Bob Baffert was sitting at a table at Clockers' Corner on Thursday, fielding questions about all the great horses he has in his barn. A reporter kept asking about Cupid running in the Awesome Again Stakes, but he kept answering about Mubtaahij, who was also in that race.
"He's a pretty nice horse," Baffert said of Mubtaahij. "He's been working really, really well. I wasn't pointing him to this race but the way he's worked I thought he deserved a chance to run."
And run he did. The 3-1 second favorite took a slight lead from an extremely game Midnight Storm at the top of the stretch and won the heavily contested Grade 1 race by 1½ lengths to earn a spot in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
It seems if Baffert is trying to tell you something, even if you're not asking, you should listen.
Mubtaahij's win highlighted a Saturday of five Grade 1 races at Santa Anita before a slightly disappointing on-track crowd of 16,592.
The day also found a very, very early Kentucky Derby horse in Bolt d'Oro, winner of the FrontRunner Stakes for 2-year-olds. Two of the past three winners of this race were American Pharoah and Nyquist, who both went on to win the Kentucky Derby. Bolt d'Oro, who took his third straight race, won by 7¾ lengths and earned an automatic entry into the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
"I look forward to the Breeders' Cup as well as the first Saturday in May in Kentucky," said 46-year-old jockey Corey Nakatani, who is looking for his first Kentucky Derby win to close out a long and successful career.
Trainer Mick Ruis spoke more cautiously of the future.
"Our goal was this race and the Breeders' Cup, and then give him a chance to grow up," Ruis said.
The Kentucky Derby is a lifetime away when it comes to getting a horse there. Saturday was all about the Breeders' Cup on Nov. 3-4 at Del Mar.
"I thought you wanted to talk about my second in the Grade 1 turf race," Baffert said, making fun of his reputation of not being a turf trainer.
But he quickly turned to his two horses in the 1 1/8-mile Awesome Again.
"I thought Cupid would be on the lead, or close to it," Baffert said of his beaten favorite, who finished fourth in the seven-horse field. "I'm surprised he flattened out at the end."
Of Mubtaahij, who Baffert said he was told means "cheery," he was more effusive.
"He has the class," he said. "He's proven. Even last year, those last few races in New York were pretty strong. He needed today. He got a little tired there at the end. He's good to have in the barn."
Mubtaahij paid $8.20 to win, $4.80 to place and $4.20 to show.
Baffert usually uses Mike Smith, Martin Garcia and Rafael Bejarano to ride his horses. But in this case, he went with Drayden Van Dyke.
"He's a good kid and he's been working a lot of my horses," Baffert said. "If you work them, we'll throw you a bone. That's the way it works here. You just have to wait for the bone. He got one with a little filet on it."
Right now, Baffert could have four horses in the Classic. In addition to Mubtaahij, he has Collected, winner of the Pacific Classic; West Coast, winner of the Travers Stakes and five in a row; and, of course, Arrogate, defending Classic champion and winner of the Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup.
"They're all in," Baffert said. "They're all being pointed for it, unless they're not training well or something."
And then he turned his attention to the Kentucky Derby.
"I just have to figure out how to make up 10 lengths on Bolt d'Oro," he said of the FrontRunner winner. "I think I can get five."
Baffert finished second in the race with Solomini.
It was a very good day for jockey Flavien Prat, who won three of the five Grade 1s.
He did a double with trainer Richard Mandella by winning the Zenyatta Stakes aboard Paradise Woods and the Rodeo Drive Stakes on Avenge. Both are races for female horses.
Prat also won the Chandelier Stakes for 2-year-old fillies with Moonshine Memories for trainer Simon Callaghan.
Saturday was pretty much the last tuneup for the Breeders' Cup races. Now the jockeys, trainers and owners must wait to see what happens next.