For some reason, trainer Bob Baffert doesn't consider Victory Gallop-Real Quiet a rivalry. Skip Away-Silver Charm, says Baffert, will be the rivalry. Right much of the time, Baffert is off on this one. His Real Quiet and Victory Gallop just completed a Triple Crown series in which they were separated by less than three lengths in the three races, and if that's not a rivalry, pigs can fly.
Real Quiet beat Victory Gallop by a half-length in the Kentucky Derby and by 2 1/4 lengths in the Preakness and after Victory Gallop won Saturday's Belmont by a nose, spoiling Real Quiet's Triple Crown bid, the racing public will expect these exceptional colts to butt heads again. After the Belmont, both horses were to be sent back to Churchill Downs, but that's only a layover for Real Quiet, whose real destination is Baffert's barn at Santa Anita.
After that, Baffert will reconnoiter. "All I ask is that they come back to walk after the race," he says about all his horses, and Real Quiet, though exhausted the final eighth of a mile in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, was reportedly chipper Sunday before he boarded a plane for Louisville.
"He was doing so good that I could run him in two weeks if I wanted to," Baffert said.
Because of Real Quiet's resilience, he will not get the long rest that Silver Charm had after he won the Derby and Preakness and finished second in last year's Triple Crown. After the Belmont, too-pooped-to-push Silver Charm didn't run again until late December. With no plan in his head, Baffert mentioned a few races Sunday as possibilities for Real Quiet.
"I've got Indian Charlie [third in the Derby in his last start] for the Haskell," he said. "But if they've both doing well, I could run Real Quiet in there too."
The Haskell Handicap, which will be run on Aug. 9 at Monmouth Park near the North New Jersey shore, is a $1-million race at 1 1/8 miles, probably Indian Charlie's best distance. For Real Quiet, another option mentioned by Baffert was the $500,000 Swaps Stakes, which will be run at 1 1/8 miles on July 19 at Hollywood Park.
"When two horses keep running against each other," Baffert said, referring to Real Quiet and Victory Gallop, "it becomes the law of averages. They're going to beat each other. One horse can't win every time."
This year's 3-year-old crop, hit hard by injuries to several top horses, has been roundly criticized, but Baffert feels that Saturday's bang-up finish proved that Real Quiet and Victory Gallop are tough horses.
Elliott Walden, the trainer of Victory Gallop, stood on crutches outside his colt's barn Sunday morning, patiently answering post-mortem questions about the Belmont. Walden broke his ankle playing basketball eight days before the race.
"My horse came out of this one much better than he came out of the Preakness," Walden said. "I think he's now right where he was going into the Kentucky Derby. We're pointing him for the Haskell."
The Pasadena-based Team Valor, which finished third with Thomas Jo, was interested in buying Victory Gallop last winter. The eventual owners of Victory Gallop--Jack, Art and J.R. Preston--won't say what they paid for the colt, but Barry Irwin, president of Team Valor, said that the asking price when they inquired was $500,000.
Irwin sent X-rays of Victory Gallop to Alex Harthill, the nationally recognized Louisville veterinarian who had recommended that Team Valor buy the stakes-winning Captain Bodgit two years ago.
"Did you want me to operate on this horse?" Harthill asked Irwin.
"No, we don't even own him," Irwin said. "We're just thinking about buying him. What is it?"
"He's got a bad ankle," Harthill said. "I wouldn't do it if I were you."
Irwin sent the X-rays to another veterinarian for a second opinion.
"The ankle's real bad," he was told. "I give this horse three races at the most."
Since then, Victory Gallop has run five times, winning three stakes, including the Arkansas Derby and the Belmont.
"I could feel him swelling up underneath me," jockey Gary Stevens said about mounting Victory Gallop Saturday. "He grabbed the bridle. He was a different horse than he was in the Preakness."
Stevens, who had a hand in denying Real Quiet the $5-million Triple Crown bonus, will ride Silver Charm for Baffert in the $750,000 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs on Saturday.
"Maybe Gary will pay you back for the Belmont," someone said to Baffert Sunday.
"It's going to take him five years to do that," Baffert said.