It’s a rare occurrence to see a Kentucky Derby roll around
without a horse in the program trained by Bob Baffert, and while it isn’t
completely unheard of, it is disappointing – for him, for those he trains for,
for his fans. For all we know, maybe even the horses are disappointed too. The
three-time winning trainer of the Derby won his last garland of roses in 2002
with War Emblem, and has been looking to add a fourth to the list ever since.
And of all his original contenders for the 2013 edition, I thought the most
promising was a strapping gray colt by the name of Flashback.
The son of Tapit has quite the nice pedigree, with his sire
becoming one of the most popular of our day and age. While Tapit has been known
to sire extremely talented juveniles who sizzle out some after their first
season racing, he has begun to prove himself with lasting horses such as Tapitsfly,
Tapizar, Trappe Shot, and even Flashback’s full sister, Zazu. It’s always nice,
as well, to see Seattle Slew in a nice colt’s pedigree – which he receives
through A.P. Indy. On the bottom, race record wise, Flashback’s dam didn’t
accomplish much. She broke her maiden first time out and followed that victory
with two more in allowance company. Raised to Grade 1 company in her Mother
Goose Stakes for her fourth out, Rhumb Line finished sixth. She ran five more
times, two of which were stakes, but never finished higher than third again. Her
progeny, in addition to Flashback and Zazu, include stakes winner Corinthian’s
Jewel and group stakes placed Art Princess.
Flashback’s debut was a late one, coming in a maiden special
weight at Hollywood Park on December 8, 2012. Despite being a first time
starter, he was made the even money favorite, and of his eight rivals, only
three had any race experience. With Julien Leparoux in the irons, he broke well
from his outside post and settled down. The late Mentor Cane, a John
Shirreffs-trainee, set the pace as Flashback ran wide in mid-pack. As they
moved around the far turn, Flashback and Leparoux made their bid, accelerating
quite impressively to coast to an easy 3 ½ length victory.
The Robert B. Lewis on February 2 brought a small field of
four, with Baffert training half of the field in Flashback and Den’s Legacy. He’s
Had Enough, runner-up to Champion Two-Year-Old Shanghai Bobby in the Breeders’
Cup Juvenile, carried the hopes of Doug O’Neil and Little Jerry was sent out
for Richard Baltas. There was no contest at all in the race, as Flashback took
command from the moment the gates opened and
hit the wire 6 ¼ lengths ahead of Den’s Legacy. He’s Had Enough and
Little Jerry rounded out the field.
In his third start, Flashback faced defeat for the first
time. At the quarter pole of the Grade II San Felipe at Santa Anita, it looked
like it was going to be a contest between the grey colt and fancied
Goldencents, with eventual winner Hear the Ghost six lengths behind them. The
gray and the bay raced as a team to mid-stretch, and then Goldencents tired and
fell back. Flashback appeared as though he could hold out, but he had to face
the closing pair of Hear the Ghost and Tiz a Minister, and he didn’t quite have
enough to stay ahead. Under Corey Nakatani,
the Ghostzapper gelding beat Flashback by half a length and put himself into
Derby conversations, with people believing that he could get longer distances
based on the manner in which he was beginning to pull away.
Baffert seemed pleased with his colt’s efforts in the race,
saying, “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. .. 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.”
Flashback’s final start before Derby decisions were made was
the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, in which he once again faced Goldencents. Under
new pilot Garret Gomez, Flashback’s speed was held back on the rail while Kevin
Krigger allowed Goldencents to settle just off the pace behind Super Ninety
Nine. On the far turn, Goldencents and Flashback both moved to the leader. The
trio turned to head home with it looking as though Flashback might take the
lead – but it was not to be. Super Ninety Nine tired on the rail, and perfectly
timed urging from Krigger sent Goldencents ahead and clear of his company. He took
the race by 1 ¼ lengths, though
Flashback was clearly the best of the rest, finishing 8 ½ lengths ahead of
third place finisher Super Ninety Nine.
The colt was still a favorite of many for the quickly
approaching Derby – until news came on April 7 that shot all hopes of the roses
out the window. Baffert announced that Flashback came out of the Santa Anita
Derby with a small chip in his right knee and would be sent to Rood &
Riddle to have the chip removed. "He's going to be fine," the trainer
said. "He took a little bobble in the stretch when he turned for home and
switched leads and didn't go on after that. So maybe he did it then. This
morning he was fine, but he had some heat in the knee, so we took an X-ray and
found the fresh chip in there. Dr. (Larry) Bramlage of Rood & Riddle
recommended we take it out and said he should make a full recovery with the
surgery and time off."
It appears that many people forgot about the colt during his
time off, with hardly anyone reporting anything on his scheduled return to the
races. Entries for the Damascus Stakes, to be run on the Breeders’ Cup
undercard on November 2, were released and it was with delight that I read
Flashback’s name. Sure, his layoff had been long, but in the past months I have
seen other horses I like have spectacular comebacks. Baffert has long been my
favorite trainer, and his success bringing Paynter and Secret Circle back only
helped encourage my belief that Flashback was ready to run.
Fast forward to race day. I was nervous as post time
approached, unable to get the speed bias from day one of the Breeders’ Cup out
of my head. Sure, my horse led at every call in the Robert B. Lewis, but would
he do it again? Or would he close? My heart was racing as the field was loaded
in the gate, and when they sprang open, I had eyes for one horse only.
Flashback broke slowly under Martin Garcia and thus trailed the field at the
beginning of the seven furlong race before being angled outside. He was three
deep as they came around the turn and then went three wide as they came into
the stretch. Eventually winner Zeewat and Flashback exchanged a few bumps in
midstretch and battled each other throughout the final furlong of the race. In
a very close call, Flashback lost by a nose – but he showed me that he was
still the horse I believed him to be.
Reportedly, Baffert wasn’t exactly thrilled with the ride
that his horse got, though I’m sure he’s happy that Flashback still has what it
takes. I know I am.
- Ciara Bowen