Flashback or Fast Forward?

 It’s a rare occurrence to see a Kentucky Derby roll around without a horse in the program trained by Bob Baffert, and while it isn’t completely unheard of, it is disappointing – for him, for those he trains for, for his fans. For all we know, maybe even the horses are disappointed too. The three-time winning trainer of the Derby won his last garland of roses in 2002 with War Emblem, and has been looking to add a fourth to the list ever since. And of all his original contenders for the 2013 edition, I thought the most promising was a strapping gray colt by the name of Flashback.


The son of Tapit has quite the nice pedigree, with his sire becoming one of the most popular of our day and age. While Tapit has been known to sire extremely talented juveniles who sizzle out some after their first season racing, he has begun to prove himself with lasting horses such as Tapitsfly, Tapizar, Trappe Shot, and even Flashback’s full sister, Zazu. It’s always nice, as well, to see Seattle Slew in a nice colt’s pedigree – which he receives through A.P. Indy. On the bottom, race record wise, Flashback’s dam didn’t accomplish much. She broke her maiden first time out and followed that victory with two more in allowance company. Raised to Grade 1 company in her Mother Goose Stakes for her fourth out, Rhumb Line finished sixth. She ran five more times, two of which were stakes, but never finished higher than third again. Her progeny, in addition to Flashback and Zazu, include stakes winner Corinthian’s Jewel and group stakes placed Art Princess.


Flashback’s debut was a late one, coming in a maiden special weight at Hollywood Park on December 8, 2012. Despite being a first time starter, he was made the even money favorite, and of his eight rivals, only three had any race experience. With Julien Leparoux in the irons, he broke well from his outside post and settled down. The late Mentor Cane, a John Shirreffs-trainee, set the pace as Flashback ran wide in mid-pack. As they moved around the far turn, Flashback and Leparoux made their bid, accelerating quite impressively to coast to an easy 3 ½ length victory.


The Robert B. Lewis on February 2 brought a small field of four, with Baffert training half of the field in Flashback and Den’s Legacy. He’s Had Enough, runner-up to Champion Two-Year-Old Shanghai Bobby in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, carried the hopes of Doug O’Neil and Little Jerry was sent out for Richard Baltas. There was no contest at all in the race, as Flashback took command from the moment the gates opened and  hit the wire 6 ¼ lengths ahead of Den’s Legacy. He’s Had Enough and Little Jerry rounded out the field.


In his third start, Flashback faced defeat for the first time. At the quarter pole of the Grade II San Felipe at Santa Anita, it looked like it was going to be a contest between the grey colt and fancied Goldencents, with eventual winner Hear the Ghost six lengths behind them. The gray and the bay raced as a team to mid-stretch, and then Goldencents tired and fell back. Flashback appeared as though he could hold out, but he had to face the closing pair of Hear the Ghost and Tiz a Minister, and he didn’t quite have enough to stay ahead.  Under Corey Nakatani, the Ghostzapper gelding beat Flashback by half a length and put himself into Derby conversations, with people believing that he could get longer distances based on the manner in which he was beginning to pull away.


Baffert seemed pleased with his colt’s efforts in the race, saying, “I think he ran well despite all that. He had a nice, tough race and he got tired at the end, considering he went so fast, but I think we learned a lot about him today. .. I think we were just intimidated by the free speed today, and the rail, so you learn from racing. That’s what these preps are all about.”


Flashback’s final start before Derby decisions were made was the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, in which he once again faced Goldencents. Under new pilot Garret Gomez, Flashback’s speed was held back on the rail while Kevin Krigger allowed Goldencents to settle just off the pace behind Super Ninety Nine. On the far turn, Goldencents and Flashback both moved to the leader. The trio turned to head home with it looking as though Flashback might take the lead – but it was not to be. Super Ninety Nine tired on the rail, and perfectly timed urging from Krigger sent Goldencents ahead and clear of his company. He took the race by  1 ¼ lengths, though Flashback was clearly the best of the rest, finishing 8 ½ lengths ahead of third place finisher Super Ninety Nine.


The colt was still a favorite of many for the quickly approaching Derby – until news came on April 7 that shot all hopes of the roses out the window. Baffert announced that Flashback came out of the Santa Anita Derby with a small chip in his right knee and would be sent to Rood & Riddle to have the chip removed. "He's going to be fine," the trainer said. "He took a little bobble in the stretch when he turned for home and switched leads and didn't go on after that. So maybe he did it then. This morning he was fine, but he had some heat in the knee, so we took an X-ray and found the fresh chip in there. Dr. (Larry) Bramlage of Rood & Riddle recommended we take it out and said he should make a full recovery with the surgery and time off."


It appears that many people forgot about the colt during his time off, with hardly anyone reporting anything on his scheduled return to the races. Entries for the Damascus Stakes, to be run on the Breeders’ Cup undercard on November 2, were released and it was with delight that I read Flashback’s name. Sure, his layoff had been long, but in the past months I have seen other horses I like have spectacular comebacks. Baffert has long been my favorite trainer, and his success bringing Paynter and Secret Circle back only helped encourage my belief that Flashback was ready to run.


Fast forward to race day. I was nervous as post time approached, unable to get the speed bias from day one of the Breeders’ Cup out of my head. Sure, my horse led at every call in the Robert B. Lewis, but would he do it again? Or would he close? My heart was racing as the field was loaded in the gate, and when they sprang open, I had eyes for one horse only. Flashback broke slowly under Martin Garcia and thus trailed the field at the beginning of the seven furlong race before being angled outside. He was three deep as they came around the turn and then went three wide as they came into the stretch. Eventually winner Zeewat and Flashback exchanged a few bumps in midstretch and battled each other throughout the final furlong of the race. In a very close call, Flashback lost by a nose – but he showed me that he was still the horse I believed him to be.


Reportedly, Baffert wasn’t exactly thrilled with the ride that his horse got, though I’m sure he’s happy that Flashback still has what it takes. I know I am.  


Written by:
- Ciara Bowen  


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