Baker, Nevin to join familiar stables out west for Breeders' Cup
The first of two Belmont Park "Super Saturday" cards packed with Breeders' Cup implications yielded some familiar faces that will head west to Santa Anita in a few weeks, while also offering trainers light on Breeders' Cup experience the chance to reach a new milestone.
It's not often that a Todd Pletcher win can be called an upset, but when your 9-1 shot that's winless in your barn beats an odds-on heavyweight, an upset it is. Undone by the soft turf caused by heavy rains in New York, Flintshire could manage to be only second in his first loss in New York, while Ectot got his first stateside win and earned a Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) berth at the same time in the "Win and You're In," $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1).
Another veteran Breeders' Cup trainer, Dallas Stewart, will try to get his second win in the Breeders' Cup, and second in the Distaff (G1), following Forever Unbridled's 2 1/4-length win in the $400,000 Beldame (G1). His lone Breeders' Cup win came in 2001 with another daughter of Unbridled's Song, that one named Unbridled Elaine. Like the Turf Classic, the Beldame was a Breeders' Cup Challenge Series race, and it's the four-year-old filly's second Grade 1 win, following her victory in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park in April.
The other three stakes wins on the day went to trainers who will head to Santa Anita looking for their first win in the Breeders' Cup, and in the case of Charlton Baker, he'll be saddling his first Breeders' Cup starter.
Back in January of 2014, Joking had already been claimed once, after beginning his racing career as a Darley homebred. In for a $20,000 tag at Aqueduct, he had one win in 11 starts, and Baker took a shot. Since arriving in Baker's barn, Joking has made 27 starts and compiled a record of 9-7-4, and his current four-race winning streak includes his and his trainer's first graded stakes win, in the True North (G2) at Belmont in June, and now their first Grade 1 in the $350,000 Vosburgh. The win was also the first Grade 1 for jockey Manny Franco.
The Vosburgh is a "Win and You're In" race for the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1), the victory ensuring a spot for Joking in the race and providing pre-entry and entry fees along with a travel allowance to ship west, no insignificant consideration for a trainer with a small stable and who also owns the horse.
"I claimed him for $20,000 and I thought it was a bargain," said an exultant Baker after the race. "When he ran for $50,000, I thought about it, then when he got to $20,000, he was in my price range."
That price range has likely gone up a little bit, thanks to a beautifully bred horse (Distorted Humor – Spun Silk, by A.P. Indy) who has now earned nearly $850,000.
Trainer Michelle Nevin will return to the Breeders' Cup for the second time following Paulassilverlining's win in the Gallant Bloom (G2). Her lone start at the Breeders' Cup came at Santa Anita in 2014, when By the Moon finished eighth in the 2014 Juvenile Fillies (G1).
"I don't see why she shouldn't go," said Nevin of the Filly and Mare Sprint (G1). "This filly has shown up all year, except her last race when she was only beaten two lengths and she might not have gotten the trip she really wants."
Aside from that fifth-place finish in the Ballerina (G1) at Saratoga in August, Paulassilverlining has finished in the top three of her seven starts this year, winning four of them.
And Brian Lynch looks to have a nice two-year-old turf colt on his hands, based on Oscar Performance's six-length win in the $200,000 Pilgrim (G3).
"I'd certainly say he's on the wagon headed [to the Breeders' Cup]," Lynch said. "I think it was a decent field behind him, so there's plenty to look forward to."
Oscar Performance broke his maiden in mid-August in Saratoga, winning by 10 1/4 lengths on firm turf. His decisive win in the Pilgrim came on yielding ground.
While today's winners probably won't get the soft or muddy ground over which they won at Belmont on Saturday, each of them has also won over the sort of ground they are likely to encounter in southern California in early November.
Next weekend will see another "super" weekend at Belmont with Breeders' Cup implications, when the track will host four more Challenge Series races, including the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1). And with a hurricane heading up the East Coast and possibly taking aim at New York, next week's starters may well have to contend the sorts of conditions that today's winners did.
(Chelsea Durand/Adam Coglianese Photography)