Once upon a time there was a lightly raced three-year-old
trained by Bob Baffert who may have been just a little too keyed up early on
for his own good. In between horses heading to the clubhouse turn, the gray
stakes winner undoubtedly felt the pressure, and at that point in his young
career, did not know how best to properly relax. Running head and head with
another in 1:09, it’s no wonder that the highly regarded colt was unable to
hold off the eventual winner in the late stages of the Kentucky Derby prep race
at Santa Anita. This scenario sounds an awful lot like how things went down for
Flashback in yesterday’s San Felipe Stakes, doesn’t it?
The horse in question happens to be the 1997 Kentucky Derby
and Preakness winner, Silver Charm. In his sixth lifetime start (yes, that was
considered lightly raced 16 years ago) Silver Charm found himself in a
blistering speed duel in the Santa Anita Derby with the talented filly, Sharp
Cat. Softened up by the grueling fractions, the eventual near Triple Crown
winner could not hold off the rush of Free House down the stretch, and finished
a very game second in his final prep for the run for the roses.
Now, I’m not ready to call Flashback the next Silver Charm,
of course, but to see all the comments that followed his first defeat
yesterday, I have to say that it seems way too early to dismiss this talented
colt as a possible Kentucky Derby winner. Sure he was a little too headstrong
for his own good in the San Felipe, but considering this was only his third
lifetime start, and the fact that he battled the talented Goldencents into
submission and in taxing early fractions, I consider it to have been a very
good performance. Not surprisingly, his three-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer seemed to agree.
“I think he ran well despite all that. He had a nice, tough
race and he got tired at the end, considering he went so fast, but I think we
learned a lot about him today,” said Baffert. “I think we were just intimidated
by the free speed today, and the rail, so you learn from racing. That’s what
these preps are all about.”
After the race, I also noticed many a glowing
comment concerning the winner of the race, Hear the Ghost. Many of these statements
intimated that if he could rally like this 1 1/16 miles, just think what he
could do at a mile and a quarter. I’m here to tell you that reasoning is very
flawed, and for more than one reason.
First of all, the San Felipe was a textbook
scenario for a horse to pick up the pieces. Flashback and Goldencents went at
it tooth and nail for as long as they could. 99 times out of 100, when this
happens, any closer worth his weight in salt will come and get the survivor of
the duel. The fact that Flashback was still very much in the picture at the
finish speaks to his class.
The second aspect of the above reasoning that
is flawed is in the assumption that horses that close fast at shorter distances
will automatically real in the same horse at a longer distance. It actually
rarely works out that way. A slower pace in the longer race generally makes the
speed all the more difficult to wrangle in, and as any experienced handicapper
knows, just because a horse rallies at a shorter race, does not always mean he will
do the same in longer races.
Don’t get me wrong, Hear the Ghost, also making
only his third lifetime start, looks like a colt with a future, but given the
choice between the two, I will have few qualms about selecting Flashback next
time. Nothing I saw yesterday makes me doubt that he is a very talented horse.
Where Flashback still has many questions to
answer, Silver Charm turned out to be a horse that could get any distance, and
truly possessed the heart of a champion. Clearly Flashback has a long road
ahead to be seriously compared to him, but jumping off his bandwagon after
yesterday’s defeat seems way too premature for my taste.