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Baffert’s Drefong Crushes G1 Ketel One King’s Bishop

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Bob Baffert has built his Hall of Fame career atop the twin pillars of success in the Triple Crown and the development of horses with blazing speed.

On Saturday, Baffert flaunted one of those skills to devastating effect, turning loose a largely unproven speedball named Drefong to crush a field of top 3-year-old sprinters and win the 32nd running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Ketel One King’s Bishop at Saratoga Race Course.

Coming off of two effortless allowance victories at Santa Anita Park, Drefong, owned by Charles Chu, flew in from California on Wednesday night with Baffert’s contingent for Travers Day and showed up ready. The son of Gio Ponti, sent off as the 3-1 favorite, broke on top from his outside No. 13 post position, got away with a relatively easy opening quarter-mile in 23.11 seconds and a half in 45.85, and drew off to win by 3 ¼ lengths in a final time of 1:21.25 for the seven furlongs.

The only true challenge came from third-place finisher Noholdingback Bear, a Canadian invader whose bid was rebuffed a half-mile into the race. Runner-up Economic Model, who raced within striking range of the leader on the inside, angled out and rallied four wide in the stretch but never got close.

“When he left there, and I saw the first quarter in 23 [seconds], I thought that was a good pace,” Baffert said. “It wasn’t too taxing on him. He’s just an incredibly fast horse. I’m proud of him; he ran so well. And the Chu family, they just got in the game a few years ago. They’ve been extremely lucky with their horses, so this was a big win for them. Good for them. I’m here just to fulfill their dreams.”

Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who rode Drefong, said his main concern going into the King’s Bishop was how the colt would respond to the Saratoga racing surface, which can be deeper and more tiring than the typically hard and fast Santa Anita dirt course.

“He gets a hold of it at Santa Anita, but I didn’t know about [here],” Smith said. “He might have got hold of it better. I didn’t even hit him. I just rode him with my hands, with my whip down. He ran big today.”

The top three were followed by Summer Revolution, Mind Your Biscuits, Fish Trappe Road, Tale of S’avall, Bird Song, Tom’s Ready, Rated R Superstar, second choice Mohaymen, and Star Hill.

Mohaymen, a four-time Grade 2 stakes winner cutting back to one turn for the first time since last November, broke sharply, bumped with Star Hill and then never made an impact.

“Well, it’s disappointing because we thought we pointed him to the right spot here,” said Mohaymen’s trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin. “He was one of the favorites and Junior [Alvarado] said he took him to the three-eighths pole and he just didn’t kick on. We’ll send him home probably and go over him really well and find out what’s up. He’s too nice of a horse to give up on.”

Drefong, on a four-race win streak since he lost his debut as a 2-year-old, has won those races by a combined 21 ½ lengths.

“That was a tough little bunch he was in there with,” he said. “If you can do it on a day like the Travers, that’s even more important. We’re trying to win these big races. I’m trying to get him to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.”

Drefong paid $8.80 for a $2 win bet, and lifted his earnings to $378,040 with the winner’s share of $275,000.

Ketel One King’s Bishop (G1) Quotes

Bob Baffert, winning trainer of Drefong (No. 13): “The horse has always been incredibly fast. We freshened him up and this was the race we were looking forward to, so I was happy when I saw the post. He’s a quiet horse, he’s a beautiful horse. When he left there and I saw the first quarter in 23 [seconds], I thought that was a good pace. It wasn’t too taxing on him. I’m proud of him, he ran so well. And the Chu family, they just got in the game a few years ago, they’ve been extremely lucky with their horses, so this was a big win for them. Good for them, I’m here just to fulfill their dreams.

“If you watch his last couple of races, they were pretty incredible at Santa Anita, pretty fast. He’d been working really well. He’s been working with American Freedom and they went heads-up, just cruising together, so that’s a good sign for American Freedom. One thing about Del Mar, I know that we can train from there and ship here and do well, but you need a good horse.

“He’s fast, he looks the part. He’s got a great mind. I’ve always thought he was cut out to be this kind of horse, but he had to prove it today. That was a tough little bunch he was in there with. If you can do it on a day like the Travers, that’s even more important. We’re trying to win these big races. I’m trying to get him to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and I didn’t want to run him in the Bing Crosby, I had the other horse in there, this was the last chance [to run against] 3-year-olds. Unfortunately, Jazzy Times came up with a bruised foot today, he’ll be all right in a couple of days but that was unfortunate. I thought he’d run well too.”

Mike Smith, winning jockey aboard Drefong (No. 13): “He’s fast. He’s a good horse. My main concern was the surface switch — when you come from tighter surfaces to here, where it is a bit more sandy. But he is so strong, and pushes so hard. He gets a hold of it at Santa Anita, but I didn’t know about [here]. He might have got hold of it better. I didn’t even hit him. I just rode him with my hands, with my whip down. He ran big today.”

Irad Ortiz, Jr., jockey aboard runner-up Economic Model (No. 1): “He’s a nice horse. He looked good and he responded going home. It was a good race. The 13 [Drefong] is good and we hoped someone would go with him. They let him go and we paid the price.”

Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of 11th-place finisher Mohaymen (No. 6): “Well, it’s disappointing because we thought we pointed him to the right spot here. He was one of the favorites, and Junior [Alvarado] said he took him to the three-eighths pole and he just didn’t kick on. We’ll send him home probably and go over him really well and find out what’s up. He’s too nice of a horse to give up on.”

NYRA

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