By Mike Farrell
The Grammy Awards Sunday night honored the outstanding performers in the music industry. Some of racing’s most prominent figures were also in the spotlight last week. Not all wound up covered in glory.
Let’s start with the positive, beginning with Bob Baffert.
Once again, the silver-haired trainer demonstrated he is the master of the West Coast to the East Coast shuffle. No one does it better.
If you need convincing, check out his dominance of the Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park, a race he has won a record-setting eight times.
He has already put his stamp on the Pegasus World Cup (G1) as Mucho Gusto gave Baffert a second victory Saturday in the four runnings of the top older-horse event at Gulfstream Park.
Granted, the path to victory for Mucho Gusto was eased with the race-week scratches of Spun to Run and Omaha Beach.
Baffert fined tuned Mucho Gusto in California to run the race of his life in Florida. And is often the case these days, Baffert stayed home to watch the race while leaving the final preparations in the hands of ace lieutenant Jimmy Barnes, arguably the best trainer in the game not hanging out his own stable shingle.
Baffert could have sent McKinzie east for the PWC but wound up with the right horse in the right spot to snare the lion’s share of the $3 million purse.
That could be just the warmup as Baffert now has his sights set on the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup next month armed with the dynamic duo of McKinzie and Mucho Gusto.
While we’re saluting trainers from Pegasus weekend, let’s give Mike Maker a shout out for Zulu Alpha’s upset score in the World Cup Turf (G1).
Boxing experts often engage in the debate of who is the best fighter, pound for pound. In racing, you can make an argument that Maker is the top turf trainer, dollar for dollar.
Conditioners like Chad Brown pile up the grass stakes wins with an army of well-bred, expensive horses. Maker often makes the magic happen with older runners and former claimers — like Zulu Alpha.
The 7-year-old, an $80,000 claim by owner Michael Hui in 2018, skimmed the rail under Tyler Gaffalione to push his career earnings past $1.9 million.
One final Pegasus mention goes to Gulfstream Park, which enjoyed a winning weekend. Blessed by ideal weather, the handle for the afternoon soared almost 11 percent to $41.9 million compared to the rainy Pegasus Day in 2019.
The total was just shade under the track’s all-time mark set in 2018.
Speaking of Chad Brown, he was part of the winning team Thursday night at the Eclipse Awards as Bricks and Mortar was crowned Horse of the Year for 2019 and all humans associated with the champion took home the trophies: jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., owners Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence and breeder George Strawbridge, Jr.
The only other time that happened was 1981 when the team supporting John Henry took every honor.
This being horse racing, the silver lining on the week of champions is dogged by a dark cloud. In this instance, it was Ahmed Zayat making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that a receiver had been appointed to oversee the assets of the Zayat Stable following a lawsuit that claimed Zayat defaulted on loans and misrepresented assets.
It’s not the first time Zayat has been in financial hot water. The racing gods threw Zayat a lifeline with the incredible gift of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, a champion on the racetrack and now in the breeding shed.
The racing empire that Zayat built, including prominent race horses and stallions such as Pioneerof the Nile, Eskendereya and Bodemeister, will crumble if the allegations in the lawsuit are proven.
Zayat has demonstrated an ability to rise from the ashes in the past. This time the hole might be too deep, even for Zayat.