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A Great Debut Revisited

by Jon White

May 31, 2017

Santa Anita Park is called the Great Race Place. And one of the greatest performances by a first-time starter ever seen there occurred in the eighth race on March 19, 2011, when Maclean’s Music was so fast that he seemed to make the palm trees sway. 

Yes, that’s the same Maclean’s Music whose son Cloud Computing won this year’s Preakness Stakes. 

That maiden race at Santa Anita in 2011 attracted much interest beforehand because of the sparkling a.m. rehearsals by a pair of first-time starters. Two days before the race, private clocker Toby Turrell went so far as to tell me two colts entered in it had shown so much talent in their workouts that one of them might even run “a historic race.” 

One of the two highly regarded colts was Flightofalifetime, trained by Bob Baffert and owned by George Bolton, Mike Shustek and Summit Racing. 

Baffert expected Flightofalifetime to win that 2011 Santa Anita maiden race. Do you know how I know that? The Hall of Fame trainer said it the morning after the race to Roger Stein on his radio show. 

The other much ballyhooed colt, as noted earlier, was Maclean’s Music, conditioned by Steve Asmussen and owned by the Stonestreet Stables of Jess Jackson and his wife, Barabara Banke. Maclean’s Music was named for the Jacksons’ grandson, who in 2011 was an eighth-grader living in Santa Rosa, Calif. Together, Asmussen and Stonestreet Stables captured three straight Horse of the Year titles (Curlin in 2007 and 2008, Rachel Alexandra in 2009). 

In the highly anticipated 2011 Santa Anita maiden race, bettors backed Maclean’s Music to 7-5 favoritism. Mike Smith rode him, while Rafael Bejarano piloted Flightofalifetime, a close 9-5 second choice. 

Maclean’s Music sped the opening quarter in :21.24. Flightofalifetime was just one length behind the front-running Maclean’s Music at that early stage of the race. 

At the quarter pole, Maclean’s Music led Flightofalifetime by 1 1/2 lengths. Maclean’s Music zipped the first half in an eye-popping :43.48. After that, Maclean’s Music shook clear. Despite running so fast early, Maclean’s Music drew away in the stretch to win by 7 1/2 lengths. Even though the bay colt was taken in hand late, he completed six furlongs in a sizzling 1:07.44 after recording a five-furlong time of :55.05. 

Flightofalifetime was no match for the winner when the real test came. But he did manage to end up second, three lengths clear of third-place finisher Fiarano, also a first-time starter. Fiarano had received little support in the wagering at 40-1. 

Proving Terrell prophetic, the performance by Maclean’s Music did indeed turn out to be historic in the sense that he was assigned a 114 Beyer Speed Figure. The 114 broke the record for the highest Beyer ever recorded by a first-time starter since Daily Racing Form began publishing the figures in 1991. 

The previous top Beyer Speed Figure by a first-time starter had been Formal Gold’s 112 when he won a six-furlong maiden race by 18 3/4 lengths in 1:09.20 at Monmouth Park on June 12, 1996. 

The huge career debut victory by Formal Gold was not a fluke. In 1997, in what would be the final three races of his career, Formal Gold lost the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga by a nose to Will’s Way before winning the Iselin Handicap by 5 1/4 lengths at Monmouth and the Woodward Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths at Belmont Park. In all three races, Formal Gold defeated Skip Away, who went on to earn acclaim as the 1998 Horse of the Year. Skip Away was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004. 

Three days after Maclean’s Music had made such a big splash with his maiden triumph, Asmussen discussed the 3-year-old colt. 

“For Mr. Jackson, it’s very important for him to breed, have, race and take care of this quality of horse,” Asmussen said. “The patience that they showed in allowing us to let him have all this time to get to this level has paid off in the performance that he gave on Saturday. I think that it is just a sign of things to come. We’re very excited, and we want to manage him carefully because I don’t even think ‘special’ is a good enough description of him.” 

However, unlike Formal Gold, there would be no stakes victories for Maclean’s Music. In fact, there would not be any more wins at all for him. 

“His racing future seemed limitless -- and then, that quickly, it was over,” Avalyn Hunter wrote in this year’s May 27 issue of the BloodHorse magazine. “The colt broke a splint bone, and while the splint was removed surgically, complications led to his retirement. With only one start under his belt, he was just another horse who had looked super in a maiden race and then disappeared from sight.” 

It is perfectly understandable that Baffert believed Flightofalifetime was going to win his first race. The colt’s Beyer Speed Figure for his career debut was a 95. A 95 would be plenty good enough to win a maiden race about 99% of the time. 

In Flightofalifetime’s next start, he stepped six furlongs in an excellent 1:08.84 to win a maiden race at Santa Anita by 2 1/2 lengths. He would go on to win the Cool Frenchy Stakes at Hollywood Park the following year. 


