As if Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert needed another Kentucky Derby candidate, he certainly has one to be excited about after Roadster made a triumphant return Friday in a one-mile optional allowance claiming race at Santa Anita.
Ridden by Mike Smith, the 3-year-old son of sire Quality Road won by 2 1/2 lengths over the highly regarded Nolo Contesto. After Roadster finished a disappointing third last September as the favorite in the Grade I Del Mar Futurity, it was determined he had a breathing issue. He had a minor procedure and came back a winner after more than five months without a race.
“He had to run this week to look for something else,” Baffert said. “I’m glad he’s back. We called him the TMZ horse because he was the one everybody was talking about back in the summer. What he did today was pretty impressive after a layoff.”
Roadster ran in third place in the five-horse field to start, then took the lead turning into the stretch and was never threatened. Smith used a firm hand ride and didn’t touch his whip.
“I’m just so happy his mechanics, his air — everything was smooth like a beautiful car,” Smith said. “It was amazing how everything went, whereas the time before when we found out he had a bit of a breathing problem, you could tell he was struggling with his air. After the race, he made a lot of noise. We gave him some time off, had minor surgery and it seemed to really work. He was happy out there.
“Today he was loving it and he could have done a whole lot more, which is a good sign.”
Baffert already boasts three Kentucky Derby contenders in Game Winner, Improbable and Mucho Gusto. Now he must find a spot for Roadster to gain some points to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby.
After a week of safety concerns regarding the main track at Santa Anita after a recent spike in horse deaths, there have been no reported problems in the last two days.
“Seems great to me,” Smith said. “They’re floating over it.”