Speed? Do you want to see some speed? Look no further than Saturday’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint to open the World Championships Day card at Keeneland.
Gamine, winner of the Grade 1 Test at Saratoga and Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont, saw her fate sealed when the 3-year-old daughter of Into Mischief drew post two in the field of nine. Expect her to be quick from the gate under John Velazquez, just like the Test. Serengeti Empress, who might be even faster, benefits from a more outside draw and post seven but trainer Tom Amoss said he and jockey Luis Saez plan to send the daughter of Alternation.
Buckle up, the Saturday lead-off could be one to remember.
Dream Filly. Gamine delivers owner Petersen to top level of racing. Written for Aug. 8 Saratoga Special by Joe Clancy.
Growing up near Klampenborg Racecourse in Denmark, Michael Lund Petersen saw horses every day – but that’s about as far as it went.
“There were no horses in my life growing up, not in my family,” he said. “We lived on the outskirts of Copenhagen, 25 minutes outside the center of the city. I didn’t grow up in the country or around horses, but the stables were in the neighborhood where I lived and they rode to the racetrack to train. I loved seeing them.”
And thus a seed was planted.
Petersen grew up to become co-founder of Pandora, the now Baltimore-based international jewelry company, and put that childhood interest to work with major Thoroughbred purchases that have included graded stakes winners Mor Spirit, Mucho Gusto and now budding star filly Gamine. The 3-year-old daughter of Into Mischief, purchased at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic’s 2-year-old sale near Petersen’s home in Maryland, headlines today’s Grade 1 Longines Test at Saratoga Race Course. Off a dismantling of six others in the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont Park June 20, Gamine is 3-5 in a field of six for trainer Bob Baffert and jockey John Velazquez. The $300,000 Test is the 10th of 12 races on the card with a 5:39 p.m. post time.
Like any other racing fan, Petersen would love to be at Saratoga but will watch from home as Maryland is among the 35 states on New York’s mandatory 14-day quarantine list due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s just a shame that it has to happen in times like this,” Petersen said. “It is so rare you get to win Grade 1 races with a big crowd in the stands, and then you sit at home it’s not the same. It’s the same for the horse and you feel good about it, but it’s different. I’m not going to complain, there are a lot of people worse than me in all of this, but I will miss it. I would like to be in Saratoga cheering for our horse.”
Petersen has done plenty of cheering since being introduced to Baffert at Santa Anita Park by a mutual friend in 2013. Petersen’s first racehorse, Cat Burglar, won five times and placed in graded stakes. Breeders’ Cup starter One Lucky Dane followed, as did Grade 1 winner Mor Spirit, multiple Grade 3 winner Mucho Gusto (who won a Grade 1 after being sold by Petersen) and now Gamine.
It’s a long way from watching Thoroughbreds walk through the neighborhood.
“I grew up right next to the racetrack in Copenhagen and hung out there every Saturday,” he said. “I always loved it. Now I can afford to love it as an owner.”
Petersen is now a regular at the Timonium sale, looking at horses with agent Donato Lanni and Baffert. They don’t buy many, don’t even bid on many, but they typically purchase at the top of the market. Other than some nervous pacing (and cigarette breaks), Petersen lets Lanni and Baffert do the work.
“No, no, no, no, no,” he said when asked if he offers opinions on the horses. “Just because I was pretty good at selling jewelry does not mean I can pick out a horse. I ran my business by surrounding myself with people who are smarter than me and I do the same thing with racehorses.”
Watching Lanni and Baffert evaluate horses is a big part of the ownership adventure for Petersen, who lives on a horse farm in Butler but leaves the riding to his wife Charlene and their children Axel and Olivia.
“To hear their conversations, to watch them go through it and look at horses is very special,” Petersen said. “They are buying expensive horses, but there are other expensive horses they don’t even look at. A lot of other people liked Gamine since I paid so much money for her, but she is the one we bought.”
The sales-topper (and Timonium record) at $1.8 million, Gamine was bred in Kentucky by Grace Thoroughbred Holdings and sold for $220,000 at Keeneland September. Bobby Dodd and Brad Grady took her to Timonium the next year, and the daughter of Into Mischief wound up on every radar screen. From the back ring, Lanni and Petersen (with Baffert on the phone) outbid every other big player at Timonium – not that it was easy.
