It would be hard to blame trainer Richard Baltas for fretting over 2020’s odd scheduling of preps for the Kentucky Oaks. He could toss and turn over where and when to run Venetian Harbor between now and Sept. 4.
But instead, he remembers what the late Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham said about trying to schedule a horse’s next race.
“Mr. Whittingham always said, ‘Get the horse ready, and then get the book out afterward.’ ”
So even as he suggested that shorter races might be ahead, Baltas is not ready to say yet what is next for Venetian Harbor after she finished second to Speech as the 3-5 favorite in Saturday’s Ashland Stakes (G1) at Keeneland.
“I’m letting her tell us what to do,” Baltas said Tuesday morning in a telephone conversation from Del Mar. “I don’t want to rush her. I might like to shorten her up. The Test (G1, seven furlongs Aug. 8 at Saratoga) is a possibility. But it’s coming back a little quicker than I wanted.”
Shorter distance? Only four weeks between races? Does this mean that Venetian Harbor will not run in the nine-furlong Oaks on Sept. 4?
“No,” Baltas said. “I’m just saying that it’s what’s best for the horse. I think sometimes what we do as owners and trainers is that we try to pick races and force horses to make them. Really, the horse has to tell you when they’re going to run. We’d like to make the Test, but it looks like we might not.”
While Baltas is in no hurry to schedule Venetian Harbor’s next race and certainly not the one after that, bettors and bookmakers are making their opinions known. Since Saturday’s defeat, the daughter of Munnings has gone from 8-1 in foreign Kentucky Oaks futures to 14-1.
The only two horses that have beaten Venetian Harbor in her three 2020 starts – Speech (8-1) and Santa Anita Oaks winner Swiss Skydiver (7-2) – are among the top five in those Oaks futures. Acorn Stakes (G1) winner Gamine (3-2) is the favorite.
“I think the horses that are going to win these races are the ones that are doing best at the time,” Baltas said. “Now, a lot of horses are peaking later, like Gamine. If I had to pick a horse right now I’d say Speech is probably be the best just because she seems to be coming around now and she seems to want to go the distance.”
That might yet be the salient issue for Venetian Harbor. Her last win, the February running of the Las Virgenes (G2) at Santa Anita, was at a mile. She led until Swiss Skydiver passed her in the last 150 yards of the 1 1/16-mile Fantasy Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park. She also set the pace in the Ashland until Speech caught her with a little more than an eighth of a mile to go.
While it would be easy to draw the conclusion that the distance caught up with Venetian Harbor, Baltas said there is more to it than that.
“I could have had her better,” he asked. “I think Venetian Harbor ran a great race the other day, but I don’t think she’s peaked yet.”
A trainer since 1991, Baltas has managed the careers of 16 graded-stakes winners. He outlined the plans for seven that are still active in his stable.
• After getting a 97 Beyer Speed Figure finishing first in Saturday’s Wickerr Stakes, 4-year-old Grade 2-winning colt Bob And Jackie “is going to run back maybe in the Del Mar Mile" (G2, Aug. 23).
• Neptune’s Storm: Coming off a Grade 3 victory last month at Golden Gate Fields, the 4-year-old gelding “is here at Del Mar and doing great” and will be entered in Sunday’s Eddie Read Stakes (G2). The race is expected to include United, a winner of two graded stakes in as many starts this year for Richard Mandella.
• Grade 1-winning 7-year-old Next Shares: “I left him in Kentucky. He’s definitely going to run his next race at Kentucky Downs. Maybe the Tourist Mile (Sept. 7). Maybe something else.”
• American Oaks (G1)-winning 4-year-old filly Lady Prancealot is “at San Luis Rey and doing very, very well. She’ll probably run here at Del Mar in the John C. Mabee (G2, Aug. 27). There’s an outside chance that she could run in the Yellow Ribbon Handicap (G2, Aug. 8).”
• Gamely (G1) runner-up Bodhicitta: The 4-year-old filly “is probably going to run in the Yellow Ribbon.”
• Seventh in Sunday’s Elkhorn Stakes (G2) at Keeneland, Grade 2-winning 7-year-old gelding Oscar Domínguez “kind of needed the race. He’ll probably run here at Del Mar.”
• Desert Stone has been out of training since late June. “He just had a little hock issue, so he’s on the mend. We don’t have anything picked out for him right now.”
Baltas said that his 2019 Monmouth Oaks (G3) winner Horologist, last seen being pulled up in the May 31 Santa Maria Stakes (G2), has been transferred to Bill Mott. “The owners wanted to run back East, and they wanted to try something different,” he said. “She didn’t like Santa Anita.”
He also said that Marckie’s Water is now with Peter Eurton and Lady Ninja with Shug McGaughey. A winner in four Grade 3 races, Elysea’s World has been retired and is in foal to Munnings.
According to Baltas, 2019 graded-stakes winners Secret Spice and Ms Bad Behavior are on their way to becoming broodmares after being moved last November at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Mixed Sale. Secret Spice went for $1.4 million to Northern Farm in Japan and Ms Bad Behavior for $600,000 to Arrowfield Bloodstock in Australia.
A Grade 3 winner last year, 6-year-old mare Pantsonfire was auctioned off at the same sale for $70,000 to breed for Fortune Farms in Idaho.