When Maclean’s Music “hit it out of the park” in a 2011 maiden race, it was one of the most impressive performances by a first-time starter during my lifetime. Four others that readily come to mind for me were the career debut victories by Landaluce, Precisionist, Curlin and Zenyatta. 

In Landaluce’s first career start, she completed six furlongs in a rapid 1:08 1/5 to win by seven lengths on July 3, 1982. It was believed to be the fastest six-furlong clocking by a 2-year-old in a race around a turn. One week later, Landaluce ran six furlongs even faster. She won the six-furlong Hollywood Lassie Stakes by an astounding 21 lengths in 1:08 flat. 

From the first crop of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, Landaluce never lost in five career starts. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas felt she had a legitimate chance to win the 1983 Kentucky Derby, but sadly and tragically the filly never raced past 1982. On Nov. 28, the day she was supposed to have run in the Grade I, $518,850 Hollywood Starlet Stakes, Landaluce died from a severe bacterial infection. She was voted a 1982 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly. 

In Precisionist’s first career start, he won a six-furlong maiden race by 7 1/2 lengths as easily as a horse can win a race on July 13, 1983. It was the beginning of what became a Hall of Fame career. All told, Precisionist won 20 of 46 lifetime starts and earned $3,485,398. Voted an Eclipse Award as champion sprinter in 1985, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2003. 

In addition to Precisionist’s statistics and awards, he received a humongous compliment from the renowned artist Fred Stone. In the 2010 book “Reflections on a Golden Age: The Racing Art of Fred Stone,” Stone said this about Precisionist: 

“I was awestruck when I saw him. He was the most beautiful horse I have ever painted.” 

That statement by Stone spoke volumes as he also painted Kelso, Northern Dancer, Nijinsky II, Secretariat, Ruffian, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and Zenyatta, among other greats. 

Neither Landaluce nor Precisionist were included in the BloodHorse magazine’s Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century. I felt they both belonged somewhere on that list. In fact, on my list of the top 100 racehorses of the 20th and 21st centuries to have raced in North America, most recently updated last year, I ranked Landaluce at No. 55 and Precisionist at No. 71. 

In Curlin’s first career start, he drifted out in the stretch and won a seven-furlong maiden race by 12 3/4 lengths at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 3, 2007, for Shirley Cunningham Jr. and Bill Gallion (Midnight Cry Stables). Afterward, Satish Sanan (Padua Stables), Jess Jackson (Stonestreet Stables) and George Bolton purchased a majority interest in the Smart Strike colt for a reported $3.5 million. 

Originally conditioned by Helen Pitts, Curlin was transferred to trainer Steve Asmussen after the sale. Curlin would go on to earn $10,501,800 and two Horse of the Year titles during his career. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014. 

In Zenyatta’s first career start, she zoomed home to win a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race by three widening lengths after being 12th early on Nov. 22, 2007. It was Thanksgiving. That was the only time in Zenyatta’s extraordinary career that she ran in a race shorter than 1 1/16 miles. The runner-up was a hyped filly by the name of Carmel Coffee, who won her next start. 

Zenyatta’s maiden performance began a winning streak that reached 19, a sequence that included a victory in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita in 2009, the first female to ever win that race. After Zenyatta’s narrowly lost the Breeders’ Cup Classic to Blame at Churchill Downs in 2010, the big mare was retired from racing with 19 wins from 20 lifetime starts and a 2010 Horse of the Year title. Zenyatta was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016. 

While on the subject of impressive career debuts, how about Rubilinda in last Saturday’s seventh race at Belmont? Last early in a six-furlong maiden affair on the turf, Rubilinda rocketed home to win by 3 1/4 widening lengths in 1:08.72 on a less-than-firm turf course rated good. She was assigned an 82 Beyer Speed Figure. 

Rubilinda, a 3-year-old filly who races for Don Alberto Stable, became the first U.S. winner sired by European superstar Frankel, who never tasted defeat in 14 lifetime starts. Frankel was named after American Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, who died in 2009. Chad Brown, formerly an assistant trainer with Frankel, conditions Rubilinda, who won one week after Brown sent out the Maclean’s Music colt Cloud Computing to capture the Preakness. 

After Rubilinda’s victory last Saturday, the New York Racing Association issued these quotes from Brown: 

“Very impressive. She missed the break there, maybe because of the delay after backing out or something. She broke slow, which was disappointing, and for her to overcome that and win by open lengths, I’m quite impressed. 

“I had her last year as a 2-year-old in the summer. She had a couple of breezes and started to have some baby issues, nothing major, but she wasn’t quite right. I have a really good client, Don Alberto, and I called him up and he said, ‘No problem, we like her. Let’s bring her home and give her some time to get over it.’ They were nice enough to send her back to me, and here we are. She’s really talented and has patient owners that want to let her develop at her own pace. It was worth the wait.” 

