The last time embattled trainer Bob Baffert personally saddled a horse at Oaklawn Park was 2011. Yet on Saturday, despite having a horse in the $3,000,000 Pegasus World Cup in sunny southern Florida, Baffert showed up in Hot Springs, Arkansas in the cold rain to watch a second-time starter run in the mud.
As a horse player, I can tell you this is not a factor to be overlooked; ergo, to no one’s surprise, Arabian Knight went off as the prohibitive favorite in the Grade 3 $750,000 Southwest Stakes. And, he did not disappoint.
My favorite Hall of Fame jockey, John Velasquez, had the call as he did in Arabian Knight’s first race at Keeneland on the November 5th Breeders’ Cup undercard. They broke maiden that day with an eye-catching 7 1/4 length victory, completing seven furlongs in a blistering 1:21.98 and earning a highly respectable 97 Beyer.
On Saturday in Arkansas, the colt came out of the gate like a rocket and never looked back. Velasquez asked him for a little run mid-stretch, avoided a tractor tire track in the slop without incident, and won by 5 1/4. The fractions were racehorse time, as he ticked off a quarter in :22.98, the half in :46.82, six furlongs in 1:11 and finished the mile and a sixteenth in 1:43.50.
After the race, Velasquez said he reminded him a lot of his sire, Uncle Mo. Baffert likened him to another colt who took the same path through Arkansas in the slop…Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Either way, that is very tall timber.
Purchased by Zedan Racing, who also owned Medina Spirit, Arabian Knight fetched a cool $2.3 million at the two-year-old sale in Ocala as he breezed one furlong in a scintillating nine seconds and change.
Now, in just two starts, he has earned $549,275. If he continues to develop as Baffert believes he will, the young colt could easily pay for himself by the end of the year. However, he has no Kentucky Derby points.
Here is the problem. Because of the Kentucky Derby – Medina Spirit debacle, Bob Baffert is banned from the 2023 race …and all races at Churchill Downs tracks through mid-summer. And, his horses are ineligible to receive Derby points at any track.
Baffert’s attorneys will be in court on Thursday, February 2nd, seeking an injunction that would allow him to participate; but, that decision could take some time. And, time is not on Baffert’s side. Not only are there more significant points races in February, the deadline to move potential Kentucky Derby contestants to another trainer’s barn is February 27th.
Zedan Racing has been extremely loyal to Bob Baffert. And they will give him every opportunity to keep Arabian Knight. Baffert says the colt needs significant space between his races. That gives both Baffert and Zedan a longer window of time to make the call. If Baffert keeps the horse, I expect to see him next in the Arkansas Derby on April 1st. If he loses in court, there is even a slight possibility that Zedan Racing would choose to by-pass Kentucky and run in other races.
Whatever they decide, if he stays healthy, they have a superstar in the making. He is, without a doubt, the real deal.
Red Route One for trainer Steve Asmussen was a distant but closing second in the Southwest. The sloppy track had been playing to front runners all day and his effort from last to second was impressive. Asmussen says he can run as far as they write the races, which tells me we will see him again on the Kentucky Derby/Triple Crown trail.
The regally-bred son of Gun Runner out of the full sister to Untapable will likely make his next start in the Grade 2 Rebel on February 25th. Red Route One finished third in the Breeders’ Futurity behind another rising star, Forte, who went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Forte leads the Kentucky Derby points standings with 40.
With less than 100 days until the first Saturday in May, the heat is on and the field is narrowing. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!!!