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Hall of Fame Trainer Bob Baffert Wins Big Over Presidents Day Weekend

By Steve Davidowitz | It was supposed to be Presidents' Day on Monday, but Hall of Fame horse trainer Bob Baffert celebrated his own private holiday weekend at Santa Anita and Oaklawn Park.

On Saturday, the Baffert trained 5-year-old mare ELLAFITZ won her third straight stakes in the $200,000 Santa Maria Stakes, a Grade 2 for fillies and mares at 1-1/16 miles on the main dirt track. This was the daughter of Tiznow’s fourth stakes win in her last five outings dating back to July 1, 2011. Yet that win was a mere prelude to the way Baffert trained horses dominated the three stakes for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita on Sunday and Oaklawn Park on Monday.

On Sunday at Santa Anita, the Baffert trained DRILL ended a five race losing streak in the Grade-2 San Vicente Stakes, his first win since the Grade-1 Del Mar Futurity on Sept 7. Drill, who had fallen out of favor after progressively bad performances in the Norfolk Stakes, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the Delta Jackpot, the Cash Call Futurity and San Pedro Stakes, reversed his decline with a strong stretch running drive to beat the improving maiden winner AMERICAN ACT by a nose with heavily favored CREATIVE CAUSE  a modest third in the latter’s first start of 2012.

Last fall, Creative Cause defeated Drill in the Norfolk and was a good third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile behind 2-year-old champion HANSEN and previously undefeated UNION RAGS. But he obviously needed the San Vicente as a prep race for longer and more important races on the long winding road to the Kentucky Derby on May 5.

As for Drill, Baffert was glad to see the son of Lawyer Ron recover his good form but cautioned against accepting the colt as a bona fide horse to consider on the Triple Crown chase.

"Right now, we think he's best as a one turn sprinter," Baffert said.  "We might try him around two turns and in a longer race down the road, but I wouldn't go out and buy Future Book tickets on him to win the Kentucky Derby."

On Monday, however, Baffert’s winning streak in Graded stakes for 3-year-olds continued in split divisions of the one mile, Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Both divisions carried $250,000 purses and included above average competition from California, Kentucky, Louisiana and Arkansas.

In the first division, Baffert’s slow-to-develop maiden winner CASTAWAY overcame the outside post in an 11 horse field to score by open daylight at $6.70-1 over longshot JAKE MO. The clocking for the mile distance around two turns was a respectable 1:38.08. But more importantly, the performance clearly suggests that Castaway finally has figured out what a racehorse is supposed to do. As a son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, Castaway certainly has earned a ticket to a longer stronger Derby prep, perhaps the $500,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn next month.

While all that was going on, an extremely rare three horse dead heat developed in this race—for sixth place—among the lukewarm 3-1 betting favorite LONGVIEW DRIVE,  local stakes winner JUNEBUGRED (4-1) and 33-1 shot NO SPIN. All three were 6-3/4 lengths behind the winner.

In the second division, SECRET CIRCLE, the 3-5 betting favorite who won the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint at Churchill Downs last fall, won a hard fought wire to wire battle with a razor sharp SCATMAN, who was seeking his third straight victory while stretching out in distance.  That in fact  might have been the key difference in this result, given that Secret Circle already had gained experience going two turns in the one mile, Grade-3  Sham Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan 7, when he finished a close second to OUT OF BOUNDS.

Although highly touted CYBER SECRET was well placed chasing the two dueling leaders, he fell back to fifth through the stretch while Scatman and Secret Circle pulled away from the field. Only in the final few strides did Secret Circle prevail, winning by 1/2 lengths. But, the final outcome was encouraging to Baffert and jockey Rafael Bejarano, who ride both winners in this Southwest Stakes-Bob Baffert double.

Said Bejarano: "It went well; he showed his usual speed and when I asked him to run, he surprised me. He had more left than I expected. He actually showed a lot of heart today and I’m very pleased with his effort."

While Secret Circle's did run one full second faster in his division of the Southwest than Castaway, Baffert is not likely to put both Southwest winners in the 1-1/16 mile Rebel, or in any race together, wherever they may appear next.
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