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
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.