“Spending $1.8 million is stressful as hell, but you know if you want to be in it you’ve got to step up to the plate once in a while,” Petersen said while pacing the parking lot outside the pavilion afterward.
Unraced at 2, Gamine hit home runs in her first three at-bats – a March 7 maiden win at Santa Anita (by 6 ¼ lengths at 1-9), a May 2 allowance at Oaklawn Park (over future Grade 1 winner Speech) and the Acorn moon shot. She won that Grade 1 by 18 ¾ lengths in a stakes record 1:32.55 for a mile.
Gamine was subsequently disqualified from the Oaklawn win after testing over the limit for lidocaine, a therapeutic medication that carries a 72-hour withdrawal time. Baffert appealed on the grounds of environmental contamination from a pain patch worn by an employee. The ruling cost Gamine her perfect record, but the owner tries to look past it.
“It is annoying when I look up Gamine once in a while and read about the thing at Oaklawn,” Petersen said. “It was an honest mistake. I feel so bad for Bob and (assistant) Jimmy Barnes and everyone with the horse. It should be a small thing, not a big thing.”
The disqualification did little to smudge Gamine’s reputation, which was stellar even in her early days with the Hall of Fame trainer.
“Bob told me from the start, ‘This is a superstar, Michael,’ and he never told me any of my other horses were that good,” Petersen said. “He said that really early. He doesn’t need to promise me anything. I don’t need to hear things like that just to hear them.”
Gamine lived up to it in the Acorn, where she broke from the inside post and went to the front. Velazquez let her lope – it looked like a lope – through fractions of :22.48 and :45.28 while a length or so clear. By the time she passed three-quarters in 1:09.33, the jockey had peeked under his arm for competition once on the turn. In the stretch, he looked three more times as Gamine pulled away.
“That was crazy to watch, we had no clue she could do that,” Petersen said. “Velazquez kept looking. He didn’t understand he was that far in front of them. It must be like driving a Range Rover. If you drive 80 on the highway, you say ‘Oh my gosh, 80? It felt like 50.’ It comes so easily for her, it’s effortless. I’m just enjoying the ride for as long as it lasts.”
Too Good. Three-year-old filly star Gamine nails down another Grade 1. Written for Aug. 12 Saratoga Special by Joe Clancy.
A few minutes after selling the most expensive horse in the history of the sales pavilion at Timonium, Md., Brad Grady looked like a man who’d seen a ghost. One that sat down, said hello, slapped him on the knee and used his name.
“You can’t expect that. We knew she was going to bring a good amount of money but to expect a million eight, no you can’t expect that,” Grady said in snare-drum tempo. He walked as he talked, rubbed his eyes a little, and then pondered what it would have been like to keep the filly who did indeed fetch $1.8 million on a bid by agent Donato Lanni at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic’s 2-year-old sale in 2019.
“You’re damn right . . . you’re damn right it is . . . you’re damn right,” he blurted when asked if it was difficult to sell. “I’d be a liar if I said it wasn’t. It’s hard to let horses go. I race them too. I’ve had some good horses. We’ve taken a horse to the Derby and won Grade 1 races, there’s no other feeling like that in the world.”
A year later, there still isn’t.
That record-setting filly became Gamine – winner of the Grade 1 Longines Test Stakes at Saratoga Race Course Saturday. Trained by Bob Baffert for Michael Lund Petersen, who spent all that money at the sale, Gamine has crossed the finish line first in all four starts and rocketed into racing’s consciousness with performances that defy description.
She won her debut at Santa Anita in March by 6 ¼ lengths. In her second start, at Oaklawn Park in May, she fought off future Grade 1 winner Speech by a neck. Next came an 18 ¾-length ripper in June’s Longines Acorn in 1:32.55 for a mile at Belmont Park.
Saturday it was Saratoga’s turn.
