by Jon White
July 23, 2020
Bob Baffert is probably best known for training two Triple Crown winners. He won the three races in 2015 with American Pharoah, who ended an excruciatingly long 37-year Triple Crown drought, and again in 2018 with Justify.
The legendary “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons is the only other trainer to have won the Triple Crown twice. His Triple Crown winners were Gallant Fox in 1930 and Omaha (a son of Gallant Fox) in 1935.
But another achievement by Hall of Famer Baffert, namely how he has dominated a pair of current Grade I events, is worthy of attention.
The American Graded Stakes Committee late last year announced there would be 99 races in the United States during 2020 to have a Grade I ranking.
As I noted last week, no trainer has dominated any of this country’s current Grade I races to such an extent as Baffert with his 14 Del Mar Futurity wins.
As a result of Authentic’s nail-biting narrow triumph in last Saturday’s Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth, Baffert joins fellow Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas as the only trainers to have won any two of the current Grade I events nine times or more. Lukas has won both the Grade I Del Mar Debutante and Grade I Chandelier Stakes (formerly Oak Leaf Stakes) at Santa Anita nine times.
Still another Hall of Famer, the late Charlie Whittingham, is the only other trainer to have won any of the current Grade I races nine times. Whittingham won nine Santa Anita Handicaps.
Baffert’s Haskell winners are listed below:
2015 American Pharoah
2010 Lookin At Lucky
2005 Roman Ruler
2002 War Emblem
2001 Point Given
Not only has Baffert won nine Haskells, 14 of his 15 starters in the race have finished first or second, which is truly remarkable. Baffert’s only representative in the Haskell to finish out of the exacta was Forestry, who finished third behind Menifee and Cat Thief in the 1999 renewal.
HONOR A.P. CAME THROUGH, DR POST DIDN’T
In the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby on June 6, I went with my gut and picked Honor A.P. to win while going against Authentic. Honor A.P. came through and prevailed by 2 3/4 lengths at 2-1. Authentic finished second as the 1-2 favorite.
I again went with my gut and picked Dr Post to win the Haskell while again going against Authentic. But this time my gut let me down. Dr Post finished third.
Dr Post, ridden by Joe Bravo, did not have the best of trips, especially early. When in traffic during the run to the clubhouse turn, Dr Post got checked and shuffled back. Bravo would later say that he was farther back on the clubhouse turn than he wanted. Nevertheless, I was disappointed that Dr Post did not ever threaten during the stretch run.
On the other hand, Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman warned not to judge Dr Post’s Haskell performance too harshly.
Dr Post “finished evenly while not threatening the top two in a race where the top two were one-two throughout,” Privman wrote. “He deserves some credit for being the only horse who made up ground.”
As for Authentic, he has not always been good at getting out of the gate in good order. In his career debut last Nov. 9 at Del Mar, for instance, he walked out of the gate, rushed up early to engage for the early lead, then won by 1 1/2 lengths with Drayden Van Dyke aboard.
When Authentic had the outside post in the Santa Anita Derby, he veered outward in the first few strides. With Van Dyke having to get Authentic straightened away, it cost them tactically early. Authentic raced three wide while vying for the lead into the clubhouse turn. He remained three wide while continuing to vie for the advantage all the way to the top of the stretch.
Mike Smith rode Authentic for the first time in the Haskell. Authentic broke alertly and straight this time, proving once again that Smith is one of the best in the business at being able to get a horse out of the gate quickly.
Through the early furlongs, Authentic cruised along on the lead while getting away with setting a tepid pace (:23.60, :47.52, 1:11.50). When he drew away in upper stretch to open a 2 1/2-length lead at the eighth pole, it appeared the 2020 Haskell was over.
But then Authentic’s lead shrunk in the last furlong, so much so that he came perilously close to getting caught. Ny Traffic, who never quit trying, closed the gap on Authentic in the final furlong. But I think the close finish was due more to Authentic slowing down late rather than Ny Traffic making a late charge.
Authentic just barely held on to prevail by the narrowest of margins as the 3-5 favorite. It was his first Grade I triumph. The Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt now has posted four wins and a second from five career starts.
