A strong year for veteran trainer James Baker hit a significant bump when injury prematurely ended the career of stable star Elite Squadron, but Baker hopes to regain some lost momentum when he saddles a pair of rising young stars in the two stakes races that highlight Saturday’s “Stars of Tomorrow” program at Churchill Downs.
Baker’s weekend hopes ride with Tom Walters’ Pretty Prolific, a 2-year-old daughter of Lion Heart who faces seven rivals in the $100,000 Pocahontas (Grade III) for 2-year-old fillies, and Courtlandt Farm’s Gresham, a son of Seeking the Gold who will face seven other 2-year-olds in the $100,000-added Iroquois (GIII).
Pretty Prolific head turned heads in 2 ¼-length victory in a five-furlong maiden race that marked her career debut on June 22 at Churchill Downs. She followed that effort with a solid third-place run in the Adirondack (GII) at Saratoga, but perplexed Baker in her most recent start with a dull sixth-place finish behind C.S. Silk in the Arlington-Washington Lassie (GIII) at Arlington Park.
That poor effort came over the Polytrack surface at Arlington, the filly’s only race on a synthetic surface. Baker believes that Pretty Prolific did not care for the new surface, but noted that the filly encountered some other problems during that race.
“We told (jockey Rafael Bejarano) to take her back last time, and when she came out of the gate he kind of took a little hold of her and she resented that,” Baker said. “She threw her head sideways and they got back a little bit too far, and she just kind of ran even from there. I guess the synthetic was part of it. Some of those Lion Hearts haven’t fared too well on Polytrack. They had a couple of winners late at Keeneland, but a lot of them didn’t do very well on the ‘Poly.’ So we’ve just got to throw that out, put her back her and see what we’ve got.”
Walters received many offers to purchase Pretty Prolific after her dazzling debut, but Baker said his owner was never interested in selling the filly. Baker hopes the filly will justify her owner’s faith with a strong run in the Pocahontas.
“She has trained up to the race nicely,” he said. “She ran a bang-up race here this spring, so there’s no reason for her not to run well. Hopefully she’ll run well and we’ll go on to the Golden Rod – that’s the ultimate goal.”
The $150,000-added Golden Rod (GII) for 2-year-old fillies is set for Nov. 29. The 1 1/16-mile race is one of the co-features on the second “Stars of Tomorrow” card scheduled on the closing day of the 26-day Fall Meet.
Baker’s Iroquois hope will return to traditional dirt after a pair of runs on Polytrack at Arlington Park and Turfway Park. Gresham finished second on dirt in his career debut on dirt at Ellis Park, and then notched a maiden victory over the synthetic surface at Arlington Park. His most recent outing was a third place finish behind West Side Bernie in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile (GIII) at Turfway.
“We’re putting blinkers on him,” said Baker. “That’s not to make him show speed, but to make him focus on what he’s doing a little bit more.”
Baker is unsure of Gresham’s quality, so the Iroquois will be an important test for the colt.
“I don’t have any thoughts about the Derby, quite honestly,” said Baker. “I think he’s the type of horse that, if you spot him around, you could make a lot of money with him. That’s unless blinkers make a really big difference. I’ve had a couple of horses for which blinkers made all the difference in the world.”
Solid efforts on Saturday by Pretty Profilic and Gresham would help ease the lingering disappointment of the early departure of Elite Squadron, who gave Baker one of his most memorable moments when he romped to an easy victory in the $250,000 Churchill Downs (GII) on Kentucky Derby Day. The 4-year-old son of Officer, who was also owned by Walters, also ran second to Street Boss in the Triple Bend Invitational (GI) at Hollywood Park in the final start of his career.
Elite Squadron won five of 14 races for Walters and Baker and earned $507,059.
“It’s hard for a guy like me to replace a horse like him,” Baker said. “That horse was in our second stall for four years, and I walk past that stall and it just breaks my heart that he’s not in there. But what can you do?”
HOWARD, FARISH CONSIDER CLARK HANDICAP BID FOR MAMBO IN SEATTLE – William S. Farish and Mrs. W.S. Kilroy’s Mambo in Seattle disappointed with a seventh-place finish as the favorite in last week’s Fayette Stakes (GIII) at Keeneland, but the Kingmambo colt could get another chance to end his 3-year-old season on a high note.
Mambo in Seattle, a narrow loser to Colonel John in the Travers (GI) at Saratoga, could end the year with a run in the $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GII) on Nov. 29 at Churchill Downs. Trainer Neil Howard said the 1 1/8-mile race is one possible option for Mambo in Seattle, but it’s too early to make any firm decisions about the race.
“We’ll see how he comes out of the race,” said Howard. “He just got back to galloping today and he seems to be fine.”
Howard said the Clark could get more serious consideration after Mambo in Seattle turns in his first post-Fayette breeze. The colt is expected to work an easy half-mile early next week.
Howard said it appears that Mambo in Seattle failed to handle Keeneland’s Polytrack surface in the Fayette.
“Corey (jockey Corey Lanerie) felt very strongly that he just didn’t handle the track,” Howard said. “We’ll take a serious look at the Clark. We’ll just wait until after he breezes and see how he’s doing.”
Mambo in Seattle has a record of 3-1-0 in four races at Churchill Downs. His career record stands at 4-3-0 in 10 races with earnings of $400,741.
WORK TAB (Track: FAST) – Dreaming of Liz breezed four furlongs in :48.60 for trainer Wayne Catalano. …Gun Salute breezed five furlongs in 1:01.80. … Boss Lafitte breezed five furlongs on “firm” turf with “dogs up” in 1:05.20. … Golden Doc A breezed a half-mile in :50 over “firm” turf with the “dogs up.”
FRIDAY HAPPY HOURS RETURN – New Orleans-themed Friday Happy Hours return for the Fall Meet with $2 Budweiser Select, $2 hurricanes and $2 Fischer’s hot dogs to complement live jazz music on-track between 3-5 p.m. The promotion will take place every Friday at Churchill Downs through Nov. 21.
TWO-YEAR-OLD HANDICAPPING SEMINAR ON SATURDAY – Those looking to hone or improve their handicapping skills, particularly with juveniles, are invited to attend a special Two-Year-Old Handicapping Seminar on Saturday, Nov. 1, which doubles as “Stars of Tomorrow I.” Participants will be served breakfast; take a trip to the paddock to better understand a 2-year-old’s physical and behavioral characteristics; receive in-depth tips and analysis of that day’s Stars of Tomorrow I program by Churchill’s John Asher, racing analyst Jill Byrne, Daily Racing Form’s Marty McGee and clocker John Nichols; and receive reserved seats in Skye Terrace. There also will be a raffle for door prizes. The seminar will begin at 9 a.m. ET and the cost to attend is $25 (only $20 if the password “Street Sense” is mentioned). Call (502) 636-4400 to reserve a spot.
“IN SEASON” RETURNS SATURDAY ON WAVE-3 – “In Season,” Churchill Downs’ weekly magazine-style television program hosted by John Asher, returns to the Louisville airwaves on NBC affiliate WAVE-3 this Saturday. The half-program will air from 9:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. every Saturday during the Fall Meet.