by J. Keeler Johnson
The Road to the 2020 Kentucky Oaks took a heart-pounding turn on Friday, September 27, when Bast battled to a hard-fought victory in the $300,000 Chandelier Stakes (G1) on opening day of the Santa Anita fall meet.
Vying for a “Win & You’re In” berth to the November 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), plus 10 qualification points toward the Kentucky Oaks, Bast had to dig deeper than expected to prevail. A sluggish start left the daughter of Uncle Mo in a pace-pressing position, racing three-wide as Schuylerville Stakes (G3) winner Comical carved out fractions of :24.92, :49.54 and 1:13.98.
Four weeks ago, Bast had no difficulty dismissing Comical by better than nine lengths in the seven-furlong Del Mar Debutante (G1) at Del Mar, a performance that stamped the Bob Baffert-trained filly as a clear 1-5 favorite in the Chandelier. But stretching out to 1 1/16 miles while transitioning to the slower track at Santa Anita proved to be an equalizer, and when Bast challenged Comical at the top of the stretch, the pacesetter refused to give way.
The result was a thrilling drive to the finish line. Comical was game to the final strides, but Bast gradually forged ahead to cross the wire a neck in front. Her final time of 1:46.10 was a testament to the slow and tiring nature of the track.
“I thought, wow, man, she’s really going to have to fight for this, but if she’s a really good filly, like I think she is, she’ll get through it, and she got that last eighth of a mile. It just shows you how competitive these horses are,” said Baffert, who conditions the filly for Baoma Corp.
For winning rider John Velazquez, the Chandelier marked his 661st triumph in a graded stakes races, surpassing the record of 660 established in 2005 by Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey.
“This means a lot,” Velazquez told Santa Anita. “(Jerry Bailey) is a guy who I rode with for so many years and have looked up to for so long. It’s incredible.”
Regarding Bast’s performance, Velazquez praised the filly’s determination. “Going to the backstretch, she looked really good, and I was pretty confident. We got to the turn and I thought we might go a little wide, but I said ‘no, no – you have to stay there.’ I got up to her and she cruised down the lane and put her head out in front of the other horse. She gave me a lot today. I felt she gave me what she could to win the race.”
“I had gone a little light on her (training) so I just told John she’s not going to be as tight,” added Baffert. “I felt there’d be a little room for error, but there wasn’t much room at all.”
Later on the card, Pee Wee Reese parlayed a perfect trip into victory in the five-furlong, $200,000 Eddie D. Stakes (G2). Racing over the same course and distance as the November 2 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1), Pee Wee Reese tucked in behind runners early on under a perfect ride from jockey Flavien Prat, then slipped through along the rail to seize a clear lead in the homestretch.
“We had a good trip. He broke well and there were two horses that were off quicker than us, so we sort of sat in behind them,” Prat explained. “When we had the opening in the stretch, he gave me a good kick.”
This decisive ground-saving move made all the difference as Pee Wee Reese held off 9-5 favorite Eddie Haskell by half a length in :55.33. The latter dropped far behind fast early fractions of :21.41 and :43.92, then had to angle extremely wide coming off the turn, which arguably cost him victory. Stormy Liberal, two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, ran an even race to finish third.
Bred and owned by Nick Alexander, Pee Wee Reese had not run since defeating Eddie Haskell in the 6 1/2-furlong Sensational Star Stakes on March 31 at Santa Anita. But trainer Philip D’Amato had the six-year-old son of Tribal Rule ready to roll off the layoff, and the result was the fourth stakes win of Pee Wee Reese’s career. The Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint now looms as a logical target.