by Keith McCalmont
Trainer Charlton Baker said he is keeping his 30-horse barn fit and ready to race during the delay to the start of the Belmont Park spring/summer meet.
"We're maintaining their fitness and continuing to breeze them, so we're ready to go when we get the green light," said Baker. "I have a few coming off a layoff and we're working to get them ready in time for when we re-open."
A native of St. Catherine Parish in Jamaica, Baker grew up around the racetrack. A third-generation horseman, his father, Carl, trained horses at Caymanas Park in Jamaica and later at Finger Lakes.
Baker said he initially wanted to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, Cecil, and become a jockey.
"All the kids in my neighborhood wanted to be a jockey because we lived beside the track," said Baker. "We grew up around racehorses and went to the races every weekend, but when I turned 10 I decided I wanted to be a trainer."
Baker left Jamaica in 1987 in pursuit of his passion and worked his way up from hotwalker until eventually taking out his trainer's license in 1997. He has more than followed through on his ambitions with 1,666 career wins and purse earnings just shy of $34 million.
His greatest success thus far came with Joking, a horse he claimed for $20,000 in 2014, who would complete his career in 2016 with four straight wins including scores in the Grade 2 True North and Grade 1 Vosburgh Invitational at Belmont Park.
"He was definitely my most accomplished horse so far," said Baker. "He was such a competitor and he always wanted to win."
The Kentucky-bred Joking shipped to California for the Breeders' Cup Sprint but became ill and had to be scratched.
"It's unfortunate because he was doing so great, but that's part of the game," said Baker.
Joking was retired with a record of 39-10-8-8 and purse earnings of $846,138, and is now enjoying the good life at Old Friends Farm in Kentucky.
"He's doing pretty good down there. They send me pictures of him all the time," said Baker.
Baker's business focuses mainly on New York-breds, including 2019 NYSSS Staten Island victor Our Super Nova and the popular Francis Paolangeli homebred Gold for the King, who finished third in the 2019 Grade 3 Toboggan at Aqueduct.
"I'm willing to venture outside that, but my clients are breeders and they breed New York-breds," said Baker. "They like the New York-bred program because of the incentives. It's a great program and that's why I have more New York-breds than anything else."
Gold for the King is a four-time stakes winner with scores in the 2016 Notebook, 2017 NYSSS Times Square, as well as the 2017 and 2018 NYSSS Thunder Rumble. The now 6-year-old gelding was off-the-board last out in the 2019 Thunder Rumble on November 24 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
"He's currently on the farm," said Baker. "He'll be back in a few weeks to get ready for the campaign."
Our Super Nova, owned by Baker with Michael S. Foster and Lauren Linn, boasts a record of 6-4-3 with purse earnings of $351,695. Bred in the Empire State by Tracy Egan, Baker said the 5-year-old Boys At Toscanova mare will be back in training soon.
"We gave Our Super Nova a couple month's off and we'll try and bring her back in another week or so," said Baker. "She's been on the farm getting ready."
Baker said he also has high hopes for New York-bred Awesome Debate, a 4-year-old daughter of Honorable Dillon bred and owned by the veteran conditioner.
The hard-trying grey has four wins and two seconds from eight career starts and earned a career-best 72 Beyer Speed Figure in a last-out state-bred allowance win on March 14 at Aqueduct.
"She's a very game filly. She's only ran two bad races in her career and she had excuses for those. She tries hard every time," said Baker. "She's only raced twice as a 4-year-old, so she has room to improve."
Awesome Debate, currently in training at Belmont Park, is out of the Freud mare Heathy Debate, who posted a record of six wins and two seconds in 15 career starts.
"I trained the mare and always liked her - she was very game - and I decided I wanted to breed her," said Baker. "It's nice to be able to breed one, see them grow up and watch them come along to the track."
Until live racing returns in New York, Baker said he will continue to keep his horses fit and happy, including the Kentucky-bred Honor Way, a multiple-stakes placed daughter of Caleb's Posse, who breezed five-eighths in a bullet 59.01 on April 25 on the Belmont Park dirt training track.
"She's in good fitness right now and ready to run," said Baker. "Hopefully, we'll have a chance to run sooner than later."
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Handal ships and wins at Oaklawn with New York-bred Timely Tradition
Trainer Ray Handal experienced the highs and lows of horse racing with shippers Kansas Kis and Timely Tradition on closing weekend at Oaklawn Park.
The duo were the first starters for Handal since March 15, the last day of live racing in New York, when he saddled Timely Tradition for a victory in a restricted claiming sprint at the Big A.
In Friday's Grade 3 Fantasy, Perrine Time Thoroughbreds' Kansas Kis was bumped at the start and raced from next-to-last in the 14-horse field as Venetian Harbor and Swiss Skydiver battled on the lead. Kansas Kis advanced down the backstretch and circled wide through the turn, but ultimately finished twelfth as Swiss Skydiver won a thrilling stretch duel.
A day later, New York-bred Timely Tradition broke sharply under Joel Rosario from the inside post in a six-furlong starter allowance and never looked back in a decisive 2 ¾-length front-running score.
"It was nice to win that race. The filly really ran a big one for us," said Handal. "Obviously, it was a little disappointing with Kansas Kis."
Kansas Kis utilized a prominent trip in her previous start in the Busher Invitational when defeated a nose by Water White on March 7 at the Big A. On Friday, Kansas Kis was boisterous on post parade and was away awkwardly under jockey Florent Geroux before getting stuck behind a wall of horses into the first turn.
Handal said Kansas Kis can be a little fiery but was compromised by a less-than-perfect break.
"What I didn't like was the stutter step at the break. She's a filly that's very tactical and being way back like that on a speed-favoring track didn't help," said Handal. "Especially, going into the first turn with all the checking and everything else going on in front of Florent. I don't think she really liked the kick back.
"She never really got into a steady rhythm," continued Handal. "By the time she got her feet underneath her, she made a mild run but really everything just went wrong from the break to the half-mile pole."
Handal said he remains confident in his filly and believes she will improve from the race experience.
"I told the owners that this race doesn't define this filly. She's a very good filly and a stone-cold runner and she's going to keep getting better with age," said Handal. "It was a lot to ask of her, but I think she got a lot out it. This was a Kentucky Oaks type field."
Bush Racing Stable's Timely Tradition, bred in the Empire State by Mr. and Mrs. