sale guru Emily, whom I had met a couple days before at the races. Emily studied the Thoroughbred sale market for her PhD research, so she knew where to go, who to talk to and what to look for in any aspect of the sale in which I was curious.

Throughout the morning, I received a crash course in big sale etiquette and what makes a well-put-together two-year-old. The barns that housed the sale horses were fairly quiet, but many were still busy with horses being led back and forth for inspection by potential buyers and glorified tourists like myself.

We eventually made our way to the Kirkwood Stables barn, which housed the Bluegrass Cat colt that caught my eye in the sale catalog. He was a strong-looking colt with solid hindquarters and a nice walk. Judging by his looks and pedigree, I would expect him to succeed as a hard-knocking allowance horse on the Kentucky circuit. The few moments I saw of the colt up close were enough to make me wish I had some of that previously mentioned money and/or influence to promote my bid on the horse from “pipe dream” level to a reality (pending the proper check of his X-rays and such, of course. I liked the horse, but I’m not that irresponsible with my imaginary money).

After looking over a few more horses, Emily took me down to the sale pavilion for a quick tour. Throughout the sales ring and walking areas, she pointed out all of the dents and divots in the walls, some of which were surprisingly high and must have required some effort to accomplish. The tour was also useful for two reasons: 1) It showed me the best places to get run over by a freaked out two-year-old if I should choose to do so, and 2) It helped ease my doubts about where I should and shouldn’t be. Had Emily not shown me around and answered all of my silly little questions, I would have wandered behind the sales ring, seen the likes of Steve Asmussen, Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher and Wayne Catalano, and immediately assumed I did not belong there. Instead I found myself writing down the outs next to Asmussen prior to the sale and scoping out horses on the same rail as the others. A tip of the hat goes to Emily for being an outstanding teacher/tour guide/giver of confidence.

Shortly after Emily and I parted ways, I headed back up to the barn area to look at a few more horses I had singled out in the sale catalog. One of the things that surprised me about the sale was the amount of access the general public was given to the potentially valuable horses. For the most part, all I had to do was fill out a card at the horse’s barn and hand it to the person in charge to see whomever I wanted. I often felt guilty for doing it, as I had no intention to buy whatsoever, but I chalked it up to gaining valuable learning experience. I was learning how to be a buyer so I might someday make the consignors lots of money. The consignors were friendly and very generous with their time.

I returned to the sale pavilion later that afternoon for the main event – the auction itself.

To describe the atmosphere of the pavilion in one word, it would be “buzz”; from the buzz of the chatter in every corner of the building, to the buzz of the rain on the roof as a storm grew near to the buzz many were trying to obtain in the pavilion bar.

I made my way behind the sales ring to catch a glimpse of some of the horses on my watch list. The pavilion area is divided into several walking rings as each horse gets closer to his or her moment in the spotlight, with each ring smaller than the last. I positioned myself on the ledge of the furthermost ring, where the horses enter from the barns. This was the best opportunity to see each horse before they split into odds and evens on different sides of the pavilion.

After some horse watching, I returned to the sales ring to see how the show looked from the front of the stage. Every seat in the sales ring was marked with a piece of paper reserving it for a farm, buyer or other person of interest. However, entire sections sat empty and no one was checking reservations, so I grabbed a seat in the back row and tried not to draw attention to myself.

At times, this can be difficult. At auctions where I have no intention of bidding, I live in constant fear that an itch on the top of my head will lead to the purchase of a six-digit horse. My scalp knows this and will become tingly at the most inopportune times to test my will. Fortunately, I managed to keep it under control for this sale and did not have to inquire about hiring a van to haul home any new purchases.

I eventually decided to head back out to the pavilion, but before that, I ran into Pete, who invited me to the press box to watch the remainder of the sale. For the most part, I had paid little attention to who was placing the winning bids, so being in the press box provided yet another layer of intrigue to the sale (FYI, French mystery group Prime Equestrian was by far the leading buyer).

Soon, the sale drew to an end. I circled the grounds one more time to grab any free trade publications sitting in the racks (because I am a cheapskate), took one last look over the pavilion, now empty and almost dead silent except for the bar, and headed back to my car. I aimed to be at Beulah Park the following afternoon to try my hand at the Fortune 6 wager, so I had to get things in order to move out. But that’s another story for another day…

Behind the jump are some photos from the various stages of the sale. Enjoy!

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