By Bill Finley
This is the story of Baby Yoda (Prospective): Bought shortly after he broke his maiden for $10,000 at Pimlico, he ran a 114 Beyer figure in a Saratoga allowance race, tying him for the fastest number on the year, and will now be sent into a graded prep for the GI Breeders' Cup Sprint. It sounds impossible. But it's not.
“It's crazy,” said Baby Yoda's co-owner Adam Wachtel. “It's hard to rationalize or accept. It's highly unusual to see something like this. He ran for $10,000 nine weeks ago and for him to go out an accomplish what he did in such a short period of time is just not something that you see. It makes you shake your head.”
Wachtel admits he wasn't paying any attention to Baby Yoda when the 3-year-old gelding made his debut May 30 at Pimlico for trainer Charles Frock and owner Gerald Burns. Baby Yoda won by eight lengths that day, but posted a moderate Beyer number of 69.
He came back in a first-level allowance race at Pimlico and ran third, but this was the race that got Wachtel to take notice. He is always on the lookout for horses that are off the radar but running fast numbers. Baby Yoda ran a 10 1/2 on the Ragozin Sheets, which, Wachtel felt, was good enough to compete against all 3-year-old sprinters not named Jackie's Warrior (Maclean's Music).
“We look at numbers with Len Friedman of Ragozin data,” Wachtel explained. “We go over horses each week. Forget about the race where he broke his maiden for $10,000. I didn't even look at that. When he finished third in the 'a other than' in Maryland he ran a great race. A friend of mine says that I buy a lot of Rocky Balboas. This guy fit into that category. The sire was a darn good race horse. I know he hasn't been an exciting stallion. But there was enough there and I really liked the replay.”
Wachtel had his vet go over the horse and had his agent reach out to the Maryland connections. Within a few days he had acquired Baby Yoda for an undisclosed price. Whatever it was, it is no doubt among the most anyone ever paid for a son of Prospective. Now standing in Korea after beginning his stud career at Ocala Stud, Prospective's biggest win came in the 2012 GII Tampa Bay Derby.
The new ownership group, which also includes Pantofel Stable and Jerold Zaro, sent Baby Yoda to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and kept its fingers crossed. Ironically, they had the Florida-bred pegged as a future turf horse and entered him in a starter allowance at Saratoga on the grass, but the race did not fill. Plan B was a dirt starter allowance July 17 and the result was a 1 1/4-length win.
At that point, Wachtel's expectations were still not sky high. Winning a starter allowance only proves so much. But, after talking to Mott, he started to look at things differently.
“After Mott had had him for about 10 days, two weeks, I asked him, 'Bill, what do you think about this horse?' He said, 'I love him.' I said, 'Come on, really?'” Wachtel said. “Bill said it again. He told me that the horse was really neat, had a lot of talent and was a runner. Bill doesn't usually make statements like that, so for him to say what he did made me think this horse might really be alright.”
The Sept. 4 allowance brought together a deep field of 10 and several among the group seemed to have potential. Ridden by Jose Ortiz, Baby Yoda won by 4 1/4 lengths and completed the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.33. The time of the race took on a whole new level of significance when the Beyer number came out. The only other horse to run a 114 Beyer this year is Flightline (Tapit). His big figure, ironically, also came in a first-level allowance race, a sprint at Del Mar the day after Baby Yoda's race. Among 3-year-olds, Essential Quality (Tapit) is next on the Beyer list, with a 109 from his victory in the GI Belmont S. Knicks Go (Paynter) ran a 113 Beyer in the GIII Prairie Meadows Cornhusker H.
Baby Yoda's Ragozin number in the Saratoga allowance was a 4 3/4.
“I've been doing this a long time and have had a lot of good horses but that, what he did, kind of blew me away,” Wachtel said. “I was unbelievably impressed and thrilled.”
Wachtel is reasonable enough to know that there's every chance this fairy tale will go off in another direction.
“Is he a freak or will he regress from that race? I don't know,” he said.
Nonetheless, the plan is to give Baby Yoda the type of test that a 114 Beyer seems to deserve. Wachtel said the next race will be in a stakes and said the GI Vosburgh S. and the GII Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix S. at Keeneland are among the possibilities.
“I've always been a guy who looks at data and how fast they have run,” Wachtel said. “Every race he has run over his last three races have been really fast and, the other day, he did it easily. I will rely on my Hall of Fame trainer to tell me how well he is doing. If he continues to train well, why not take a shot with him in a stakes?”
Why not? It's not logical that a $10,000 maiden claimer could win a graded stakes race, but what about this story is?