If anyone thought that Bob Baffert’s barn might be lacking in star power following the retirement of Triple Crown winner Justify… well, you need not have worried.
While it’s too early to say whether Roadster or Chasing Yesterday will achieve remotely the same level of success as Justify, there can be no denying that these two Baffert-trained juveniles looked like future stars while winning their debuts last weekend at Del Mar. Fittingly, both were ridden by Mike Smith, the regular rider of Justify.
Chasing Yesterday, a half-sister to Baffert’s 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, was the first to strike with an eye-catching performance in a 5 ½-furlong maiden special weight on July 28th. Sent off as the overwhelming 3-10 favorite against six rivals, Chasing Yesterday was content to track the pace early on as Honeyfromthesouth (trained by David Hofmans) posted fast fractions of :21.88 and :45.34. But turning for home, Chasing Yesterday took command with authority and pulled away powerfully to win by 4 ¼ lengths, giving the impression of being a filly who will relish longer distances down the road. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I)? You can bet that race is on the horizon.
Honeyfromthesouth also ran well, staying on gamely despite the quick early pace to leave the rest of the field 7 ¼ lengths beind. Expect to see her break her maiden in the very near future.
The following day, the much-hyped Roadster appeared under silks in a six-furlong maiden special weight. He wasn’t quite as heavily favored as Chasing Yesterday, starting at odds of 4-5, but the larger field (ten starters) was a contributing factor.
In any case, Roadster made 4-5 look like a bargain. After acting up a bit behind the starting gate, Roadster was not particularly quick into stride while breaking from post one and found himself racing in third place early on, four lengths behind a :22.05 opening quarter-mile. But when Mike Smith asked him to run, the response was breathtaking. Shifting off the rail, Roadster started gobbling up ground at a striking rate of speed, accelerating around the leaders like he’d just joined the race.
By the time the field arrived at the top of the stretch, Roadster was already in front, and Smith was sitting almost motionless, hardly asking the son of Quality Road for any run at all. He didn’t need to—Roadster had the field measured without any further need for encouragement, and his rivals couldn’t begin to warm him up, losing ground through the final furlong as Roadster pulled away to win by 4 ¼ lengths.
His final time of 1:11.07 wasn’t overly remarkable (and translated to a Beyer of just 81, compared to 86 for Chasing Yesterday), but it was abundantly clear that Roadster had a lot left in the tank. The Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) later in the meet could be his next target, while the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) and the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) ultimately loom as future goals for this talented colt.
While it’s unlikely that Baffert will send out such a potent 1-2 punch this week, he will have a starter in Saturday’s seventh race at Del Mar, a 5 ½-furlong open maiden race. Baffert’s runner is #3 Dark Prince, who finished a distant fifth behind the heralded Instagrand in a five-furlong maiden race at Los Alamitos on June 29th. It wasn’t a stellar debut for Dark Prince, but the son of Cairo Prince is bred to improve going longer and could wind up being a decent runner down the road.
Interestingly, Dark Prince is the only horse with previous racing experience in Saturday’s seventh race; the remaining dozen entrants (which includes three also-eligibles) are all first-time starters representing most of the major trainers on the Southern California circuit. #2 Stubbins, from the barn of Doug O’Neill, and #6 Sigalert, a $420,000 auction purchase trained by John Sadler, are among the most prominent.
On Sunday, the first juvenile stakes race of the summer will be held at Del Mar, that being the $200,000 Sorrento Stakes (gr. II) for fillies traveling six furlongs. Maiden winners from Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Arlington, and Hastings are shipping in to challenge the California contingent, which includes the impressive Santa Anita debut winners #7 Stirred (trained by Michael McCarthy) and #8 Reflect (from the barn of Keith Desormeaux). Reflect in particular is an exciting filly since she broke her maiden by 5 ¾ lengths with a solid 84 BRIS speed figure, an excellent performance considering that Desormeaux isn’t known for sending out ready-to-win first-timers.
Then again, it’s entirely possible that the wagering favorite could be a filly that has never won a race. #10 Del Mar May, trained by Richard Baltas, caught eyes when finishing second in her debut on July 18th at Del Mar behind the talented Brill, who will be among the favorites in the Del Mar Debutante (gr. I) at the end of the meet. Del Mar May earned a 97 BRIS speed figure for that effort, and a repeat could very well land her in the Sorrento winner’s circle.
Earlier on that card, Doug O’Neill’s #4 Bizwhacks—sixth in Brill’s maiden race—will start in Del Mar’s second race, a six-furlong maiden special weight for fillies. Baffert will be in action here with the first-time starter #7 Der Lu, a daughter of Orb with some eye-catching workout times on her record, while Mike Smith will team up with Jerry Hollendorfer’s second-time starter #3 Keeper Ofthe Stars, third in a maiden race at Los Alamitos last month.
Enjoy the races!