Ny Traffic, off at odds of 5-1, just missed in what probably was his best performance to date. Dr Post, the 9-5 second choice in the field of seven, finished third, 4 1/2 lengths behind Ny Traffic.
Smith talked about Authentic jumping shadows on the backstretch, then also looking around and losing his focus in the stretch after he had opened a clear lead.
This wasn’t the first time that Authentic has goofed off during a race. In Santa Anita’s Grade III Sham Stakes at one mile on Jan. 4, he built up a commanding eight-length advantage with a furlong to go. He then ducked in a couple of times in the final furlong while racing greenly. The first time he ducked in, he nearly hit the inside rail. Despite his antics, he won by 7 3/4 lengths.
After the Sham, Baffert made the decision that Authentic would race with earplugs in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 7. He won by 2 1/4 lengths while on his best behavior.
Authentic again raced with earplugs in the Santa Anita Derby and Haskell.
Smith told Baffert after the Haskell that when Authentic lost focus in upper stretch, the Hall of Fame rider started smooching to him. Baffert explained to Smith why Authentic likely didn’t respond to smooching.
“Um, Mike,” Baffert told Smith, “he had earplugs in.”
Even though Authentic has five races under his belt, he remains a work in progress for Baffert.
“He’s a late (May 5) foal,” Baffert said Sunday. “He’s maturing, but he’s a quirky little guy.”
Baffert is thinking of tinkering with Authentic’s equipment by adding blinkers when the colt makes his next start in the Grade I Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs. Baffert said he might make this change because Authentic “shut it down” and “went to idling” during the stretch run of the Haskell. But Baffert is worried that blinkers could make Authentic get rank rather than relax.
A case in point of how adding blinkers can backfire occurred this past Saturday at Belmont Park. Tonalist’s Shape raced with blinkers for the first time in the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks at 1 1/8 miles. Irad Ortiz Jr. rode the filly, who was backed down to 6-5 favoritism.
While in traffic during the run to the clubhouse turn, Ortiz had to slam on the brakes. Tonalist’s Shape hit the rail pretty hard, according to trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., then the filly became rank and difficult to handle. Joseph felt perhaps hitting the rail is what caused the filly to get rank, though he conceded that he had been concerned she might get rank with blinkers.
“The blinkers, I knew, could have that effect,” Joseph said. “I thought the blinkers for her were going to be hit or miss. It was either going to make a big [positive] difference or it was going to be a big mistake. It turned out to be a big mistake. We thought we were making the right decision. We had to give it a try. I’ll take the blame for that. I can’t blame her.”
Joseph characterized the CCA Oaks as “a complete throw-out race” for Tonalist’s Shape, who still is likely to go on -- without blinkers --to the Grade I Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on Sept. 4.
Adding blinkers to a naturally fast horse like Authentic can be tricky. Not getting too keyed up or rank early will be particularly important for him when he is asked to stretch out to 1 1/4 miles in the Kentucky Derby.
When a colt has as much talent as Authentic, it would be foolish to say he “can’t” win the Kentucky Derby. So I’m not going to say Authentic can’t win the Run for the Roses, especially when his trainer has won it five times.
But I must confess that, mainly because of the 1 1/4-mile trip, I have a rather hard time seeing a Kentucky Derby win in Authentic’s future. Running the final three-eighths of the Haskell in :38.95 does not suggest going a furlong farther is something Authentic will relish.
Even Baffert recognizes that Authentic needs to do better in order to be draped in roses on the first Saturday in September.
“I’m happy with him, but he still has a lot of improving to do,” Baffert said Sunday.
It terms of Authentic being suspect at 1 1/4 miles, he reminds Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman of Afternoon Deelites. I think it’s an excellent observation.
Afternoon Deelights in 1994-95 won his first five races when going 1 1/16 miles or shorter. When stretched out to 1 1/8 miles in the Santa Anita Derby, he finished second. He then finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby.
The only two races in which Afternoon Deelites did not finish first or second in 12 lifetime starts were the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby and 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita Handicap. He finished sixth in the Big ’Cap.
“I do believe Authentic is an extremely talented colt,” Privman wrote after the Haskell. “I’m also of the belief that he is far better at a mile or 1 1/16 miles than 1 1/8 miles and beyond…If the Kentucky Derby was at a mile, I’m not sure any 3-year-old in the country could beat him. But when projecting his ability out to 1 1/4 miles, I don’t think Authentic will be as comfortable as say, Honor A.P., Tiz the Law, Art Collector, or even his lightly raced barnmate Uncle Chuck.”
