Horses keep you humble.
It's an old adage trainer Chad Summers knows too well. Summers started his training career roughly a year ago in spectacular fashion, saddling Mind Your Biscuits ahead of a win in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen.
Summers, 33, said he's spent every day of that year learning. The success of 'Biscuits,' a private purchase by Summers after the colt failed to make reserve at OBS April, lit a fire beneath Summers' budding career.
“It's funny because when your first win comes in a $2 million race, you think you've got the bull by the horns,” he said, standing outside his Belmont Park barn. “Everyone jokes it's all downhill from there. You go from five to 50 (horses) very quickly and if you're not completely prepared for it and don't have the staff prepared, things are going to happen. Sometimes things get missed when you have a big crew. I don't like missing things.
“Now we're down to a much more manageable number. I have 15 here, I have 10 down in Florida and this is the happiest I've been in a while.”
Biscuits' success gave Summers a jumpstart, but it also prompted owners to bring him other budget purchases with the expectation he could make them stakes horses. Summers said he was lucky to have overachievers in the barn who could outrun their purchase prices or pedigrees, but those are the exceptions rather than the rule.
“When you play the game the right way and follow the rules, you don't turn those horses into stakes horses,” he said. “With the good ones like Biscuits, you can overachieve. With the other ones, you have to explain to the connections, 'This is the best spot for your horse. If you want to have the best chance to win races and make the purse money, this is your best opportunity.' And sometimes that's not an easy conversation to have, especially when they've paid what they have.”
One conversation Summers has had no problem with is his take on a horse's work. Biscuits made headlines after a work Summers called “disappointing” in August of last year while he was on the on-ramp to the Breeders' Cup. The young trainer's background in media (he started his racing career at the now-defunct Thoroughbred Times) has made him inclined to shoot straight if he isn't happy with the way a horse is going – even if it ruffles some feathers.
For Summers, the quality of a work has little to do with the stopwatch.
“It's never about time,” he said. “That's one of the misconceptions. Everyone sits there and says 'This horse worked in :47, he worked great!' but how did he do it? Why'd he do it? How did he come back out of it after going like that?”
One of the biggest lessons he says horses have taught him in the last year: listen to your instincts first. Summers sent Biscuits to the Forego, where he finished a disappointing sixth after the rough workout.
“Listen to your horse. Don't go ahead and run him anyway – he's telling you something's up,” said Summers. “It might not even be a physical thing. With Biscuits, he wasn't doing bad because he was hurt or masking an injury, he just wasn't himself. When you know your horses like that, you're able to listen to them.”
He hopes he has gotten better about that. Summers' runner Maimo had been on track to start in the Easy Goer Stakes earlier this spring but after his most recent work, Summers wasn't sure. He was satisfied the horse was comfortable, but not convinced he was good enough to face stakes company yet. So, Maimo will instead run in an allowance race on the Belmont undercard. Sometimes, he believes, the best thing for a horse is patience.
Summers will saddle Mind Your Biscuits for another Grade 1 try later in the afternoon and send the sensitive and sometimes-challenging chestnut to post in the G1 Met Mile. At the end of his 2018 season, the son of Posse will head off to Japan for stud duty at Shadai Farm. Summers admits the transition will take a toll on him emotionally.
“It's almost like he's my brother at this point,” he said. “We've been through so much over the last four years together. Putting the deal together for Japan wasn't easy for me, but knowing that's going to be his best opportunity as a stallion, that was the big driving force behind that. He's going to be in a place that will love him and care for him like we do, and we'll go there and visit him and try and buy some of his babies at the yearling sales in Japan.”
Baffert By the Numbers
By Ray Paulick
Bob Baffert's quest to become the winningest trainer in Triple Crown history with Triple Crown hopeful Justify is accompanied by a success rate that is almost unimaginable.
Since 1996, the Hall of Fame horseman has brought 29 horses to the Kentucky Derby on 18 occasions, and he's won the roses five times. That's a 17 percent win rate overall and 28 percent if you look at years when he's had multiple starters as a single entity. Considering the Derby has upwards of 20 starters each year, he is beating the odds no matter how you slice the numbers.
It's even more astounding in the Preakness, where Baffert boasts a record of seven wins from 17 tries (with 19 starters). That's a respective strike rate of 41 percent and 37 percent.
If he's had an Achilles heal, it's the mile and a half Belmont Stakes where Baffert has had 10 starters in 10 different years. Baffert's two wins is “only” 20 percent success rate, but add in three second-place finishes and he's 50 percent first or second.
Add them together and Baffert has won 14 Triple Crown races in 43 attempts with 58 runners. That's a 33 percent success rate. Counting all of his entries (most multiple horse entries came in the Derby) Baffert has a win percentage of 24 percent when he's saddled a horse in a Triple Crown race.
Todd Pletcher may pose the biggest challenge to Baffert in the Belmont Stakes with his entries of Noble Indy and Vino Rosso. Pletcher has won the Triple Crown's final leg three times in 14 tries with 24 different horses since 2018. That's a success rate of 21 percent from attempts and 13 percent from all runners.
Pletcher has participated in the Belmont every year since 2000 with the exception of 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2012.
The numbers are in Baffert's favor.
Chad Summers: “(Hopefully Saturday.) There are two: Point Given in the Belmont, I got goosebumps. The Real Quiet/Victory Gallop race — I was smaller back then and could sort of manuver around the crowd. I was literally standing on the wire when they crossed and I had no idea who won. Then I saw Elliott Walden hobbling on the crutches because he'd gotten hurt in the pick-up basketball game the week before.
Growing up in New York, the Belmont's a big deal to me, and the Met Mile is a big deal to me. We have a lot of memories here. To compete on this day is really an honor. And to go over there with the horse to beat in a race like the Met Mile is huge.”
Jennie Rees, longtime racing journalist: “The Curlin/Rags to Riches was a fabulous one. Two Hall of Fame horses that come down to the wire after a pretty protracted stretch duel. You had Hard Spun in there too, and he was a top horse. It was a little like the great Personal Ensign/Winning colors Breeders' Cup Distaff — no one remembers that a half length back in third was the Kentucky Oaks winner. She was only beat a half length behind for everything.
The Real Quiet race with Victory Gallop was really amazing. You really didn't know who won the photo and who the inquiry was with. Were you going to have a Triple Crown winner DQ'd, or would you have a Triple Crown winner moved up, because we didn't know who had done what. So as far as drama, 1998 was it.
Here's something Baffert told me one time: I was asking him about Real Quiet and I said something about his “failed Triple Crown bid” and he said “The horse didn't fail. He just didn't win.” I said, you know, that's right. Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, Smarty Jones — they didn't fail. They're up there with Spectacular Bid. They just didn't win.
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