Bob Baffert, who won five races in a single day last Saturday at Los Alamitos, graduated from the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program in 1977 with a Bachelor of Science degree.
Baffert later continued his studies at WU.
“WU?” you ask?
Yes, WU…Whittingham University.
In the 1990s, after Baffert switched from training Quarter Horses to Thoroughbreds, his Santa Anita barn was located right next to Whittingham’s. Baffert wisely took advantage of this situation as much as he possibly could.
It would be like an up-and-coming football coach being able to observe and pick the brain of Bill Belichick, who has won professional football’s most coveted game, the Super Bowl, six times.
Whittingham twice won American racing’s most coveted race, the Kentucky Derby, saddling Ferdinand in 1986 and Sunday Silence in 1989.
Lenny Shulman took a look back at the life and career of trainer Charlie Whittingham in a wonderful story that appeared in a recent issue of BloodHorse magazine. Whittingham died 20 years ago.
“Inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1974, Whittingham was far more than a compiler of lofty achievements,” Shulman wrote. “He was a larger-than-life racetracker, for all intents and purposes an orphan who hit the racetrack before his teens, and a Marine the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. His hardscrabble beginnings made him a no-nonsense businessman who on the one hand charmed a series of celebrity clients and on the other never hesitated to boot out even the most well-heeled patrons should they question his judgment.”
Of Whttingham’s “California statistics,” Shulman wrote, they “are so gaudy as to suggest a Big Leaguer playing T-ball against third graders.”
One of Whittingham’s gaudy stats: Nine wins in the prestigious Santa Anita Handicap.
A few years ago, after the Baffert-trained Game On Dude became the first horse to win the Santa Anita Handicap three times (2011, 2012 and 2013), I mentioned to Baffert that I felt that it was a Whittingham-like accomplishment.
“You know, I studied Whittingham a lot back when my barn [at Santa Anita] was next to his,” Baffert told me. “I learned a lot by watching him closely and talking to him all the time.”
No doubt helped at least to some extent by all that he learned when studying at WU, Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby five times -- with Silver Charm in 1987, Real Quiet in 1988, War Emblem in 2002, American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018.
American Pharoah and Justify not only won the Kentucky Derby, they both swept the Triple Crown, horse racing’s Holy Grail. The Triple Crown was something that eluded Whittingham, though he did take a good run at it when Sunday Silence won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before finishing second to Easy Goer in the Belmont Stakes.
Last Saturday, Baffert won five of the nine races on the daytime Thoroughbred card at Los Alamitos to equal a SoCal record. Three trainers now have achieved the feat of five victories in one day at a SoCal track. And Whittingham is not one of them.
According to Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen, Allen Drumheller Sr. set the SoCal record when he won five races at Hollywood Park on July 4, 1955. Doug O’Neill tied the record when he won five races at Del Mar in 2015 and again this year on July 31. No trainer has ever had a five-win day at Santa Anita.
Baffert’s streak last Saturday began in the fourth race with Thousand Words ($5.40) in the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity, followed by Speed Pass ($4.40) in an allowance/optional claiming race, Message ($4.60) in an allowance/optional claiming race, Bast ($6.40) in the Grade I Starlet Stakes, then Ra’ad ($3.40) in a maiden special weight contest. Speed Pass and Ra’ad were the only two of the five winners that were favored. The wet, sealed track was listed as good.
Baffert does recall having won five races in a single day once before. He said he won five Quarter Horse trials one afternoon at Arizona’s Prescott Downs in 1983. But unlike last Saturday, those five victories were not in a row.
“The purse was $300” in all of those Prescott races, Baffert added.
BAFFERT’S DOMINATION CONTINUES
Thousand Words continued Baffert’s remarkable success in the Los Alamitos Futurity. He’s now won it 12 times. Baffert has won all six editions of this race since it was switched to Los Alamitos in 2014 following the closure of Hollywood Park. He also won this race six times when it was run at Hollywood Park.
Baffert has even more Del Mar Futurity victories to his credit. He’s won that race 14 times.
No trainer has dominated any of this country’s current Grade I races to such an extent as Baffert with his 14 Del Mar Futurity wins.
Baffert also has had much success in the Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. He’s won that race eight times.