That I am on the same page as Privman regarding Authentic is evidenced by the fact that on my current Kentucky Derby Top 10, I have Honor A.P. ranked No. 1, followed by Tiz the Law at No. 2, Art Collector at No. 3 and Uncle Chuck now No. 4 after being No. 6 last week.
Even though Authentic won the Haskell, I have moved him down a notch to No. 5 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week after he was No. 4 last week.
Here is my current Kentucky Derby Top 10:
1. Honor A.P.
2. Tiz the Law
3. Art Collector
4. Uncle Chuck
6. Dr Post
8. Max Player
9. King Guillermo
10. Country Grammer
TIZ THE LAW 5-2 FAVORITE IN KDFW POOL 6
Tiz the Law closed as the 5-2 favorite in Churchill Downs’ Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW) Pool 6 that closed last Sunday. Honor A.P. and Uncle Chuck were co-second favorites at 6-1.
Interestingly, Tiz the Law’s price actually improved a notch from when he was a 2-1 favorite in KDFW Pool 5 that closed on June 28. Honor A.P. also closed at 6-1 in Pool 5. Uncle Chuck’s odds have come down from his 13-1 in Pool 5.
Also interestingly, Authentic’s price was higher at 9-1 after he won the Haskell compared to being as low as 6-1 the day before. This suggests that after Authentic almost blew it in the Haskell, many bettors do not have confidence that he has what it takes to win at 1 1/4 miles on Sept. 5.
Here were the final odds for Pool 6 of the KDFW:
5-2 Tiz the Law
6-1 Honor A.P.
6-1 Uncle Chuck
8-1 Art Collector
14-1 “All Other 3-Year-Old Males”
19-1 Ny Traffic
24-1 Dr Post
25-1 King Guillermo
25-1 Max Player
37-1 Dean Martini
42-1 Shared Sense
50-1 Mystic Guide
52-1 “All 3-Year-Old Fillies”
65-1 Thousand Words
88-1 Storm the Court
90-1 Major Fed
105-1 Attachment Rate
106-1 South Bend
The Kentucky Oaks Future Wager Pool 2 also closed last Sunday. This will be the final future wagering offered for the 2020 Kentucky Oaks by Churchill Downs.
Gamine closed as the 2-1 favorite. The Baffert-trained Into Mischief filly won Belmont Park’s Grade I Acorn Stakes at one mile by a record 18 3/4 lengths on June 20. Gamine was credited with a 110 Beyer Speed Figure.
Here were the final odds for Pool 2 of the Kentucky Oaks Future Wager:
9-2 Swiss Skydiver
14-1 Donna Veloce
14-1 Paris Lights
19-1 Tonalist’s Shape
21-1 Spice Is Nice
22-1 “All Other 3-Year-Old Fillies”
24-1 Harvey’s Lil Goil
27-1 Bonny South
27-1 Venetian Harbor
37-1 Mundaye Call
78-1 Pleasant Orb
92-1 Dream Marie
97-1 Project Whiskey
106-1 Water White
126-1 Queen of God
159-1 Impeccable Style
175-1 Tempers Rising
FIRST TRIPLE-DIGIT BEYER FOR AUTHENTIC
Another reason it’s not a good idea to say Authentic “can’t” win the Kentucky Derby is the career-best 100 Beyer Speed Figure he was credited with in the Haskell despite his less-than-perfect behavior. His previous top Beyer was a 98, a figure he recorded when victorious in the San Felipe and the runner-up in the Santa Anita Derby.
