A certain Hall of Fame trainer is dominating three of this nation’s Grade I races to such an extent that it is getting to be downright ridiculous. The trainer is Bob Baffert. The three races are the Haskell Invitational (for 3-year-olds), Del Mar Futurity (for 2-year-olds) and Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity (also for 2-year-olds).
Although Baffert did not win Monmouth Park’s Grade I Haskell this year, he has won five of the last seven. All told, Baffert has a record eight Haskell victories to his credit:
2015 American Pharoah
2010 Lookin At Lucky
2005 Roman Ruler
2002 War Emblem
2001 Point Given
Baffert sent out American Freedom to finish second in this year’s Haskell. Exaggerator, an exceptional wet-track performer, won on a sloppy track by 1 1/2 lengths. If the track had not been wet this year, Baffert just might have won his ninth Haskell.
While Baffert did not add to his Haskell victory total this year, he did get another win in the Grade I Del Mar Futurity. He has won the Del Mar Futurity a record 13 times:
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
Last Saturday, Baffert won yet another Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity, a race run at Hollywood Park prior to 2014. He saddled Mastery, who polished off five foes when he drew away in the stretch and prevailed by a record 7 1/4 lengths. The previous biggest margin of victory had been seven lengths by Valiant Nature in the 1993 renewal. Baffert has won this race a record nine times:
2015 Mor Spirit
2009 Lookin At Lucky
2008 Pioneerof the Nile (future sire of American Pharoah)
2000 Point Given
1999 Captain Steve
1997 Real Quiet
Mastery completed his 1 1/16-mile journey last Saturday in the fine time of 1:41 2/5 (1:41.56 in hundredths), just three-fifths of a second off the track record of 1:40 4/5 set by the Baffert-trained Dortmund when he took the 2014 Los Alamitos Futurity. Uncle Lino also posted a 1:40 4/5 clocking earlier this year at Los Alamitos when he won the California Chrome Stakes on April 30.
After Dortmund captured the Los Alamitos Futurity, he went on to finish third behind American Pharoah and Firing Line in the 2015 Kentucky Derby. Baffert also conditioned American Pharoah, who became the first horse to sweep the Triple Crown in 37 years.
Mastery was assigned a 91 Beyer Speed Figure for his win last Saturday. According to the American Racing Manual, these are the Beyer Speed Figures for winners of this Grade I race going back to 1992:
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)
REMEMBERING SHARED BELIEF
The 2013 CashCall Futurity, won by Shared Belief, was the final Grade I event ever run at Hollywood Park. That site, where horses used to race, currently is under construction. It will become home for the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams when a state-of-the-art stadium is completed there in 2019.
Shared Belief, like Mastery a son of Candy Ride, won the 2013 CashCall Futurity by 5 3/4 widening lengths. He was voted a 2013 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male.
It was late in 2015 when the racing world learned the shocking news of Shared Belief’s death. One of the best horses to have graced the American racing stage in recent years, he showed signs of colic last year on the morning of Dec. 3 at Golden Gate. Shared Belief was rushed to UC Davis and underwent surgery, but he could not be saved.
Not counting the Grade II Charles Town Classic in 2015, in which Shared Belief was pulled up early in the race after sustaining a hip injury when leaving the starting gate, he lost just once in 11 starts. And keep in mind Shared Belief did have a legitimate excuse when he ran fourth as the favorite in the 2014 renewal of the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park. Many feel Shared Belief might well have won that race if he had not been knocked around at the start.
After Shared Belief’s defeat in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup, he reeled off three consecutive victories at Santa Anita. He took the Grade I Malibu late in 2014, then won the Grade II San Antonio going away by 1 1/2 lengths in his first 2015 start. California Chrome, the 2014 Horse of the Year who had finished third behind Bayern and Toast of New York in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic, ran second in the 2015 San Antonio.
Following the San Antonio, Shared Belief won the 2015 edition of the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap. He registered a 4 1/4-length victory in the prestigious Big ’Cap.
Shared Belief raced for national radio sports talk show host and television broadcaster Jim Rome and his wife, Janet. Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, Jason Litt, Kevin and Kim Nish, Alex Solis II and George Todaro also were members of the ownership partnership.
The morning after Shared Belief’s death, Rome talked about it on his radio program.