According to my research, fellow Hall of Famers D. Wayne Lukas and Whittingham are the two trainers closest to Baffert in terms of dominating any of this country’s current Grade I races.
Lukas has won both the Grade I Del Mar Debutante and Grade I Chandelier Stakes (formerly Oak Leaf Stakes) at Santa Anita nine times. As mentioned earlier, Whittingham won the Santa Anita Handicap nine times.
Below are Lukas’ nine Del Mar Debutante winners:
1996 Sharp Cat
1989 Rue de Palm
1988 Lea Lucinda*
1987 Lost Kitty
1994 Fiesta Lady
*Placed first through the disqualification of Approved to Fly.
Below are Lukas’ nine winners in the Chandelier (formerly the Oak Leaf):
1996 City Band
1995 Tipically Irish
1994 Serena’s Song
1988 One of a Klein
1987 Dream Team
Below are Whittingham’s nine winners in the Santa Anita Handicaps:
1993 Sir Beaufort
1985 Lord at War
1975 Stardust Mel
1973 Cougar II
1971 Ack Ack
1957 Corn Husker
Below are Baffert’s 14 Del Mar Futurity winners:
2018 Game Winner
2014 American Pharoah
2012 Rolling Fog
2009 Lookin At Lucky
2000 Flame Thrower
1999 Forest Camp
1998 Worldly Manner
1997 Souvenir Copy
1996 Silver Charm
Below are Baffert’s 12 winners in the Los Alamitos Futurity (formerly the Hollywood Futurity and CashCall Futurity):
2019 Thousand Words
2015 Mor Spirit
2009 Lookin At Lucky
2008 Pioneerof the Nile
2000 Point Given
1999 Captain Steve
1997 Real Quiet
*Placed first through the disqualification of Solomini.
FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT FOR THOUSAND WORDS
Thousand Words now is two for two. He came from a bit off the pace to win a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special race by a half-length at Santa Anita on Oct. 26. A pace factor from the outset in the 1 1/16-mile Los Alamitos Futurity, he prevailed by a neck in 1:43.19 while racing with blinkers for the first time.
A $1 million yearling purchase, Thousand Words races for Albaugh Family Stables and Spendthrift Farm. In terms of the Kentucky Derby, Thousand Words certainly is highly regarded heading into 2020. So is Dennis’ Moment, who also is owned by Albaugh Family Stable. Dennis’ Moment, who finished eighth as the 4-5 favorite after stumbling badly at the start in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on Nov. 1, is scheduled to make his 2020 debut in Gulfstream Park’s Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 29.
Thousand Words, like American Pharoah, is by Pioneerof the Nile. Pioneerof the Nile in 2008 won the Los Alamitos Futurity when it was run at Hollywood Park and known as the CashCall Futurity.
After Thousand Words was credited with an 88 Beyer Speed Figure for his first race, he recorded a 91 for his Los Al Futurity victory.
Below are the Beyer Speed Figures recorded by winners of the Los Alamitos Futurity as it is now known going back to 1992 (this race was run at Hollywood Park prior to 2014):
2019 Thousand Words (91)
2018 Improbable (96)
2017 McKinzie (91)+
2016 Mastery (91)
2015 Mo Spirit (88)
2014 Dortmund (91)
2013 Shared Belief (106)*
2012 Violence (92)*
2011 Liaison (91)*
2010 Comma to the Top (95)*
2009 Lookin At Lucky (83)*
2008 Pioneerof the Nile (86)*
2007 Into Mischief (95)*
2006 Stormello (94)*
2005 Declan’s Moon (96)
2004 Brother Derek (102)
2003 Lion Heart (99)
2002 Toccet (102)
2001 Siphonic (104)
2000 Point Given (101)
1999 Captain Steve (101)
1998 Tactical Cat (93)
1997 Real Quiet (102)
1996 Swiss Yodeler (92)
1995 Matty G (104)
1994 Afternoon Deelites (111)
1993 Valiant Nature (106)
1992 River Special (96)
+Solomini finished first by three-quarters of a length and was assigned a 92 but was disqualified and placed second. McKinzie, who finished second and recorded a 91, was moved up to first via disqualification.
*Run on a synthetic surface.
