Reade Baker has celebrated in the winner’s circle at long odds.
The veteran trainer captured the 2015 Woodbine Oaks with 66-1 longshot Academic and ’12 Plate Trial with 21-1 pick River Rush. So Baker isn’t fazed that Breaking Lucky is an early 25-1 selection for the inaugural US$12-million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
“We’re all horse people, we go to the races . . . horses pay $80 every day,” Baker said via telephone from Florida. “This is a dream come true, I love the pressure.
“This is what you’re supposed to do . . . go right for the top level.”
The $7-million winner’s share doesn’t hurt, either. Breaking Lucky will be one of two Canadian classic winners in the 12-horse field â€” the other is 2015 Queen’s Plate winner Shaman Ghost (20-1) â€” while Mark Casse, eight times Canada’s top trainer, sends Noble Bird (25-1) postward.
Saturday’s race will be the richest in thorougbred history. It’s the brainchild of veteran horseman Frank Stronach of Aurora, Ont., the founder of auto parts company Magna International.
The field features racing heavyweights California Chrome and Arrogate on the speed-favouring Gulfstream course.
California Chrome, the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, is the early 6-5 favourite. He has won seven of his last eight starts and amassed more earnings (over $14.5 million) than any North American horse.
Arrogate, the 7-5 second pick, won five races last year, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic over California Chome. Keen Ice, who upset Triple Crown winner American Pharoah at the ’15 Travers Stakes, is also running.
A factor in the field’s favour is where the two favourites will start. Arrogate drew the No. 1 post while California Chrome lines up at No. 12.
Since ’06, horses starting from the No. 12 post in 1 1/8-mile races at Gulfstream are a dismal 1-of-18. Big Brown won the ’08 Florida Derby at Gulfstream from the No. 12 post before capturing the Kentucky Derby.
“The two favourites couldn’t have drawn worse posts,” Casse said. “I do believe, though, if California Chrome breaks he may be just so fast it might not matter.”
Breaking Lucky, with Woodbine’s Luis Contreras aboard, starts from the No. 10 post. Stronach Farms’ Shaman Ghost and jockey Jose Ortiz will line up in the No. 7 post while Noble Bird and rider Julien Leparoux, have the No. 4 post.
Breaking Lucky, a five-year-old chestnut, has won three-of-16 career starts and finished in the money 10 times. He has earned $612,376 and was second to Gun Runner in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap on Nov. 25 ahead of third-place finisher Shaman Ghost while Noble Bird was seventh.
“Certainly in the past (Breaking Lucky) hasn’t run as fast as the other two horses (California Chrome, Arrogate) in the race,” Baker said. “But he’s in perfect condition, perfect health and you wouldn’t want a horse to come into a race any better.
“It’s the perfect distance for him. He has agility and he’s easy to race so he could do anything you want, it’s just can he do it fast enough?”
Baker, 69, of Port Dalhousie, Ont., likes the race format.
“We’re looking for something to rejuvenate the industry,” he said. “Hopefully this will be it.”
Noble Bird, a six-year-old American owned and bred horse, has seven wins from 20 career starts and over $1-million in earnings. But he’s coming off a disappointing Clark Handicap and Casse admits he never really knows what the horse’s mindset will be.
“One time he’ll run like he’s the next coming of Seabiscuit, another time he’ll not run at all,” Casse said. “It’s attitude, for sure.
“If he doesn’t get things his way, he kind of sulks but you can’t really worry about things you have no control over. All we can do is bring him here in the best shape we can.”
Casse said Noble Bird will be on or near the lead Saturday.
“We don’t have a choice,” he said. “We’ve tried it all different ways with our horse and we know the only way it works so we’re going to dance with one that brought us.
“The perfect trip for Noble Bird is first he behaves in the gate then breaks cleanly. Hopefully there’s pressure put on Arrogate where he kind of loses position going into the first turn and California Chrome is about six or seven wide for the entire turn. That would be the ideal situation.”
After winning the ’15 Plate, Shaman Ghost finished second to 13-1 pick Breaking Lucky in the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes, the second jewel of Canada’s Triple Crown. He won the 1 1/8-mile Grade 1 Woodward Stakes on Sept. 3 and trainer Jimmy Jerkens was happy with the horse’s effort in the Clark Handicap.
“He made a nice run around the turn but was losing ground and they weren’t going fast enough ahead of him to tire,” he said. “When he saw that he got a little disappointed and it looked like he was going to fall out of it but he kept going to finish third.
“It’s always a good sign when they come back on like that.”
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press