Sent off at a little more than 1-5 in a field of six, she broke well but under control as second choice Venetian Harbor set up outside of her. Wide but straight after leaning out in the Acorn, she went the first quarter-mile in :22.70. John Velazquez let his long hold do the job as Gamine moved toward the rail early on the turn and through a half-mile in :45.14. She led Venetian Harbor, a Grade 2 winner, by a half-length and extended it off the turn before simply running away. Velazquez got a little lower in the saddle, slapped her once on the shoulder, pumped his arms for real six times, looked under his right shoulder once and let her stride away. She won by 7 lengths, the 6-furlong split going by in 1:08.64 and 7 furlongs in 1:20.83 (.43 off a 42-year-old – to the day – track record).
Venetian Harbor stayed around for second, 6 ½ lengths clear of Up In Smoke.
“I just let her do whatever she wants to do,” Velazquez said. “The last time, I was a little too much in her mouth and she was kind of leaning out a little bit so today I just left the reins loose and let her be where she wanted to be and she was pleased where she was. Then on the turn, I took a hold of her and she went right back in so I didn’t worry about it. It feels as good as the last time, I’ll tell you that. Whatever the time was or how much she won by, it doesn’t matter. She’s still as good, and that’s what counts.”
At home in Texas, Grady watched in awe – again. A filly he and pinhooking partner Bobby Dodd bought at Keeneland September had taken yet another step toward stardom. Grady went to the Kentucky Derby with Girvin in 2017 and won Grade 3 stakes with Mom’s On Strike in 2018 and 2019. He’s got a good turf sprinter in Fast Boat. He and Dodd have sold their share of expensive horses who turned out. But Gamine gives him goosebumps.
She’s blown past two milestones Grady pointed out as historic for him – a sub-1:33 mile and 7 furlongs faster than 1:21. He’d never seen the former, until the Acorn; and the latter just once, when champion Groupie Doll won the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint in 1:20.72.
“I’ve been in the game about a decade, and been fortunate to be around some nice horses but I’ve never seen anything like her,” he said of Gamine Tuesday. “I’m enamored by her. Personally, I’ve never seen one do that. Being a racehorse owner, with some decent ones over time but nothing like her, you’re in awe of a horse like that. It makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck when you just talk about them.”
The only blemish on Gamine’s record is a disqualification from that Oaklawn allowance, her only start around two turns, for an overage of the permitted medication lidocaine. Baffert has appealed, based on environmental contamination from a barn employee, but the DQ is there in the past performances – though it does little to diminish her reputation. The Kentucky Oaks, at 1 1/8 miles Sept. 4, beckons next.
Grady and Dodd paid $220,000 for Gamine at Keeneland September in 2018. Bred in Kentucky by Barbara Banke’s Grace Thoroughbred Holdings, the daughter of Into Mischief and the New York-bred Kafwain mare Peggy Jane came out of the Summerfield consignment and was Hip 1116 in the 4,000-plus horse sale. She went to Grand Oaks, a 415-acre farm in Reddick, Fla. and shined.
“Bobby, Mary Ellen Coenen, Forrest Woodward, they all had a good idea she was something special,” Grady said of the team at Grand Oaks. “The second time she ever breezed, Bobby called me and said ‘This Into Mischief filly is a freak.’ He doesn’t give out accolades like that too often, and even saying that you might hope she’d win a Grade 2 someday and we could say, ‘Remember when you told me she was a freak.’ ”
Grand Oaks buys yearlings to break, get started and sell as 2-year-olds after early work at the farm. The former Gulf Coast Farm has 128 stalls, a 7-furlong track and an equine swimming facility and the consignments are annually full of sought-after juveniles.
Sometimes, one sticks around and joins Grady’s racing stable.
Girvin was destined for the sales ring, until he stepped on himself and cut into a hoof. In Grady’s silks, he won his debut as a 2-year-old in December, and added the Risen Star, Louisiana Derby and Haskell as a 3-year-old.
He finished 13th in Always Dreaming’s Kentucky Derby, 11th in West Coast’s Travers, earned $1.6 million and retired to Ocala Stud Farm as a stallion.
Gamine would have been some second act, though Grady isn’t sad or angry or jealous.