Below are the Beyers for the Haskell winners going back to 1991 (the figures prior to 2020 are listed in the American Racing Manual, which is now digital only):
2020 Authentic (100)
2019 Maximum Security (102)
2018 Good Magic (98)
2017 Girvin (95)
2016 Exaggerator (101)
2015 American Pharoah (109)
2014 Bayern (111)
2013 Verrazano (116)
2012 Paynter (107)
2011 Coil (96)
2010 Lookin At Lucky (106)
2009 Rachel Alexandra (116)
2008 Big Brown (106)
2007 Any Given Saturday (113)
2006 Bluegrass Cat (106)
2005 Roman Ruler (108)
2004 Lion Heart (109)
2003 Peace Rules (109)
2002 War Emblem (112)
2001 Point Given (106)
2000 Dixie Union (111)
1999 Menifee (110)
1998 Coronado’s Quest (110)
1997 Touch Gold (114)
1996 Skip Away (113)
1995 Serena’s Song (110)
1994 Holy Bull (115)
1993 Kissin Kris (108)
1992 Technology (108)
1991 Lost Mountain (107)
MAXIMUM SECURITY IN ARROGATE’S “EGG-LAYING RACE”
Maximum Security makes his California debut and first start for Baffert in this Saturday’s Grade III San Diego Handicap at Del Mar. The San Diego has been delayed a week after Del Mar canceled racing last week because a large number of jockeys tested positive for COVID-19.
Baffert said that while he is “excited” that Maximum Security is running in the San Diego, the trainer added that he’s also “a little nervous.”
Perhaps one reason for Baffert being “a little nervous” is the 2017 San Diego probably still haunts the trainer. The Baffert-trained Arrogate, seemingly unbeatable at the time, was soundly beaten.
The parallels between Maximum Security and Arrogate going into the San Diego are striking.
Arrogate ran in the San Diego as a 4-year-old. So will Maximum Security.
Prior to the San Diego, Arrogate had crossed the finish line first in all but one of his career starts. Ditto Maximum Security.
Arrogate went into the San Diego off a win in a lucrative race in a foreign country, the $10 million Dubai World Cup. The same goes for Maximum Security, who is coming off a victory in the $20 million Saudi Cup.
Going into the San Diego, Arrogate led the field with an eight-figure bankroll of $17,894,800. Maximum Security likewise leads the San Diego field Saturday with an eight-figure bankroll of $11,801,990.
Bettors made Arrogate a 1-20 favorite in the San Diego. Maximum Security no doubt will be the favorite this Saturday, albeit not as low as 1-20.
I’d say it’s safe to say that it’s about 1-20 that Baffert is hoping the 2020 San Diego turns out a whole lot better for him than the 2017 renewal in which Arrogate lost by 15 1/4 lengths when he finished fourth in a field of five.
Baffert said Arrogate “laid an egg” in the San Diego.
In my recap of that race for Xpressbet.com, I wrote that Arrogate did more than lay an egg.
“He laid a great big Del Mar beach ball,” I wrote.
I characterized it as being the biggest upset at Del Mar since the 1996 Pacific Classic in which Dare and Go ambushed Cigar to snap Cigar’s 16-race winning streak.
Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman went even further when he wrote the following about the 2017 San Diego: “In what now will rank as the biggest upset in the history of a track that opened 80 summers ago, the horse rated heretofore as the world’s best didn’t just lose, he was soundly trounced, finishing fourth as the 1-20 favorite, beaten 15 1/4 lengths, as Accelerate won before a crowd of 16,568 that grew awfully quiet when the result became obvious.”
It’s possible that Privman was right that Arrogate’s loss in the San Diego was the biggest upset in Del Mar history. After all, Arrogate at 1-20 was a bigger favorite than Cigar at 1-10 in the 1996 Pacific Classic.
But I believe a case also can be made for the 1996 Pacific Classic being the biggest upset ever at Del Mar. That’s because Dare and Go was 39-1, whereas Accelerate was 7-1. It seems to me that a race in which the winner pays $81.20 to win, as Dare and Go did in the Pacific Classic, could reasonably be considered a bigger upset than a race in which the winner paid $17.60 to win, as Accelerate did in the San Diego.
Accelerate won the 2017 San Diego by 8 1/2 lengths. Donworth, off at odds of 24-1, finished second. Cat Burglar, another Baffert trainee, finished third at 18-1.
When overwhelming favorite Arrogate finished fourth in the San Diego, it triggered some record mutuel payoffs. Accelerate paid $17.60, $32.60 and $22 across the board. Donworth returned a Del Mar record $119.80 to place and a Del Mar record $67.40 to show. Cat Burglar paid $38.20 to show.
