With “No Real Soft Spots to Land,” Corniche Returns

Corniche at the Spa | Sarah Andrew

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – Nearly nine months after his last race, champion and 'TDN Rising Star' Corniche (Quality Road) will return to competition Sunday, starting the late-developing next chapter in his thus-far unbeaten career with a big test in the GII Amsterdam S.

Corniche will again be carrying the white and red colors of his owner, Speedway Stables, the partnership of Peter Fluor and K.C. Weiner. Beyond that, pretty much everything else has changed since his 1 3/4-length victory in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Nov. 5 at Del Mar. Following the colt's long lay-up at WinStar Training Center, Fluor and Weiner announced May 2 that Corniche was being transferred from trainer Bob Baffert to Todd Pletcher. The switch was made, the co-owners said, because Baffert was serving a 90-day suspension and would be unable to prepare Corniche for a hoped-for start in June in advance of the big summer races for 3-year-olds, the GI Haskell S. and the GI Runhappy Travers S.

Starting with a three-furlong breeze June 10 at Belmont Park, Corniche has worked seven times for Pletcher. Under Luis Saez, who replaces Mike Smith, Corniche will make his 3-year-old debut in the 6 1/2-furlong Amsterdam. He drew post seven in the nine-horse field.

Pletcher has looked at videos of Corniche's breezes for Baffert and said he appears to be training the same.

“He's had a consistent work program for us,” Pletcher said. “He's not missed a beat since he came in and so, for a horse like that, that's kind of run through his conditions, there's no real soft spots to land coming back. We're starting back in a salty graded stake and hope he can continue to run as well as he has.”

Fluor and Weiner purchased the colt out of the Najran mare Wasted Tears for $1.5 million at the 2021 OBS April 2-year-old sale and turned him over to Baffert. Leading at every point, Corniche reeled off victories in a maiden at Del Mar, the GI American Pharoah S. at Santa Anita and the Juvenile back at Del Mar. Those three performances earned him the Eclipse Award as the champion 2-year-old male.

Corniche stayed on the farm and never emerged as a Triple Crown prospect. He recorded his first breeze at WinStar Apr. 15.

Corniche-07-16-2022-SA6_6173-PRINT-Sarah-Andrew-1-1024x745.jpg" alt="" width="1024" height="745" /> Corniche (inside) recently worked in company with Nest, winner of the July 23 GI Coaching Club American Oaks | Sarah Andrew

Last year, Pletcher picked up another Baffert trainee, the gifted 'TDN Rising Star' Life Is Good (Into Mischief), who has won seven of nine starts and is headed to the GI Whitney S. Aug. 6. Life Is Good debuted for Pletcher in the GI H. Allen Jerkens S., where he finished second by a neck to Jackie's Warrior (Maclean's Music). Pletcher said that Corniche might move on to the seven-furlong Jerkens Aug. 27.

“Could be, based on how this race goes,” he said. “That would be a logical next step should this go well.”

While Pletcher did not compare Corniche to Life is Good, he did note a link to another standout he handled, who began his career with another trainer.

“He reminds me more of his stallion Quality Road. He resembles Quality Road a bit,” Pletcher said. “This was where Quality Road made his first start for us, was in the Amsterdam. He set a track record that still stands.”

Quality Road, bred and owned by Edward P. Evans, had quarter crack issues while in the care of Jimmy Jerkens in 2009 and was subsequently moved to Pletcher.

The Amsterdam often is used as a prep for the Jerkens and Pletcher said the timing and the distance are the right combination for Corniche.

“He's proven versatile enough to win sprinting and going long,” Pletcher said. “We needed a place to come back and obviously the Curlin S. or the GII Jim Dandy S. at a mile and an eighth didn't really make sense. We felt like this race made the most sense.”

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