The ranks of trainer Bob Baffert’s top-tier 3-year-old colts have been decimated by injuries, and he doesn’t have a horse entered in the first leg of the Triple Crown, Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.
He does have what could be an emerging star in the 3-year-old filly ranks, though, in Gamine, who, despite being lightly raced, is the even-money favorite on the morning line in the Grade I Acorn on the Belmont undercard.
Unraced as a 2-year-old, Gamine will face six rivals, one of whom is her opposite, having experienced the highest level of stakes company and will be looking to regain the form that made her a dual winner in the Grade II Adirondack and Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga Race Course last summer.
Perfect Alibi will make her 2020 debut in the Acorn at Belmont Park, having closed her busy 2019 campaign with a fourth to British Idiom in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita Park.
The only filly in the Acorn field who hasn’t raced yet this year, Perfect Alibi will break from the outside under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr.
“She’s been ready to run for about three months,” trainer Mark Casse told the New York Racing Association. “She’s always been very, very professional. If anything, she’s a little better work horse than she was.
“Last year, if you wanted to give some confidence to another horse, you’d just work them with her because she’d let anybody beat her — except when they run in the afternoon. This year and recently, she’s been a little more aggressive in her works.”
Perfect Alibi’s grittiness on race day showed itself in the Spinaway on closing weekend of the Saratoga meet.
Ortiz guided her through a very small hole between Frank’s Rockette and the rail to win, making her the first filly to complete the Adirondack-Spinaway double since Mani Bhavan in 2008.
That put her in contention for the 2-year-old filly championships, but she lost twice to British Idiom the rest of the way, in the Grade I Alcibiades at Keeneland and the Breeders’ Cup, where she didn’t like the Santa Anita surface, Casse said.
With the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting the racing stakes schedule, Casse said he’s had a difficult time putting together a 2020 campaign for his filly.
“I said the other day that training horses is like putting a puzzle together. And this year it’s putting a puzzle together with no pictures and no edges,” he said. “It’s even more difficult with everything going on,” Casse said. “I just feel fortunate that we’re running. We’re lucky.”
Gamine cause a stir last year without even getting on the racetrack, selling as 2-year-old in training for $1.8 million at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale in May.
“She’s just a tall, really elegant filly,” Baffert said. “We took our time with her, let her develop. Her two races have been really nice races. I could have stayed home and run her here two turns in the [Santa Anita] Oaks but I wanted to give her a couple extra weeks. I thought the Acorn with the bigger, wider turns, I think she’ll like that. And it’s a lot of prestige.
“She’s still just learning. But she’s going to be forwardly placed. She’ll be up there close.”
MORE UNDERCARD STAKES
Besides the main event, the 152nd Belmont Stakes, and the Acorn, Saturday’s card includes two other Grade I stakes, the Woody Stephens for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs and the Jaipur at six furlongs on the turf.
There are two Grade III races for 3-year-olds at a mile on the turf, the Pennine Ridge and the Wonder Again for fillies.
The five-horse Woody Stephens field includes Swale and Gotham winner Mischevious Alex, who may have been in the Belmont field, if not for the disrupted stakes schedule, trainer John Servis said.
Mischevious Alex hasn’t raced since March 7, and Servis said he didn’t want to bring him back off the layoff at a mile and an eighth, so the Woody Stephens was an obvious option.
“We had some time between races with the coronavirus, and I eased off on him a little bit because we didn’t have a schedule,” Servis said. “Anytime you get to run in a Grade I, it’s exciting, and the fact that I’ll be able to go up there and saddle him and see him run is even more exciting. I haven’t been able to do much of that of late.”
The 9-year-old Pure Sensation, the 5-2 favorite in the Jaipur, has run at Belmont just once in 36 career starts.
“We know he loves Parx, but they’re not racing yet, so there’s really no choice as to where to bring him back,” trainer Christophe Clement said. “We’re based in New York, we train in New York, so we’ll run in New York.”
COLLMUS IN FOR DENMAN
Track announcer Larry Collmus, who calls the Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup for NBC Sports, will work the Del Mar meet that begins on July 10.
The track said that, because of health concerns involving the COVID-19 pandemic, regular caller Trevor Denman and his wife Robin did not want to travel from their Minnesota farm to southern California.
The 67-year-old Denman, who has called every race at Del Mar since taking over for the late Harry Henson in 1984, told Del Mar officials he would be returning to the track for its fall season scheduled from Oct. 31 to Nov. 29.
Collmus will miss the last week of the upcoming Del Mar meet because he has a commitment to work at Kentucky Downs.
MIDNIGHT BISOU READY
Eclipse Award winner Midnight Bisou worked six furlongs in 1:12 on Monday at Churchill Downs and will be targeting the Grade II Fleur de Lis at Churchill next Saturday, her first race since finishing second to Maximum Security in the $20 million Saudi Cup on Feb. 29.
“Her training before we went to Saudi was just mindboggling,” trainer Steve Asmussen told Churchill Downs. “It’s just like it is now. We still wonder how she’s able to do it so easily and so consistently.
“I was very tempted to run her in the Ogden Phipps and leaving She’s a Julie for the Fleur de Lis. I feel like with what she’s done — traveling to Saudi, taking on older boys and everyone knows the trip she got and knows the circumstances … How do you have an adjective what she is and what she means to racing? Coming back, the next race isn’t the goal for this year. The Breeders’ Cup is. She is arguably the best horse in the world.”