“Along with my wife, Janet, we have a racing stable which is called Jungle Racing, and we are partners with a number of other owners in a number of racehorses,” Rome said. “And it’s a sport that we love. It’s a sport that we have great passion for. But it’s a sport that’s filled with some of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I’ve shared this on the air. A lot of you have come along for the ride with us over the last several years. And while some of the most thrilling and surreal moments of our entire lives have occurred in this sport, I can also argue that there are times that the lows are lower than the highs are high. And yesterday we lost our barn star Shared Belief.
“There was a video posted of Shared Belief training [at Golden Gate Fields] the day before, and he looked absolutely incredible. He was a picture of perfect health. He had been training extremely well. He actually was very close to having his first official breeze, or workout, since he was injured last spring. We were all so excited and we were so pumped for a huge comeback year in 2016 after he had fractured his hip in a race last spring.
“Then the very next morning, which was yesterday, something did not seem right. He was off. And even worse, he was showing signs of colic. Colic is one of the most common causes of death in horses. And it came so suddenly and out of nowhere. So our vets rushed in yesterday morning to treat Shared Belief. They immediately sent him to a clinic at UC Davis, where he could get the best medical attention available as quickly as possible. Emergency colic surgery was performed. Unfortunately, doctors were unable to save him. And we’re still awaiting the results of an autopsy right now.
“So one morning he looks unbelievable and the next morning he’s gone. And obviously we’re all just devastated. Shared Belief was a once-in-a-lifetime horse. A horse that was 10 for 12 lifetime. He had eight stakes wins. He had five Grade I victories. And he won the Eclipse Award for best 2-year-old male. He was a freakish talent, and a horse that was ranked No. 1 in the entire world last year before he got hurt.
“But more than any of that, more than any of the wins, any of those stats, what I’m always going to remember most about him, was what a fierce warrior he was -- the little horse that feared nobody and could do anything. He was a champion in every sense of the word, a super horse from day one. And while he lived far too short of a life, he provided us with all the thrills and inspiration for a lifetime. He should go down as one of the all-time greats in my mind, and yet he was on track to accomplish so much more. But as a buddy of mine and a fellow horse owner told me yesterday, this game has no middle. It’s champagne or it’s tears. Rest in peace, champ.”
RACING EXECUTIVE STEVE SEXTON DIES
Many, including yours truly, are mourning the death earlier this week of Steve Sexton. Probably best known as the president of Churchill Downs from 2002-09, Sexton died Monday in Dallas, just 43 days after being diagnosed with brain cancer. He was 57.
Sexton began his racing career in 1983 as sales promotion manager at Santa Anita Park. That was when I first got to know him. I was working as a reporter and daily columnist for the Racing Form at that time.
Through the years, Sexton climbed the ladder as a racing executive. He held a variety of management positions at tracks across the country (Canterbury Park, Golden Gate, Thistledown, Lone Star Park and Churchill).
Sexton in 1994 was named assistant general manager for Lone Star Park, which opened in 1997. He was promoted to executive vice president and general manager of the Texas track in 2000.
In 2000, I spent a year in the position of Lone Star’s Media Relation Manager. Sexton was a key member of a management team there at the time that also included track president Corey Johnsen; G.W. Hail, vice president of marketing and sales; and Darren Rogers, director of media relations. This terrific management team led to the Breeders’ Cup being held at Lone Star Park in 2004. Johnsen, who now is president and part owner of Kentucky Downs, has called Sexton one of the greatest racing executives of all time.
I consider Sexton to be one of the best bosses that I have ever had during my racing career, which began in 1974. Sexton was one of the hardest working and most effective track executives I have ever seen. Excellence in customer service was always a priority with him.
During the time that I worked for Sexton, I especially appreciated that if he felt an employee had done something well, Sexton would praise the employee.
A native of Topeka, Kan., Sexton most recently had served as managing partner of the sports consulting firm LOGE, which is headquartered in Dallas. The firm provides strategic advisory services to professional teams, colleges and sports stadiums and facilities.
Sexton is survived by his wife, Kim; a daughter, Kalli; and a son, Taylor.
“Heartbroken to say that I lost my hero today,” Kalli posted on Facebook following her father’s death. “God gave me the best dad there is, he blessed so many lives and I am so grateful to have been part of his family. He had a way of lighting up any room he walked in, a way to make any person smile.”