Bernard Baruch win part of a very good month for Mike Maker

Bernard Baruch win part of a very good month for Mike Maker
Photo: NYRA

It has been a good month for Mike Maker. A very good month.

But the way racing works, he knows that hot streaks come and go. That luck can turn on a dime. So it would have been perfectly understandable if a scare that came after his latest success would have brought him back down to earth.

Except that he was not even aware of it.

“At the time I didn’t see what happened,” he said Monday in a phone call from Saratoga, where he trained Somelikeithotbrown to an upset victory in the Bernard Baruch Handicap (G2). It was Maker’s seventh stakes victory this month, all but one of them coming in turf races. 

Yes, he was there in the mostly empty grandstand to see his two colts – Somelikeithotbrown and Mr Dumas – finish one-two despite being the two longest shots on the board. But he missed it when Somelikeithotbrown threw jockey Tyler Gaffalione and briefly got loose after the race. 

“The outrider did a great job catching him right away,” Maker said. “I could tell Tyler seemed OK because he was up and walking.” 

It turned out both horse and jockey were fine, which generally has been the way July has gone for Maker – minus one momentarily recalcitrant winner. 

“Obviously, it was a great race,” Maker said. “Somelikeithotbrown had everything his own way. Being a home-bred for some long-term area clients was very fulfilling.” 

He was referring to Jim Shircliff and Harvey Diamond, who compete under the name Skychai Racing, and their longtime partner David Koenig. Maker and Skychai were involved when Hansen won the 2011 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male and when Da Big Hoss won the 2015 and 2016 Kentucky Turf Cup. 

This time, success came by way of a 4-year-old colt by Big Brown that had been to the winner’s circle in only one other graded stakes – last year’s Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) on the synthetic track at Turfway Park. Bettors who made him 8-1 on Saturday were not expecting much after he faded from first to third in the stretch in last month’s Fort Marcy (G3) at Belmont Park. But Maker felt like he had a legitimate excuse. 

“Maybe he was too quick early when a horse that had an equipment problem (a snapped rein) may have compromised him and got him a little too aggressive on his outside,” Maker said. “I thought he ran a great race in the Fort Marcy, and he came back and followed it up.” 

That was not Maker’s only overlooked winner this month. There was also Aquaphobia, the 7-year-old that had finished out of the money in his first five graded stakes. At 10-1, he finished first in the United Nations Stakes (G1) at Monmouth Park. It was not so much a question of whether he could get the 1 3/8 miles as it was his needing it. 

“He had a really hadn’t had many opportunities to stretch out,” Maker said. “I think he really appreciated it.” 

Not all of Maker’s winners have been surprises. He had two July 12 at Keeneland that were far from it. 

Only a neck loss separates 7-year-old Zulu Alpha from being 4-for-4 this year, starting with his victory in the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1). Coming off a 3 1/2-month break from that loss to stablemate Bemma’s Boy in the Pan American Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park, he resumed his winning pattern as the even-money favorite in the Elkhorn Stakes (G2). 

“Now Zulu Alpha is on top of his game,” Maker said. “He is very sharp right now. He likes to go to the farm and eat some grass for a couple weeks, and then he rewards us for it.” 

That same day, 3-year-old Field Pass won by a nose as the 2-1 favorite in the Transylvania (G3). 

“It’s been a great month,” Maker said. “We had a time at Keeneland where I think we won 23 or 24 races in three weeks. And another at Churchill Downs in the fall where we won quite a bit of races in one month as well. But I’m not one to really write down stuff like that. I’m a day-to-day kind of guy.”

To that end, Maker is still mapping out short-term plans for his winners. Field Pass is ticketed for the Aug. 15 Saratoga Derby. He plans to give Aquaphobia a little more distance by racing him Aug. 29 in the 1 1/2-mile Grade 1 Sword Dancer, the top turf race of the Saratoga summer. Zulu Alpha is bound for the Sept. 12 running of the $1 million Kentucky Turf Cup (G3) at Kentucky Downs. While he does not have immediate plans for Somelikeithotbrown, Maker expects to put Mr Dumas in a summertime race at Kentucky Downs.

He also has Marzo, a Grade 3 winner last year, coming back from a four-month break for Saturday’s Bowling Green (G2) at Saratoga. And off the Pan American win, Bemma’s Boy resumes training this week for a race yet to be determined after spending most of the spring and summer on a farm.

In general, Maker said the Breeders’ Cup is the long-term goal for his recent winners. While he said that, yes, Keeneland would provide him a home-court advantage for this year’s championships, he was still in that “day-to-day” mode, even in one of the best months since he started his own training operation in 2003.

“Horse racing is a roller-coaster ride,” he said. “But I love when the ball bounces our way.”

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