“None of us have a crystal ball. Yeah, I wish was she was wearing my orange and black,” he said. “But when Donato puts his stamp of approval on a horse, it means the world to me. He loved the filly. I love the connections that have her. The owner is an affable guy that loves the game. And we know the kind of job Bob Baffert does. I’m grateful she’s in the right hands. They’ve done the right thing by the horse. They didn’t run her at 2 and probably could have. Now look at her.”
Yeah, now look.
Queen of Speed. Serengeti Empress hangs tough in gutsy Grade 1 sprint score. Written for Aug. 12 Saratoga Special by Paul Halloran.
After operating on patients Monday morning, orthopedic surgeon Joel Politi made the two-hour drive from his home in Columbus, Ohio to Indiana Grand to watch his 2-year-old filly Littlestitious finish third in her career debut. No disrespect to the good folks in Shelbyville, but if Politi could have chosen one racetrack to visit over the last five days, he would have preferred to head east, not west.
With the ability to travel severely limited by the pandemic, Politi stayed home Saturday to watch on TV his Serengeti Empress notch her second Grade 1 triumph with a resolute win in the Ballerina at Saratoga Race Course.
Serengeti Empress, the 2019 Kentucky Oaks winner who lost a spirited battle to champion 3-year-old filly and female sprinter Covfefe in last year’s Test Stakes at Saratoga, had to survive a bad break and blazing fractions in order to earn a spot in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint via the Win and You’re In Challenge Series.
“When they flashed :43.74 (for the half mile), I said, ‘Oh-oh.’ Nobody survives :43.74,” said Politi, who watched the race with his wife, Julie, two of their daughters and a few neighbors. “Letruska is a nice horse and she was on her neck all the way around the turn.”
The effort by Serengeti Empress becomes even more impressive when you realize how much Luis Saez had to use her to get to the lead after the slow break from the rail, an undesirable post at the 7-furlong distance.
“The first jump, she was not that fast but I asked her a little and she put me in position,” Saez said. “I knew she was rolling . . . When we came to the stretch she was battling and waiting for the competition. When the horse came outside, she was fighting. She was really running.”
By the time they turned for home, Letruska and Cookie Dough had called it a day, but Bellafina, the 2019 Filly and Mare Sprint runner-up, Vagrancy winner Victim Of Love and defending Ballerina winner Come Dancing were in position to make their moves. Considering the fractions (6 furlongs in 1:08.32) and the fact that Saez had her under a drive from the three-eighths pole, you had to figure Serengeti Empress was vulnerable.
If that’s what you were betting on, you were disappointed, as the Tom Amoss trainee proved to be the equine version of the Energizer Bunny, holding on to win by a length over Bellafina, who was 1½ lengths in front of Victim of Love at the wire. The final time was 1:21.63; only four horses have run faster in the previous 41 editions.
“She showed how much grit she has,” said Amoss. “Anyone who watched the Test last year knew she had a real chance at seven-eighths of a mile. We’ve been pointing to this race since she was well beaten by Midnight Bisou going a route of ground (in the Fleur De Lis at Churchill Downs June 27). We wanted to avoid Midnight Bisou.”
If that’s what it took to have Amoss cut her back to a sprint, he will certainly accept the results, and he fully plans on taking advantage of the automatic Breeders’ Cup berth.
“Absolutely,” Amoss said, when asked about keeping her sprinting. “I look forward to staying at the seven-eighths distance. Maybe we’ll get her one more start before the Filly and Mare Sprint.”
While the cutback had to have contributed to her staying power Saturday, Amoss felt it also played a role in her tardy start. “That hurt her leaving the gate in a sprint,” he said, “but then her God-given ability took over. I couldn’t be more proud. She is a very special filly.”
Politi paid $70,000 for the daughter of Alternation out of the Bernardini mare Havisham at the 2017 Keeneland September sale. The $165,000 she earned Saturday brought her career earnings to $1,907,653.
“She’s developed a lot,” Politi said. “Physically, she’s a better horse than she was last year. What we want for her is to solidify her legacy of what she is and she has done.”
He would prefer to be an eyewitness to any future achievements.
“Pre-Covid, we went to every race,” he said. “We’ve been to two Breeders’ Cups, the Oaks, other Grade 1s. Every experience has been great.”