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Prayer for Relief back in action for Baffert

Prayer For Relief

Prayer for Relief has run far and wide in his career of 10 races, but never at Santa Anita. The 4-year-old son of Jump Start trained by Bob Baffert for the Zayat Stables will fill that void on his resume Saturday when he runs in the Grade II, $150,000 San Fernando Stakes for 4-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.

“A mile and a sixteenth might be a little too short for him, but it’s a starting point,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who celebrates his 59th birthday tomorrow, Friday the 13th. “He’ll be better going a mile and an eighth.”

If all goes well, that distance would present itself to Prayer for Relief in the Grade II, $200,000 Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 4.

A winner of three straight derbies last year—none the Kentucky Derby—Prayer for Relief is coming off a perplexing 13th-place finish in the Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 25. Prior to that, the Kentucky-bred colt was third in the Oklahoma Derby; and won the Super Derby, the West Virginia Derby and the Iowa Derby, all under Rafael Bejarano, who has the mount in the San Fernando.

Baffert was puzzled over the disappointing Clark performance. “He was there, and then he wasn’t there,” Baffert said.

The field for the San Fernando, second leg of the Strub series: Prayer for Relief, Bejarano; Balladry, Joe Talamo; Riveting Reasons, Alonso Quinonez; Dreaminofthewin, Martin Garcia; Irish Art, Joel Rosario; Spud Spivens, Mike Smith; First Strike, Victor Espinoza; and Tapizar, Corey Nakatani.

Baffert had a busy few days since Santa Anita’s last racing day on Sunday. His 7-year-old son, Bode, was stricken with appendicitis and had his appendix removed early Tuesday at Huntington Memorial Hospital. Brave beyond Baffert’s belief, Bode is well on his way to recovery.

“He showed a lot of courage during the pain he endured before the operation,” Baffert said of Bode, “but once he was told he needed surgery, he said, ‘This is the worst day of my life.’”

Grade I CashCall Futurity winner Liaison worked in company with maiden Castaway on Santa Anita’s fast main track Thursday. Baffert caught Liaison in 1:11 4/5 for six furlongs, terming the drill, “beautiful” under Martin Garcia, while Santa Anita’s clockers gave the colt 59.20 for five furlongs. Castaway was timed in a minute flat.

Owner Arnold Zetcher was on hand for Liaison’s workout, which drew him closer to his 3-year-old debut in the Robert Lewis Stakes on Feb. 4.

Impressive maiden winner Princess Arabella also worked for Baffert, going four furlongs in 48 seconds, breezing.

Baffert, a finalist for an Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer of 2011 along with Bill Mott and Todd Pletcher, said he did not plan to attend the dinner on Monday at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles. Baffert is a three-time winner. His last Eclipse Award came in 1999, capping a string of three straight years.

“Actually, last year was probably one of the best years I’ve had, overall,” Baffert said. “I had a really good year, won all those Grade I’s, but I don’t think they (voters) really look at that too much any more. Mott had a great fall (capped by Drosselmeyer’s Breeders’ Cup Classic win), but I’ll settle this year for the same year I had in 2011.

“If I could have that every year, it would be good, winning with a lot of horses, on the road, and for different owners.”

One of Baffert’s major players is Santa Anita Handicap winner Game on Dude, who was second in the Classic. “Chantal calls him GOD (abbreviation for Game on Dude),” Baffert said, referring to Game on Dude’s regular rider, Chantal Sutherland.



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