American Anthem Latest in Baffert’s Talented Juvenile Band

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American Anthem | Benoit

By Joe Bianca

After reaching the pinnacle of Thoroughbred racing several times, including training the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years and sending out three consecutive GI Breeders’ Cup Classic victors, it’s difficult to imagine how the hunger and enthusiasm hasn’t faded some yet in Bob Baffert’s voice, but it hasn’t. Speaking from his Santa Anita base Monday, the Hall of Fame conditioner credits much of his ongoing motivation to his ever-replenishing fleet of talented 2-year-olds, the latest of which, American Anthem (Bodemeister), graduated first time out Saturday at Del Mar.

Purchased for $435,000 at OBS March by WinStar Farm and the China Horse Club, the bay came into his debut with a string of bullet workouts and unleashed a furious stretch kick to get up by a neck in the waning strides of the six-furlong test. American Anthem is bred to go much further, being out of a half-sister to 1998’s champion 3-year-old filly Banshee Breeze (Unbridled), who captured five top-level events going a route of ground and was second in the GI Kentucky Oaks and twice runner-up in the GI Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Baffert, who trained the colt’s sire–a brilliant winner of the GI Arkansas Derby and runner-up in both the GI Kentucky Derby and GI Preakness S.–is bullish about his charge’s potential.

“We’ve been excited about him since we got him, and he ran to his works,” the 63-year-old trainer said. “He was showing us that he was very talented. He’s changed a lot, he’s a big, beautiful horse. I was afraid that it was going to be a little bit too short for him. He just looks like a giant version of [Bodemeister]. He’s not a sprinter, he’s going to get better as he goes longer, when he goes two turns. I think he’s one of my top ones.”

American Anthem is just the latest in a line of highly promising juveniles to burst onto the scene for Baffert this fall. Cheyenne Stables’ Mastery (Candy Ride {Arg}), a $425,000 Keeneland September buy, came into his Oct. 22 debut at Santa Anita with a ton of hype, getting crushed in the wagering to 1-5, and validated that support with a powerful 4 1/4-length score to earn a 93 Beyer Speed Figure and ‘TDN Rising Star’ honors. The dark bay followed that effort up by easily annexing the GIII Bob Hope S. when removing blinkers Nov. 19 at Del Mar and is slated to try two turns for the first time in Saturday’s GI CashCall Futurity at Los Alamitos while equipped with blinkers once again. He completed his preparation for that engagement by working a half-mile in :47 4/5 (5/27) Monday in Arcadia.

“I think he got a lot out of that race,” Baffert said of Mastery’s Bob Hope victory. “He’s come back on and worked really well and I like him better with the blinkers on. He’s handier and stays a little bit more focused. He’s tall, has a lot of size to him, beautiful stride, jumps a long way, so we’re really excited about him.”

Gary and Mary West’s Beach Bum (Arch) is another colt of considerable intrigue residing in the Baffert barn. Hammered down for $400,000 as a KEESEP yearling, the imposing colt tracked a blistering pace in his Nov. 6 debut at Santa Anita and finished full of run to romp by 5 1/4 lengths and become a Rising Star himself. The second and sixth-place finishers out of that race have returned to win next out. Beach Bum is from an impeccably-bred Phipps family, being out of a half-sister to MGISWs Point of Entry (Dynaformer) and Pine Island (Arch). Further back in his pedigree resides 2005 GI Breeders’ Cup Distaff heroine Pleasant Home (Seeking the Gold), MGSW/MGISP Country Hideaway (Seeking the Gold), nine-time Grade I-winning Hall of Famer Sky Beauty (Blushing Groom {Fr}) and MGISW Maplejinsky (Nijinsky II).

“He’s another one that’s really talented,” Baffert commented. “I’m just waiting, I don’t want to get in a rush with him, because our main focus is getting these horses ready for the spring [Derby] preps. Gary West just told me to train him like I own him, so I’m taking my time with him and we’ll see him run sometime in January.”

Kaleem Shah’s Klimt (Quality Road) is already a top-level winner, having conquered the GI Del Mar Futurity Sept. 5, but the $435,000 OBS March purchase, also a ‘TDN Rising Star’, disappointed when running eighth in the GI Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Nov. 5 at Santa Anita.

“After the big effort at Del Mar, he just didn’t train as well as he did there,” Baffert explained. “He trained well, but not like I needed to see in him. The track was a little loose when we got up here and some horses tend to struggle with it. He’s actually doing much better now and I see a big change in him, so he’ll be OK. We’ll probably come back in a stake in January.”

Baffert and Shah also have an intriguing juvenile filly in American Gal (Concord Point), a debut winner at Del Mar in August who ran a huge race to be third in the GI 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies after breaking slowly from the 12-hole and going extremely wide around both turns. The homebred is expected to start in Saturday’s GI Starlet S. at Los Alamitos.

“I sort of threw her in the deep end there and she ran a good third off a short layoff,” Baffert said. “We were at home, took a chance, the post killed her, but she’s been doing really, really well, so I expect a big effort from her.”

No discussion of the Baffert barn would be complete without checking in on the star of its show, GI Breeders’ Cup Classic and GI Travers S. hero Arrogate (Unbridled’s Song), who returned to the worktab for the first time since his Nov. 5 Classic win with a half-mile breeze in :49 flat (23/44) over the Arcadia strip Dec. 1.

“He looks great,” Baffert offered. “Watching him work up here, it looks like he’s getting stronger. I can see a big improvement just since the Breeders’ Cup in him. He’s becoming a man. He was just a little teenager [before]. He couldn’t look any better.”

Baffert remained mum about whether or not the Juddmonte Farms colorbearer would be pointed to the $12-million GI Pegasus World Cup Jan. 28 at Gulfstream Park, saying only, “There’s no rush with him. We’re just going to pick our spots [next] year. Our main goal is the Breeders’ Cup Classic.”

Given all of his success on the grandest stages, Baffert still emanates the excitement of a new trainer, with the promise of new forms of greatness around the corner and the desire to hold on to what his stable has built helping him get through the occasional letdown.

“American Pharoah set the bar. When he left, it was tough for a couple of months there, not having him around,” Baffert confessed. “But these horses just keep at it, and I don’t ease up at all. We’re fortunate. Arrogate came around, you get a horse like Mastery, we were given all these nice horses. I know that someday, the day will come when we don’t have those horses, and that’s what keeps me going. I love the competition. We’ve been in this arena the last 16, 17 years or so, and once you’re in it, you want to stay in that arena. It keeps you hungry. I want to be like [Alabama football coach] Nick Saban. I want the horsepower in the barn. As long as we’ve got the horsepower, I’ll keep working.”

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