Road trip for Bahamian Squall

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Nothing really bothers Bahamian Squall, aside from a little soap on his nose and maybe the bugs flying around his head earlier this week while grazing in the courtyard of the stakes barn at Saratoga Race Course. The colt’s so laid back at times that it wasn’t a hard call for David Fawkes to gas up his truck, hook up the trailer and make the day-long ride from South Florida to Saratoga to run in today’s Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap with his latest sprinting star. It’s a trip Fawkes made before and he knows what types of horses can handle it and what types can’t.

Bahamian Squall, a 4-year-old colt by Gone West who outfinished champion sprinter Trinniberg last time out at Calder, never traveled anywhere outside his native state of Florida, but arrived in Saratoga Wednesday without any outward signs of stress.

“So far he’s handled it well,” Fawkes said as Bahamian Squall dropped his blazed head and tore at the grass in the small courtyard at the stakes barn Friday.

“He actually ate on the van. A lot of them don’t eat on the van, but he did. We stopped, to kind of quiet things down and get off the roads for a bit, maybe 6 or 7 o’clock we put the dinner feed in and it was gone the next time we stopped for water. They’ll eat a little, naturally, the ones that do eat.”

Bahamian Squall, who earned a trip to Saratoga with that win over Trinniberg last time in the Grade 2 Smile Sprint, takes on a small but tough group in the 6-furlong Vanderbilt. The field includes the first two finishers from the Iowa Sprint in Gentlemen’s Bet and Delaunay, respectively, multiple graded winner Justin Phillip and the ageless Caixa Eletronica.

Fawkes and his longtime assistant Don Stetler both say Bahamian Squall needs to step up a little to win the Vanderbilt. They also agree that he fits with the group and earned the right to make the trip after a consistent record in stakes company back home.

Stetler doesn’t travel much, usually staying back in Florida while Fawkes ships for big pots out of town. He did come here with Big Drama in 2010 when he was second in the Grade 1 Forego-a race that came after he shipped to finish second in the Vanderbilt, vanned home, and then vanned back again at the end of the meet-and for Big Drama’s starts in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 2010 and 2011 at Churchill Downs. He won the first, finished seventh in the second.

It’s too early to compare Bahamian Squall to Big Drama. The latter won 10 stakes, including the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and also the Smile Sprint and put $2,746,060 in the bank. Bahamian Squall has a ways to go but the homebred for Donald Dizney has the tools-speed to go with his downhill sprinter’s build-to get there one day.

“He’s nice, but he’s got to step up his game. We’ve always had high hopes for him ever since he was a 2-year-old,” Stetler said. “He’s very classy, very smart. He’s not very complicated that way. We can pretty much do whatever we want with him. He’s easy to train.”

Fawkes didn’t need to do much with Bahamian Squall once he arrived at Saratoga. All the heavy lifting was done back at his base at Gulfstream Park and he took the colt to the gate Friday and for some light work late in the morning Saturday. He would have gone a little earlier Saturday, but was forced to wait for a freelance exercise rider.

Fawkes admitted that he wished he just lined things up with Luis Saez, who has ridden the colt in all but two of his 12 starts and rides again today, but it all worked out in the end and Bahamian Squall got in an easy jog once around the wrong way Saturday.

Delaunay is the slight 8-5 favorite for the Vanderbilt, just ahead of the colt who beat him in the Iowa Sprint, Gentlemen’s Bet at 9-5.

Delaunay’s trainer Tom Amoss said the horse to beat is again Gentlemen’s Bet but also said a bad break at Prairie Meadows might have made the difference between the two last time. Delaunay didn’t break poorly in his previous start and came away with a victory in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes on the Kentucky Derby undercard.

Amoss has been working with Delaunay at the gate and said the 6-year-old Smoke Glacken gelding showed improvement from his first work here July 20 to his next a week later.

“His last race at the Fair Grounds, he left the gate a half-step slow and I found it funny that he did that because he’s such a pro,” Amoss said. “He was perfect at Churchill and then he did it again at Iowa even more so and got himself left. I’d hate to call it a characteristic of the horse, but I think it’s something that we have to be concerned about.

“I wouldn’t say he’s shown improvement [since training in the gate], as a matter of fact his first work here was a disappointment. It was an unusual day at the track. It was. His next work was very characteristic of how he works, so he’s come around quite a bit. The track here is funny, horses either like it or they don’t and hopefully he likes it.”

Gentlemen’s Bet makes his Saratoga debut for trainer Ron Moquett off that sharp win in the Iowa Sprint, his fifth victory from six career starts. The only loss on the 4-year-old Half Ours colt’s resume is a third behind Justin Phillip in the Grade 3 Count Fleet earlier this spring at Oaklawn Park.

“So far, he’s always left the gates good, so I’m hoping that he gets a good start,” Moquett said. “In a 6-furlong race with horses that fast, you better leave the gates good every time or you put yourself at a disadvantage. [The Vanderbilt] seems like a natural progression. We want to see how we stack up and this is an awesome race. This is a really big deal. My owners and my barn are really excited to be a part of it.”

Justin Phillip just missed winning the Vanderbilt last year, when beaten a neck by Poseidon’s Warrior in the mud. Trainer Steve Asmussen has won two races with the 5-year-old First Samurai horse this year and he exits a fourth behind Bahamian Squall in the Smile. John Velazquez rides at 5-1.

The outside post belongs to 8-year-old beast Caixa Eletronica at 10-1 for Repole Stable and trainer Todd Pletcher. The winner of 22 races scored in an optional claimer here July 25 and returns on short rest to try for a graded stakes. The son of Arromanches makes his ninth start at Saratoga while bidding for is fourth win over the course. Javier Castellano takes the return call on the earner of more than $1.7 million.