Oaklawn’s White Rat Problem

American Pharoah and Bob Baffert - Photo Credit: Benoit Photo
Benoit Photo

Arrive into town on Thursday…jog over the racing surface on Friday…smoke all the local horses on Saturday stealing the meet’s biggest purses…back on a plane and home on Sunday.  Like a thief in the night, Bob Baffert has made Oaklawn Park his personal ATM machine.  Six of the last seven Rebel Stakes have now been stolen by Baffert, with the latest victory coming by a horse that had just broken his maiden at Santa Anita Park against very average hores.  Cupid looked green and unprofessional just a few weeks ago when winning his first race in three tries, but when running at Oaklawn Park he looked more like the $900,000 horse that he is when cruising to a wire to wire victory.  “Son of a bitch I can’t believe I left Baffert off my ticket!” That phrase was overheard more than once when walking through the mass of people on the track apron Saturday evening.  How could a recent maiden winner come to Hot Springs from California and win the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes against a full field of 14 horses?  There is no logic behind it…the “White Haired Rat” had done it again.

Before I go on let me just say that I do not have a problem with Bob Baffert.  In fact I really like Baffert.  He trained my favorite horse, American Pharoah, and is always saying things that make me chuckle.  His talent and accomplishments as a trainer are unmatched.  After all, he did win the first Triple Crown in the 37 years.  If you are looking for an article bashing Bob Baffert, this isn’t it.  However, as an Oaklawn guy who has many friends on the backside who are trainers I can feel their pain.  Let’s examine the last seven years of Baffert’s “purse stealing success” in the Oaklawn three year old races:

2016 – Won the Rebel Stakes as previously stated with Cupid, but did fail to win both the Smarty Jones and Southwest Stakes even though he had the favorite in both races.  However, if Cupid returns to capture the Arkansas Derby I don’t think anyone will be crying for poor ole Bob only winning two of the four races.

2015 – American Pharoah…yeah he came in and didn’t even give anyone else a fighting chance in the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby.  In fact, he was never shown the whip in either of his two starts.  As for the Smarty Jones and Southwest Stakes, he did not have a starter in either race.

2014 – An “off” year by Baffert standards as he was only able to win the Rebel Stakes with Hoppertunity.  He was low on three year olds in general that year, and elected to not bring Hoppertunity back to Oaklawn for the Arkansas Derby.  Instead he ran in the Santa Anita Derby where he finished second to California Chrome.

2013 – Poor Bob…in 2013 he did not win the Rebel Stakes which is the only time he hasn’t in the last seven years.  D Wayne Lukas beat him that year with Will Take Charge.  He didn’t win the Arkansas Derby either, however he did win the Southwest Stakes with Super Ninety Nine.

2012 – How about this year for Baffert!  He won the Arkansas Derby with Bodemeister, the Rebel Stakes with Secret Circle, and both runnings of the Southwest Stakes with Secret Circle and Castaway.  Oh and by the way, Secret Circle ran in the Arkansas Derby and finished second!  It’s safe to say he had the rest of the competiton over a barrel in 2012.

2011 – He was only able to capture The Rebel Stakes with The Factor this time around.  Again, he was light on three year olds, and The Factor disappointed in the Arkansas Derby and ran off the board.

2010 – Conveyance came to town and won the Southwest Stakes wire to wire, and then eventual Three Year Old Horse of the Year Lookin at Lucky won the Rebel Stakes.  However, Lookin at Lucky stayed home for the Santa Anita Derby for his next start so Baffert failed to win the Arkansas Derby as Archarcharch pulled a big upset.

“I’m sick of Baffert. As bad as I felt all day and night (food poisoning), I’m more sick of Bob Baffert. That horse was able to get his second quarter in :24. These caliber of horses don’t come back from that. When you’re a $900,000 Tapit, bred to be what he is, they don’t back up. You give them a 24-second quarter … nobody went with him. I thought somebody would go with him.”  Those were the words of local trainer Ron Moquett, who certainly has a right to be upset.  I applaud Moquett for not just sitting back and taking another beating from Baffert.  Moquett finally stood up and said what most local horseman feel but keep to themselves.  They are sick of Baffert stealing their inflated purses, and they are sick of him coming in with horses and getting perfect trips.  Twice now Baffert has ruined Moquett’s chances at glory at Oaklawn Park.  An Arkansas native, Moquett probably wants to win races like the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby almost as much as he wants to win the Kentucky Derby.  Two years in a row now his horses have finished second to Baffert in those big races, with Far Right finishing second in last years Arkansas Derby, and Whitmore of course finishing second in this years Rebel Stakes.  Moquett is eventually going to win these races, but you can understand that he feels they’ve been stolen from him, especially the latest thief job in the Rebel Stakes.

You can bet Bob Baffert saw the comment by Moquett, and in all honestly he probably liked it.  Baffert has a flare for the dramatic, and in my opinion, he undersands that these kinds of comments only make racing more interesting and entertaing.  After the Rebel Stakes win Baffert said, “We got a little beat up that last couple of times we were at Oaklawn (this year). The last time we went there Jimmy said they were booing him. We kept throwing 3-year-olds at them and we finally found the right one. I’m just very happy.”  Come on Bob…we know nobody booed you!  The fans at Oaklawn love Baffert, and are very thankful that he brings his star horses to the state of Arkansas.  This is just Baffert playing the roll of the villain and strring up some drama.  It’s fantastic, and one of the reasons why I like him so well.  He knows how to build a story line, and Moquett seems to know that as well…or maybe he was just really angry!  Either way, Whitmore vs. Cupid in the Arkansas Derby gets that much better with the shots that have been fired.

Speaking of the Arkansas Derby, can Cupid come back to town and win again?  Baffert admits he respects Whitmore, and was a little afraid when he made his big move: “I was sweating at the break when he didn’t break. I was worried they were going to close up on him like that they did with Collected last time. But once he got him rolling….When that horse came rolling down the middle of the stretch I thought we’ll see what he’s made of. That’s when we realized what he’s made of. He started to kick back in. That what you want to see this time of year, them showing some grits and some guts. He looked fantastic in the paddock and the post parade. He was ready to run and he ran like he looked.” Perhaps next time some of the speed horses will try to make things a little more difficult for him in the Arkansas Derby, but for now he will no doubt be the favorite to win the race.

“We’ll bring him back here, as long as he doesn’t get light on us”, Baffert said.  That confirms that the stage could be set for a rematch as you can rest assured Whitmore will also be back for the Arkansas Derby.  Don’t forget about late closers Creator and Suddenbreakingnews as well.  The slow pace could have hampered both of them, as well as a questionable ride on Suddenbreakingnews that got him stopped around the turn.  Also, you can bet this time around they’ll all be gunning for Cupid…and for Baffert much like they did when The Factor came back in the Arkansas Derby after dominating the Rebel Stakes in wire to wire fashion.  It didn’t run out well for The Factor that year so Cupid will no doubt have is work cut out for him.  Will the White Rat steal the cheese once again, or will the local cats gang up on him and put him in his place?

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