In the Pacific Classic later at the 2017 Del Mar summer meet, the Baffert-trained Collected won at 3-1. Arrogate finished second at 3-5. Accelerate ended up third at 3-1.
A year later, Accelerate won the Pacific Classic by 12 1/2 lengths on his way to a victory in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.
It is surprising to me that Maximum Security is being asked to carry more weight Saturday than Arrogate did when he ran in the San Diego.
Arrogate carried top weight of 126 pounds in the San Diego. He spotted from eight to 11 pounds to his foes. Accelerate carried 117.
Maximum Security has been handed top weight of 127 pounds for Saturday’s San Diego. In terms of assigned weights, he must concede from five to nine pounds to his opponents.
This will be Maximum Security’s 11th career start. Jason Sevis trained the Kentucky-bred son of New Year’s Day for his first 10 races, including a victory on Feb. 19 in the world’s richest race, the $20 million Saudi Cup. However, the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia (JCSA) announced in April that it was withholding payment of the purse for all of the Saudi Cup participants pending an investigation.
A press release issued in April stated: “JCSA is aware that Mr. Jason Servis, trainer of the horse Maximum Security, the first-placed horse in the Saudi Cup, has been indicted in the United States of America on charges relating to the administration of prohibited substances to horses under his care and control.
“JCSA is conducting its own investigation in respect to the allegations, and until that investigation is concluded, JCSA will withhold payment of prize money due to all connections of horses placed in prize-winning position in the Saudi Cup, Race 8. This decision has been communicated privately to connections of Saudi Cup runners.
“Due to difficult operational circumstances caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic, the investigation has not yet concluded. JCSA will issue no further statement until such time as the investigation is completed to our satisfaction.”
The JCSA has not issued any further statement yet. Equibase credits Maximum Security for having earned $10 million for finishing first in the Saudi Cup. Equibase will continue to do so unless at some point the JCSA issues a ruling disqualifying Maximum Security from first place
After Servis was indicted, Maximum Security was taken away from him and sent to Kentucky before being sent to Baffert in California.
For Baffert, Maximum Security has recorded eight workouts, six at Santa Anita and two at Del Mar. Maximum Security worked five furlongs in :59.60 on July 11 at Del Mar. It was the fourth-best of 88 at the distance that morning. He then drilled six furlongs in a bullet 1:11.60 last Saturday at Del Mar. It was the fastest of 10 at the distance that day.
Maximum Security is best known, of course, for finishing first in the 2019 Kentucky Derby, then being disqualified and placed 17th. The stewards ruled that he committed a foul when he veered out sharply nearing the five-sixteenths marker to cause interference to War of Will, Bodexpress and Long Range Toddy. It was the first time in the 145-year history of the Kentucky Derby that a winner was disqualified for an incident during the running of the race.
In the Haskell, Maximum Security turned the tables on King for a Day, who finished fifth. Prior to the Haskell, King for a Day had won Monmouth’s Pegasus Stakes by one length at 5-1, while Maximum Security had to settle for second after stumbling at the start. That has been the only time so far in which someone reached the finish in front of Maximum Security.
After the Haskell, Maximum Security completed his 3-year-old campaign by succeeding in a pair of graded stakes races against his elders. He won Belmont Park’s Grade III Bold Ruler Handicap by 1 3/4 lengths at seven furlongs on Oct. 26. That was followed by his sparkling 3 1/2-length triumph vs. his elders in the Cigar Mile on Dec. 7.
Following the Cigar Mile, I wrote that victory by Maximum Security made him a slam-dunk to be voted a 2019 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male. And that did happen.
It is rather ironic that Maximum Security now is with Baffert. It was Maximum Security who ended Baffert’s remarkable run of training four straight Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old male champions -- American Pharaoh (2015), Arrogate (2016), West Coast (2017) and Justify (2018).
Maximum Security heads into Saturday’s San Diego ranked No. 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll.