Belmont track announcer Larry Collmus tweeted: “I think Rubilinda may have been the most impressive first timer I’ve called since Curlin.” 


John Sikura, owner of Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm, was one of those dazzled by Maclean’s Music when he graduated from the maiden ranks at Santa Anita in 2011. Sikura saw the race in a Lexington restaurant. He could not believe a maiden had just exhibited such sheer speed. 

“There are two horses I’ve seen run that I was just drawn to and thought I had to put something together and stand these horses,” Sikura said to the BloodHorse’s Evan Hammonds in the May 27 issue of the magazine. “The first horse was Candy Ride. I saw him win a Group I [in Argentina] by open lengths. There was an excitement of the people around him at the time and I said, ‘Wow, this horse is different.’ The other was Maclean’s Music…I was convinced he was a superstar racehorse.” 

One certainly can understand Sikuri being smitten with Candy Ride, who never was beaten in six lifetime starts. In Candy Ride’s career debut, he won a race at about six furlongs on the dirt by 12 lengths. He then won a pair of Group I races at about one mile on the grass by nine and eight lengths. Sikura was especially bowled over by Candy Ride’s final time of 1:31 flat for about one mile the last time he raced in South America. 

In the U.S., Candy Ride was a two-time graded stakes winner. Trained by Hall of Famer Ron McAnally, Candy Ride won the Grade II American Handicap on the grass at Hollywood Park in 2003. And then, in the final start of his career, he won Del Mar’s Grade I Pacific Classic that year by an emphatic 3 1/4 lengths over Medaglia d’Oro. Candy Ride’s final time of 1:59.11 in the Pacific Classic broke the track record. 

Candy Ride is the sire of the Asmussen-trained Grade I winner Gun Runner, who finished second to mighty Arrogate this year in the Group I Dubai World Cup on March 25. Gun Runner, who thus far has earned $4,337,800, ranks No. 2 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll. Arrogate is No. 1. 

Gun Runner worked five furlongs Monday in :59.80 at Churchill Downs. He is to make his next start in the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap there on June 17. 

“He’s an awesome horse,” Asmussen said to Churchill Downs publicity with regard to Gun Runner after his Monday drill. 

Twirling Candy, a Grade I-winning son of Candy Ride, won Santa Anita’s Grade I Malibu Stakes in 2010 with a 1:19.70 clocking to break the seven-furlong track record set by the great Spectacular Bid in 1980. Twirling Candy sired a pair of graded stakes winners in the past few days. 

Danzing Candy, a son of Twirling Candy, cruised to a 4 3/4-length triumph for Baffert in Monday’s Grade III Lone Star Park Handicap on a muddy track as a 1-5 favorite. Danzing Candy was assigned a 107 Beyer Speed Figure. 

Finley’sluckycharm, a daughter of Twirling Candy, proved a punctual 1-5 favorite in Churchill Downs’ Grade III Winning Colors Stakes at six furlongs. She prevailed by 5 1/2 lengths while recording a 98 Beyer Speed Figure. Finley’sluckycharm, trained by Bret Calhoun, has won seven of nine career starts. 

Baffert also trains Mastery, a Candy Ride colt who won this year’s Grade II San Felipe by 6 3/4 lengths at Santa Anita Park on March 11 while posting a 105 Beyer Speed Figure to remain undefeated in four career starts. At the end of the San Felipe, I felt Mastery was the best 3-year-old male in the country. Unfortunately, he emerged from that race with a “complete displaced condylar fracture” in his left front ankle, according to the New York Times’ Joe Drape, an injury that knocked the colt out of the Triple Crown races. Mastery required surgery for the insertion of three screws, Drape reported. 

Candy Ride also sired Shared Belief, who was voted a 2013 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male. Without some bad racing luck, Shared Belief might have ended his racing career undefeated a la his sire. As it was, Shared Belief won 10 of 12 lifetime starts and earned $2,932,200. 

Cloud Computing is from the first crop of Maclean’s Music, who along with Candy Ride stands stud duty in Kentucky at Hill ‘n’ Dale. Maclean’s Music led the 2016 freshman sire’s list by winners with 19, according to Hammonds. 

Sikura bred Cloud Computing in partnership with his father-in-law, Edward McGhee. Sikura and McGee sold the colt for $200,000 at the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale to agent Mike Ryan, who was acting on behalf of owners Seth Klarman (Klaravich Stables) and William Lawrence. Cloud Computing was the highest-priced yearling by Maclean’s Music sold in 2015. 

Cloud Computing, like Maclean’s Music, was victorious in his first career start. After Cloud Computing won a six-furlong maiden race by 1 3/4 lengths on Aqueduct’s inner track this year on Feb. 11, he ran second in the Grade II Gotham on March 4 and third in the Grade II Wood Memorial on April 8. He then won the Preakness on May 20 in only his fourth career start. The $200,000 yearling buy now already is a millionaire, having earned $1,071,000.