A busy weekend of horses getting back in gear for the 2020 racing season left more than enough news to digest.
From a pair of Triple Crown winners getting notable winners to a few exciting maidens kicking off their careers in impressive style, the first weekend in February proved to be a thought provoking few days.
Here’s a recap of some of the biggest moments of the weekend, both over jumps and on the flat.
Trainer of the week: Two-time Triple Crown winner Bob Baffert added another milestone to his vast resume Saturday when Thousand Words provided him with his 3,000th North American victory in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis.
Fittingly, the undefeated Thousand Words is by Pioneerof The Nile, a horse Baffert trained to two Grade 1 victories. Pioneerof The Nile is also the sire of Baffert’s first Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah.
“I’ve always thought things happen for a reason,” Baffert said after the race. “Running in the Bob Lewis, with a horse named Thousand Words and going for 3,000 wins. I mean you can’t make that up. I had a feeling it was gonna happen in this race, I’ve had a lot of good people work for me through the years, the first 50 wins were probably the hardest, 100 were life changers.
“I feel very blessed and fortunate that I’ve been able to last this in this business and do so well in this business after coming from the Quarter Horse business. I’ve never dreamt of coming into Thoroughbreds, there was never one instant I was thinking about it. I came over with Mike Pegram and Hal Earnhardt, who I still have after all these years, they are a big part of the team.”
Honorable mention in this category goes to Linda Rice, who also hit two milestones Saturday at Aqueduct. Jumping on the Kentucky Derby trail with Max Player, she scored not only her 200th stakes victory but also her 2,000th win as a trainer.
Max Player’s Grade 3 Withers victory was also a big milestone for Lane’s End Farm’s second-season sire, Honor Code, who registered his first stakes winner with the victory.
Stakes of the weekend: It was a packed weekend of stakes races but the Grade 3 Forward Gal stands out as one with a few storylines that may play an important role in coming months.
Tonalist’s Shape won like an undefeated filly should but she also showed that she could be a serious contender in the 3-year-old filly division. Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. dropped her back to 7 furlongs from 1 mile Saturday for her 2020 debut and she ran away with the Forward Gal and made a case to stay sprinting. Anyone who has hopes of her staying short might be disappointed since arguably her best performance came at 1 mile in the Hut Hut in November.
The filly will return to a mile in the Grade 2 Davona Dale later this month before stepping up to 1 1/16 miles in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks in March with her ultimate goal being the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks.
Tonalist’s Shape gave her sire his first graded stakes winner while a filly who finished behind her, Nikki And Papa, also impressed.
Trainer Robert Hess Jr. obviously had faith in the Mineshaft filly to throw her in the deep end for her career debut. Her greenness showed when she stood in the gate before breaking toward the rail. She later raced about 9 lengths behind the leader before figuring the game out in the stretch to finish third.
Nikki And Papa finished 5 1/2 lengths behind Tonalist’s Shape and has work to do to be competitive in the Kentucky Oaks in just three months, but when she does finally put her greenness behind her she’ll be one to watch in the division.
Sire of the weekend: Reigning leading North American sire Into Mischief reigned supreme over the busy weekend with three winners Saturday, including a pair of stakes winners. He followed that up when his 3-year-old Little Menace won Sunday at Oaklawn Park.
Only a few minutes after Mischevous Alex toyed with his rivals during a 7-length demolition in the Grade 3 Swale Saturday, Taraz continued her undefeated march to the Kentucky Oaks in the listed Martha Washington at Oaklawn. Those victories followed up an impressive debut by Clivetty at Santa Anita, a $900,000 2-year-old purchase last year by OXO Equine.
Much like fellow Spendthrift Farm stallion Malibu Moon, Into Mischief has come from humble beginnings and developed into a top sire.
“It felt like just a matter of time, he’s been such a remarkable stallion and starting from really pretty humble beginnings in our Share The Upside program,” said Ned Toffey, general manger at Spendthrift Farm. “It wasn’t very long ago that he was a $6,500 stud fee so for him to rise from that level and be kind of the poster boy for our Share The Upside program has meant a lot to the farm.”
Maiden winner of the week: Godolphin’s aptly named filly Sea Of Blue finished off the board in her unveiling at Saratoga last summer but the Florida sun and a five-month break appear to have agreed with her.
The flashy Kiaran McLaughlin-trained filly went straight to the lead and there was no looking back in her victory Sunday at Gulfstream. She never had a large lead on the field but was more than willing to dig in when it was needed.
By Midshipman, Sea of Blue is bred in the purple as a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Emcee, Grade 2 winner Surfer, listed winner Spring Party – who is also the dam of a Grade 3 winner, and dual Grade 1 winner Constitution’s dam Baffled. The filly has a lot to live up to but if her name is any indication, Godolphin believes she has a lot of talent left to show.
Horse to watch: Mister Candy Ride did nearly everything a horse can do wrong in his debut at Gulfstream and still ran well enough to merit a look down the road.
The Candy Ride colt gave up 14 lengths early in his 1-mile maiden race for 3-year-olds, enough to think the race would be a good learning experience. Mister Candy Ride then flew up the rail around the far turn, nearly made up the deficit, ran green in the lane, refused to change leads until the shadow of the wire and finished a nose behind 1-2 favorite Palm Springs.
Jump horse of the weekend: There may have been no bigger fan favorite this weekend than Faugheen “The Machine” after his victory at Leopardstown Sunday in the Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase. The 12-year-old has had struggles in his career but is undefeated in three starts this season and the best for the 11-time Grade 1 winner looks like it is yet to come.
Willie Mullins seems to have gotten the gutsy gelding back to his best and he was quick to praise the star on Twitter Sunday night.
“Faugheen’s win in The Flogas Ireland Novice Chase at Leopardstown was very special for me, all at Closutton and Susannah & Rich Ricci. He is a remarkable horse with a remarkable attitude who loves to race. Thank you for the wonderful reception you gave him,” Mullins tweeted in salute to the fans who were more than happy to cheer Faugheen back to the winner’s enclosure.
Faugheen was just the tip of the iceberg to a top showing by the trainer in the race with the top four of the five finishers all Mullins trainees.
Bits and pieces: ... Allen Poindexter may be an early contender for breeder of the year after a rarely seen feat Saturday. Poindexter-breds won the first three races at Santa Anita card, kicking off with Iowa-bred Posit winning by a half-length. Kentucky-breds Clivetty, in her debut, and Auberge completed the sweep. ... Triple Crown winner and 2019’s leading freshman sire American Pharoah celebrated his eighth birthday in style Sunday when Harvey’s Lil Goil became his first stakes winner on dirt in the Busanda Stakes at Aqueduct. The fifth black-type winner for her sire, Harvey’s Lil Goil earned her first 10 points on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks. Less than an hour later, American Butterfly nearly gave their sire a double on the day when he lost a photo in an optional claimer at Oaklawn.