After capturing the Southwest Stakes (G2) in only his second career start last Saturday by a clear margin, Arabian Knight gave the impression of a colt who could develop into a star for trainer Bob Baffert. As a handicapper, though, it is important to remember that the hype does not always pan out.
In the past, there has been more than one Baffert-trained 3-year-old who the public deemed a monster early off a fast start and ended up both losing for the first time on the Kentucky Derby trail and flaming out in their remaining races.
Two examples are Concert Tour and Flashback. Below is a brief description of their early careers, how they initially lost and the aftermath.
Only two years ago, Concert Tour won the first three starts of his career, including the San Vicente Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita and Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn. In the latter race, Concert Tour took control of the lead from a rank Caddo River and put him away before drawing clear by 4 1/4 lengths.
Off that win, the hype behind Concert Tour became quite strong, and he went into the Arkansas Derby (G1) with an invincible aura around him.
Concert Tour started the Arkansas Derby at unsavory 1-5 odds. Perhaps he could justify those odds though by taking another step and blowing the field out with a big-margin win.
But Concert Tour did not secure the lead and ended up pressing Caddo River instead. Concert Tour went along in the pressing position comfortably enough, but he could not finish when asked.
When the time came to put Caddo River away this time, Concert Tour stuck to Caddo River for the entire stretch. As the two early leaders battled, Super Stock switched out and passed by both of them in the stretch for a mild upset score at 12-1.
Following a ninth-place finish in the Preakness Stakes, Concert Tour took a break after the terrible effort at Pimlico and reappeared last year under trainer Brad Cox. Unfortunately, Concert Tour lost all three starts with Cox.
In late 2012, Flashback broke his maiden at first asking at Hollywood Park by 3 1/2 lengths. About two months later, he made his second start in the 2013 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita and won by 6 1/4 lengths.
Given the ease and margins of those wins, Flashback generated hype as a possible monster in the Baffert barn. Even though Flashback did not travel outside of California as a 3-year-old, his trajectory resembles that of Arabian Knight because they both made a successful transition from a maiden sprint to a graded-stakes route.
Flashback went into the San Felipe Stakes (G2) as the even-money favorite, but his chances soon became in jeopardy. After contesting the lead with the ultra-fast Goldencents and getting the better of him in the stretch, one of the mid-pack closers named Hear the Ghost took advantage of the pace and caught Flashback to prevail by half a length.
To give Flashback credit, he arguably ran the best race because of his early pace work in dueling with Goldencents. But once he lost, it took away some of the aura surrounding him as an invincible 3-year-old trained by Baffert.
In the Santa Anita Derby (G1), the public gave Flashback another chance by making him the favorite once more. This time, Flashback made use of stalking tactics as Goldencents pressured the leader Super Ninety Nine. But when Flashback rallied wide on the turn and into the stretch, Goldencents repelled his bid and opened up slightly late.
Goldencents captured the Santa Anita Derby by 1 1/4 lengths over Flashback, giving him two losses in a row as the favorite.
Flashback went on the shelf and did not reappear until the Malibu Stakes (G1), where he started as the favorite again and made a mild bid to run fourth. After his comeback, Flashback spent more significant time on the shelf. He then tried another comeback in the 2014 Ack Ack Handicap (G3) and ran an even third under trainer Wayne Catalano.