Corniche Nearing Return

Corniche | Horsephotos

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He has yet to run this year, which has turned GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Corniche (Quality Road) into the forgotten horse in the 3-year-old male division. That, however, may be about to change. Corniche has had two recent works at WinStar Farm and, according to Marette Farrell, an advisor to owners K.C. Weiner and Peter Fluor, the colt will return to the racetrack within a couple of weeks.

“His last work at WinStar [four furlongs in :48.94 last Saturday], they said that it was an 'A' work,” Farrell said. “He couldn't have been more impressive.”

Corniche, a $1.5-million purchase at the 2021 OBS Spring Sale, debuted Sept. 4 for trainer Bob Baffert, breaking his maiden by 4 1/4 lengths in 'TDN Rising Star' fashion. Up next was a 3 1/4-length win in the GI American Pharoah S. and then a 1 3/4-length victory in the Breeders' Cup. Named 2-year-old male champion, Corniche was the early favorite for the GI Kentucky Derby and his connections began to plot a course to get him to Churchill Downs. But there was a problem. Corniche was not flourishing.

“He really only got 30 days off,” Farrell said. “He didn't come to WinStar until the beginning of December. The first week of January, he started jogging and then he started galloping. It was then that he didn't bloom like he should have.”

Farrell said there were rumors that Corniche had suffered some kind of physical setback, but says that was never the case. But he wasn't showing the connections what they wanted to see. With the calendar entering mid-March and with Corniche still not having had a workout, a decision had to be made. Press on for the Derby or come up with an alternate plan?

“He was a little slow to come around physically and he was still holding on to his winter coat,” Farrell said. “Peter and K.C. had a choice to make in March. Do you push the horse and rush him to the Derby or do you let the horse come back naturally in his own time and in his own way? They are very successful businessmen and they understand big picture things. They said, 'We want to do right by the horse.' Let him tell us what he wants to do and when he wants to do it. I applaud Peter and K.C. for taking what is, in my opinion, the right road.”

But that meant giving up on any chance to win the Kentucky Derby.

“There hasn't been any frustration,” Farrell said. “They took the horsemen's path and did the right thing by the horse. They weren't shortsighted and said, 'Let's go for it, let's take a chance.' If they did that they might not have had any horse left after running him in the Derby.”

Corniche's first published workout of the year came on Apr. 15 when he breezed three furlongs in :36.80 at WinStar. It was exactly what his team had been looking for, a sign that he was finally coming around. After one or two more works at WinStar, the next step for Corniche will be to return to the track and continue to work toward his first start of the year. The problem with that is that his return will come while Baffert is serving a 90-day suspension for the betamethasone positive he was hit with in last year's Kentucky Derby. That opens up the possibility that Corniche will be turned over to a new trainer. Farrell said the owners have yet to reach a decision concerning who will get the horse.

Farrell said the main goals will be the GI Haskell Invitational S. and the GI Runhappy Travers S. and she is confident Corniche will be ready by then and will return to top form. The Derby and the entire Triple Crown may be out, but Corniche may still make something out of what so far has been a lost year.

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