It’s barely February, so trainer Bob Baffert isn’t rushing to anoint Flashback as his top Kentucky Derby contender.
The gray colt made a solid case for himself Saturday, though, by winning the $196,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by 6-1/4 lengths at Santa Anita in his 3-year-old debut.
Baffert had a good day overall, with his 2-1 favorite Guilt Trip winning the $200,250 Strub Stakes by 1-1/2 lengths for owners Gary and Mary West, who also own Flashback. Baffert also won the first race on the card.
Flashback led all the way in running 1-1/16 miles in 1 minute, 42.95 second under jockey Julien Leparoux. He paid $3 on a $2 win bet as the 1-2 favorite in front of 15,349 fans. Flashback won his career debut in a sprint race on Dec. 8 at Betfair Hollywood Park by 3-1/2 lengths.
”You never know until they go long,” Baffert said. ”He’s always shown us he’s a real talented horse. We were hoping he would do something like that.”
Flashback led a 1-2 finish for the Hall of Fame trainer, who saddled second-place Den’s Legacy.
”I outbroke the gray horse (Flashback), but we all know the gray horse is faster than my horse,” said Garrett Gomez, who rode Den’s Legacy. ”We got up there, but the gray horse set his own fractions and was able to go slow enough. It’s kind of hard to outkick a nice horse.”
He’s Had Enough, second to Shanghai Bobby in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita last fall, was a half-length back in third. He’s owned by J. Paul Reddam, trained by Doug O’Neill and ridden by Mario Gutierrez, who teamed to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness last year with I’ll Have Another.
”The horse has a good future,” Gutierrez said. ”What are the odds for the same owner, same trainer and jockey to do it again? It’s more than 100-1. But we’re trying, and the horse is good and he ran good.”
The Wests have seven horses as early nominees to the Triple Crown series, including Flashback.
”This horse has got some ability,” Gary West said. ”He’s been a highly touted horse. All his works have been spectacular. He’s really blossoming right now. He’s still a gangly baby really learning the game.”
West said Flashback is likely to make two more starts in preparation for the May 4 Kentucky Derby, which Baffert has won three times.
”I don’t want to jinx a horse,” Baffert said. ”I dream in black-and-white. I don’t get ahead of myself.”
Despite Flashback’s inexperience, Baffert said the colt was ”great in the paddock and went to the gate like a professional.”
”He’s going to run against better horses, which are, hopefully, all mine,” Baffert said, laughing.
The trainer has 23 horses as early nominees to the Triple Crown, second only to Todd Pletcher’s 29.
Little Jerry finished fourth. There was no show wagering because of the small field in the race named for the late owner of Kentucky Derby winners Silver Charm and Charismatic. Lewis’ widow, Beverly, was on hand to present the trophy to Baffert, who trained many of the couple’s horses.
”This is a real sentimental win for me because he was one of the greatest owners in the sport,” Baffert said. ”It brings back a lot of good memories for me.”
The Lewis is a qualifying race for the Kentucky Derby, and Flashback earned 10 points for first place. Den’s Legacy earned four points; He’s Had Enough picked up two; and Little Jerry earned one.
”I really don’t think about the points,” Baffert said. ”The last prep is the most important. This is when the cream is going to start rising to the top.”
In the Strub, 4-year-old Guilt Trip ran 1-1/8 miles in 1:48.97 with Joe Talamo in the saddle .A $2 win bet returned $6.40.
Stephanoatsee, ridden by Leparoux, was second. Baffert’s Fed Biz was another three-quarters of a length back in third.
In the $150,000 Arcadia Stakes, Suggestive Boy won by 2-1/2 lengths under Talamo. Trained by 80-year-old Hall of Famer Ron McAnally, Suggestive Boy ran one mile on the turf in 1:32.73 and paid $10.40 to win.
”I was a little worried before the race being in the 13-hole,” Talamo said. ”Not too many horses win from out there, but he’s such a classy horse to get over and save some ground.”
Wilkinson was second, and 4-1 favorite Silentio was third in the 13-horse field.