by Jeremy Plonk
August 14, 2017
Bob Baffert is 16th in the Del Mar standings heading into this week. Not 16th in terms of victories, but in total starters. He’s sent just 20 horses to the post in 20 days of racing since the meet began July 19, a number equal to Molly Pearson, Hector Palma and Mike McCarthy. By comparison, Peter Miller has 72 starters, Doug O’Neill 60 and Phil D’Amato 55.
Last summer, Baffert was fifth in the Del Mar summer meet standings with 77 starters. He’s on pace this meet to run less than half that number. But one horse who will run twice at Del Mar, including Saturday’s tell-tale $1 million Pacific Classic, is top-ranked Arrogate. It was the rising superhorse’s incredibly dull effort in the San Diego Handicap that proved the most alarming of Baffert’s summer.
Will Arrogate rebound and right the Baffert ship? A pair of victories Sunday where the turf meets the surf gave the stable some momentum heading into Pacific Classic week. Consider that Soul Streit and Irish Freedom were only victories No. 4 and 5 on the meeting for Baffert, after taking 19 cards to accumulate the first 3 scores (July 19, August 2 and 5). Two of those prior 3 wins were maiden claimers.
Also notable is the barn’s usual wizardry of national 3-year-old summer races has evaporated in 2017. No starters appeared in the program for the West Virginia Derby, a race he’s won 3 times since 2010 (including a year ago with Cupid). Baffert also bypassed the Haskell, a race in which he’s famously been paid appearance fees over the years and has won a record 8 times overall, including 5 of the previous 7 years. Baffert also skipped the Indiana Derby this year, a race he won 4 times in the previous 8 renewals.
The sophomore class nearly has been a washout to this point for Baffert, as noted, but at least we can rely on his star juveniles each summer at Del Mar. Or … well … Diamondandpearls and Serengetti ran off the board in the G2 Sorrento and G2 Best Pal, respectively. Meanwhile, Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Drefong dumped his rider as favorite in the G1 Bing Crosby.
True, Baffert’s summer has been rosier at Saratoga, where Abel Tasman won the G1 Coaching Club American Oaks and Faypien was runner-up in the G1 Test. He looks to have a road warrior ready for the G1 Travers on Aug. 26 in West Coast, ironically named on the eastern foray.
But before that, perhaps Arrogate can wash all of it away this Saturday at Del Mar. Life at the top can be oh-so-fine, after all. Who needs depth when you have Lebron?
But if Arrogate loses again – and especially if he looks as poor as he did in the San Diego – it will be time to raise some real eyebrows for an ice-cold Baffert summer.