Following Bob Baffert trainees in Grade 1 contests for juveniles is generally a good policy but in the $300,000 Del Mar Futurity Stakes on September 4 most bettors picked the wrong one.
It was Baffert’s second string, the appropriately named Game Winner, the 8/5 second favorite, who gave his all under Mario Gutierrez to beat Rowayton (7/1) one and a half lengths.
Baffert’s hot favorite, Roadster (7/10), finished a disappointing third under Mike Smith, half a length further back. The 35/1 shot Sigalert was a distant fourth for John Sadler leaving Spin Lightning (21/1) and Flavien Prat to take fifth. Jeff Bonde’s Sparky Ville was sent off at 33/1 and finished last of the six, beaten 16 lengths.
Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, Rowayton’s jockey Draydon Van Dyke took advantage of his favorable draw in gate two and rapidly grabbed the lead and the rail. Smith was drawn next to him and soon took the second spot on Roadster but kept him wide of the rail allowing Sparky Ville and Spin Lightning to take shorter routes. Game Winner was posted widest of all in the chasing group while Sigalert was held up at the back of the pack by Tyler Baze.
Rowayton had gained a lead of six lengths going into the final turn when the other jockeys started urging their mounts to close on the pacesetter. Roadster led the chasing pack closely followed by Game Winner on his flank. Sparky Ville and Spin Lightning did not have the speed to cover the move and dropped away from Baffert’s pair as they pursued the runaway leader Rowayton.
At the quarter pole Rowayton’s lead had been cut to three lengths by Roadster. Gutierrez was pushing Game Winner vigorously to keep tabs on his barnmate’s move as Smith became increasingly animated. Only half way down the stretch did Rowayton’s stride appear to shorten. Van Drayden had set a strong pace but made a pretty good job of judging the fractions.
As Rowayton started to struggle, Roadster also seemed to run low on gas. To say that Game Winner surged to victory would not be entirely accurate. He held his head low in the style of a horse that wants to win and fought his way across the wire while his rivals emptied. Game Winner completed the seven furlongs in a time of 1.23.18 and looked extremely tired when he was pulled up. The colt stood as if he was stuck to the dirt with his legs placed wide and was panting heavily.
Owned by Gary and Mary West, this determined son of Candy Ride out of an A.P.Indy mare was purchased for $110,000 as a yearling at Keeneland. Game Winner won on his debut in a maiden special weight over six furlongs on the dirt at Del Mar on August 19. He was the second favorite in that race too but beat Hollendorfer’s more fancied Dueling, the 9/10 favorite, by almost six lengths under Joel Rosario. Perhaps Game Winner is one of those horses who does not work spectacularly but finds extra when he is on the racetrack for a reason.
Gutierrez was an unusual jockey booking for Baffert. The Hall of Fame handler told him that he was riding a good horse and that he would need to help him out of the gates. Gutierrez succeeded on that front, riding him hard out of the gate from a wide draw to gain a good position. Baffert also said that Game Winner would be there for him at the finish. Gutierrez definitely earned his riding fee and said that Baffert was totally accurate about Game Winner’s stamina.
Baffert was concerned that Game Winner was coming back on to the track so soon after winning his maiden and described him as large, heavy horse whom he would rather run in a race than work hard at home.
For Roadster it was a second run too. Unlike his barnmate he started as the hot favorite in his maiden special weight at the same track on July 30. He beat his closest pursuer, James Cassidy’s Istanbul, a 61/1 long shot, by over four lengths.
Roadster worked well in between his runs and so was popular with bettors. Baffert tends to put Mike Smith on his most promising prospects and admitted that he was disappointed with Roadster’s performance. Smith agreed but had no clue as to why this son of Quality Run who was purchased for $525,000 as a yearling failed to fulfil expectations.
Smith did give away ground on this relatively expensive colt owned by Speedway Stable but he did nothing that would have prevented him from winning had Roadster been as superior to his rivals as his starting price with the big U.S. bookies suggested.
Baffert can be trusted to get both colts back in good order and their starting prices are likely to be an indicator of the confidence in their chances of victory next time.