MAXIMUM SECURITY SPARKLES IN CIGAR MILE
One streak of Baffert’s that we now know is going to come to an end this year is he will not be the trainer of the Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old male of 2019.
In light of Maximum’s Security’s three-length victory in last Saturday’s Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct, he now is a slam-dunk to get that award. Jason Servis conditions Maximum Security, who is going to snap Baffert’s streak in this Eclipse Award category at three.
Baffert has trained a total of nine Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old male champions -- Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), Point Given (2001), War Emblem (2002), Lookin At Lucky (2010), American Pharoah (2015), Arrogate (2016), West Coast (2017) and Justify (2018).
Maximum Security received a career-best 111 Beyer Speed Figure for his Cigar Mile triumph. The Kentucky-bred New Year’s Day colt has won six of eight starts this year. The Cigar Mile was his third Grade I win of 2019 to go along with the Florida Derby and Haskell Invitational. His only two losses this year came in the Kentucky Derby and Monmouth’s Pegasus Stakes. He finished first in the Derby, but then the stewards disqualified him and placed him 17th for causing interference. “Max” finished second in the Pegasus after stumbling at the start.
REMEMBERING WILLIAM LEGGETT
A day after Servis won the Cigar Mile with Maximum Security, the trainer sent out 7-1 Happy Farm to take the rescheduled Grade III Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct. It was final stakes race of the fall meet at the Big A.
The Fall Highweight was supposed to have been run on Nov. 28, but the card was canceled that day due to high winds. The race then was rescheduled for Dec. 1, but it was not run that day, either. The jockeys refused to ride the final five races on the Dec. 1 program.
Each year when the Fall Highweight is run, I can’t help but think of the late William Leggett.
I have saved, for all these many years, what Leggett wrote in 1991 for the Racing Times about the Fall Highweight Handicap, which had a Grade II ranking back then. Leggett, you may know, was an acclaimed Sports Illustrated writer for many years prior to his stint with the Racing Times.
“Fall Highweight should be extinct” was the headline on Leggett’s 1991 Racing Times piece.
“NYRA loves the Fall Highweight Handicap, or the FHHzzz as some of us call it,” Leggett wrote. “To be gentle about the FHHzzz, it is the dumbest event in Thoroughbred racing.”
You think that was being tough on the Fall Highweight Handicap? Leggett was just getting started.
“This year, the FHHzzz will have its 78th running, but just because something has been around a long time certainly doesn’t make it correct,” he wrote. “In the FHHzzz, horses which should be carrying 110-122 pounds end up carrying 128-140. That’s a lot of dead weight. So is the race. We will now attempt to answer your questions about the FHHzzz.
“Does the Fall Highweight have a bearing on anything? Nothing whatsoever. Is it a factor in voting for champion sprinter? It’s the first race one throws out. How many other tracks have a FHHzzz? Zero. Are other tracks contemplating adding a FHHzz to their schedules? Not if they are a private enterprise which wants to remain in business. Why is a Grade II race? The Flat Earth Society decides that.”
And now for my favorite part of what Leggett wrote.
“How are weights determined for the FHHzzz? Thought you would never ask. The Weight Bird decides the weights. Once a year, the Weight Bird flies into Belmont from his cave in Montauk. Corn is spread out on an ermine blanket and a horse’s name is screamed at the Weight Bird. The number of kernels the Weight Bird gathers in its beak is then multiplied by 37, which is the number of weeks Wayne Newton works a year.”
I have rarely laughed as much as I did when reading that for the first time.
Handicap races in North America have pretty much disappeared. There are very few of them anymore. Consequently, most people do not pay any attention to the weight horses carry these days.
Weight, though, remains a key component of the Fall Highweight Handicap. The word “weight” even is part of the name of the race. But one would not realize weight mattered at all when reading the stakes recap disseminated by the NYRA press office. In the recap’s 11 paragraphs, you will not find out how much weight the winner or anyone else in the race carried.
At least in David Grening’s Daily Racing Form recap, he noted that the victorious Happy Farm carried 125 pounds.
Wonderful Light, who packed 127 pounds, finished second. Recruiting Ready, encumbered with 132 pounds, ended up third as the 1-2 favorite.
The Weight Bird obviously was not very kind to Recruiting Ready.