January 23, 2022

Gamine glides in Las Flores

Gamine and jockey John Velazquez win the Las Flores Stakes (Photo by Benoit Photo)

You could call Sunday’s $98,000 Las Flores S. (G3) a paid work in company for returning champion Gamine, except she didn’t see much of her three overmatched rivals. Rather, the prohibitive 1-20 favorite’s stroll around Santa Anita appeared more like an Easter parade.

Last seen clinching an Eclipse Award in a Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) rout at Keeneland Nov. 7, Gamine has her first main objective the Derby City Distaff (G1) on May 1, Kentucky Derby Day, at Churchill Downs. Trainer Bob Baffert made a late decision to use the Las Flores as a tightener, supplementing the newly turned four-year-old to this spot.

Michael Lund Petersen’s Gamine towered literally and figuratively over an opposing trio. Her stablemate Qahira went off as the 10-1 second choice, while the 31-1 Biddy Duke and 44-1 Hang a Star were bigger longshots. The market nailed the order of finish.

Gamine broke in good order on the rail and made the lead in a few sweeping strides. A length up through an opening quarter in :22.74, the Into Mischief filly was on cruise control at the half in :45.77. As she began to open up on the far turn, Gamine’s ears were flicking about even more conspicuously.

Jockey John Velazquez gave her a barely perceptible nudge in the stretch, and Gamine responded to switch to her right lead. She pulled five lengths clear, still in hand, and finished six furlongs in 1:09.52.

“She came back so good,” Velazquez said. “Bob has done a great job to bring her back after so many months on a layoff. She felt as good as last year.

“Bob thinks she’s not ready yet, that’s what he told me,” he added, laughing. “She does everything so effortlessly – it’s just everything she does makes my job a lot easier. I just steer where I want to go and that’s it. That’s the biggest point of her strength, I believe.”

Baffert had the exacta with Qahira pulling 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Biddy Duke. The placegetters had been third and fourth, respectively, behind Baffert’s Merneith in the Feb. 13 Santa Monica (G2). Rounding out the quartet was Hang a Star, who dropped far back and was allowed to coast home in her own time.

Baffert’s one worry for Gamine was “bad luck,” he admitted.

“I told (Johnny) before, ‘With the one hole, make sure you don’t let her make the gap. Ride her like she’s 10-1.’ I’m happy for my owners and everybody involved. They are excited, it’s Easter Sunday, so it’s a big win. For her to start off here, I’m glad I got to run her. There’s a lot of people who came out to watch her run.

“Michael Lund has been a great supporter of mine. I told him I was going to give her a little race, but the purse isn’t very big. But he was excited he said, ‘I want to see her run.’ So when you own one like that, it’s fun to see them run.”

Petersen purchased Gamine as a juvenile for $1.8 million at Fasig-Tipton’s Midlantic May Sale. She’d been a pinhook home run for Brad Grady’s Grand Oaks, her buyer for $220,000 at Keeneland September. Bred under the banner of Barbara Banke’s Grace Thoroughbred Holdings, Gamine is out of the stakes-placed Kafwain mare Peggy Jane.

Gamine’s official scorecard reads 7-5-0-0, $943,000. Both unplaced efforts came as the result of disqualifications for returning positive postrace tests, and both happened to come in her two route attempts. A dominant debut winner sprinting here last March, the bay held on in a two-turn allowance at Oaklawn, only to be stripped of her win because of a lidocaine positive.

Gamine came right back to annihilate the Acorn (G1) by 18 3/4 lengths and romped by seven in the Test (G1). She appeared not to stay 1 1/8 miles when third in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) to Shedaresthedevil and Swiss Skydiver, but a betamethasone positive led to her losing that placing as well. Reverting in trip for the Breeders’ Cup, Gamine retained her perfect mark around one turn, and propelled herself to the champion female sprinter title.

After the Las Flores, Baffert again brought up the idea of trying her over longer.

“They (the fans) saw one of the greatest fillies I’ve ever trained going one turn. Hopefully we’ll stretch her out.”