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 369 Midnight Bisou (22)
2. 334 Tom’s d’Etat (9)
3. 294 Vekoma (2)
4. 142 Monomoy Girl (1)
5. 134 Zulu Alpha
6. 133 Mucho Gusto
7. 130 By My Standards
8. 118 Tiz the Law (2)
9. 98 Code of Honor (1)
10. 95 Maximum Security (3)
The Top 10 this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 399 Tiz the Law (39)
2. 357 Honor A.P. (1)
3. 244 Authentic
4. 242 Art Collector
5. 180 Dr Post
6. 148 King Guillermo
7. 118 Uncle Chuck
8. 110 Swiss Skydiver
9. 108 Gamine
10. 60 Max Player
RALPH VACCA PASSES AWAY
There was sad news out of the Pacific Northwest this week.
Ralph Vacca, who became a giant in Thoroughbred breeding and racing in Washington after starting off by walking hots at the age of 16, died following a lengthy battle with cancer Monday in Auburn, Wash. He was 84.
Longacres, a beautiful racetrack near Seattle, first opened in 1933. While attending high school, Vacca sought employment on that track’s backside. Trainer G.L. Martin “had only two or three horses at the time,” Vacca would recall years later. Even though Vacca had never been around racehorses, Martin was willing to give Vacca a chance. The trainer handed Vacca a shank attached to a filly by the name of Seattle Belle.
“Of all the experiences I’ve had -- and I’ve had many -- that moment when he handed me the shank and I was walking a real racehorse was the most profound feeling I ever experienced,” Vacca said in a 2017 BloodHorse article written by Claire Crosby (nee Novak).
When Vacca was 18, he was the recipient of a scholarship to Washington State College (now Washington State University) awarded by the Washington Horse Breeders Association (WHBA). But after two years at college, Vacca decided to head for Kentucky. He went to work at Stoner Creek Farm. Vacca would later say that was when he decided that he would stay involved in the Thoroughbred industry for the rest of his life.
Vacca returned to Washington four years later in 1959 to join the staff at WHBA. He accepted the position of field secretary. But he soon found that he didn’t like having to do all the traveling throughout the state associated with the job. Vacca returned to Kentucky in 1961 to work in the advertising department at the Thoroughbred Record. He then left that magazine to work in the Lexington office of the Daily Racing Form.
Vacca returned to the WHBA for good in 1964. In 1966, he became the editor of The Washington Horse magazine. In May 1973, while Secretariat was making headlines by winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes en route to a Triple Crown sweep, Vacca was appointed “interim” WHBA general manager. By the end of the year, the term “interim” was removed. Vacca remained the WHBA general manager until retiring from the position at the end of 2007.
While with the WHBA, Vacca was partly responsible for bringing the Native Dancer stallion Native Born to Washington. Native Born sired Chinook Pass, the exceedingly fast equine athlete who was voted a 1983 Eclipse Award as champion sprinter.
Longacres was sold to The Boeing Company in 1990. Racing ceased at that track two years later. Vacca played an important role in bringing Thoroughbred racing back to the Seattle area with the opening of Emerald Downs in 1996 that was spearheaded by Ron Crockett.
Vacca was appointed to serve on the Washington Horse Racing Commission in 2002.
In 2013, Vacca was inducted into the Washington Racing Hall of Fame, an honor he richly deserved.
Following Vacca’s Hall of Fame induction, a washingtonhorse.com story about him said: “Through the years Vacca has been an ambassador to the sport, an industry spokesman, has encouraged young people, helped bring stallions to the state (including Native Born, Balance of Power and Captain Courageous), advised people with broodmare purchases and matings (always telling them to seek QUALITY), helped pass important legislation, was an editorial and ad writer and served as a bid spotter and pedigree reader at sales.”
I first met Vacca back in the mid-1970s while I was working for the Daily Racing Form at Washington tracks. His knowledge of Thoroughbred breeding and racing was encyclopedic. He also was one of the friendliest persons I have ever known. To this day whenever I hear his name, I immediately picture a smile on his face. I rarely ever saw him not smiling.
One year in the early 2000s, I was at Emerald Downs to be a commentator on the Fox Sports Northwest telecast of the Longacres Mile. The day before the Longacres Mile, I had the honor of being on a panel with Vacca and legendary Pacific Northwest trainer Jim Penney. While being videotaped for the broadcast, we discussed Washington racing in general and the history of the Longacres Mile in particular.
Sadly, Vacca and Penney now are both gone. Penney passed away on Feb. 22, 2017, at the age of 82.
It was a privilege to have known them both.