ARCADIA — The list of great horses Bob Baffert has had in his barn is about as long as a wife’s honey-do list. But six Kentucky Derby winners later, even Hall of Fame trainers can be fooled.
Cave Rock won Saturday’s $300,000 Grade I American Pharoah Stakes for 2-year-olds at Santa Anita in gate-to-wire fashion, breezing home by 5 1/4 lengths under Juan Hernandez in a quick 1:43.05 for the 1 1/16 miles.
But Baffert confessed to reporters in the winner’s circle afterward that he underestimated the Arrogate colt before his first career start.
“He surprised me,” Baffert said of Cave Rock’s debut at Del Mar on Aug. 13, which he won by six lengths. He followed that with a 5 1/4-length victory in the Grade I Del Mar Debutante on Sept. 11 while running the 7 furlongs in a stakes-record 1:20.99.
It was Baffert’s record 11th victory in the American Pharoah, at one time known as the Norfolk Stakes and later changed to the FrontRunner from 2012-2017. The 2014 winner, American Pharoah, went on to win the Triple Crown a year later.
Baffert seemed to be most impressed by Cave Rock’s final time, which was more than three seconds quicker than And Tell Me Nolies’ victory (1:46.15) in the Chandelier Stakes two races earlier.
“I looked at the clock right away and I thought, ‘Wow. That’s race horse time.’” Baffert said. “The horses that ran second (National Treasure) and third (Hejazi), those are good horses.”The top four horses in the American Pharoah (Gandolfini) are trained by Baffert, which set another personal milestone for the 69-year-old horseman.
“I think that’s the first time in a Grade I, definitely,” he said of sending out the top four finishers. “I knew at the three-eighths pole, I was talking to my owners, and I knew I was going to win it. I thought, ‘I’m not sure with who, but I have a pretty good idea.’”
Baffert said Cave Rock is “built like a 3-year-old, but he’s still learning how to run.”
Cave Rock’s next assignment will be the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 4, a race Baffert has won five times, including last year at Del Mar with Corniche. If Cave Rock is not favored, he figures to be a close second choice.
“He’s speed, but he’s a powerful horse, he’s tough and he’s quick,” Baffert said.
But, if the need arises, can he rate off horses? He’s never been headed in his three starts, winning by a combined 16 1/2 lengths.
“He’s naturally so fast. You don’t know,” Baffert said. “Like today, I told (Juan) today might be a chance, if he broke bad or something like that. Right now, at this stage, you want him to leave there, get a nice rhythm, and he did that.”
And Tell Me Nolies followed her victory in the Del Mar Debutante by winning the $200,000 Grade II race for juvenile fillies by three-quarters of a length over 24-1 longshot Uncontrollable.
The winner, also sired by Arrogate and trained by Peter Miller, was fifth after the first half mile, rallied to take a 1 1/2-length lead at the head of the stretch and held off Uncontrollable’s late charge at the generous odds of 8-1 with Ramon Vazquez aboard.
Justique, an impressive winner first out at Del Mar on July 31, finished third as the 6-5 favorite, 4 3/4 lengths behind the runner-up.
Rodeo Drive Stakes
Going to Vegas went gate to wire under Umberto Rispoli for trainer Philip D’Amato in the $300,000 Grade I grass race for fillies and mares. Final time for the 1 1/4 miles was 1:59.41.The 5-year-old daughter of Goldencents beat Family Way by 1 1/4 lengths. Fluffy Socks, the 3-2 favorite, finished fourth.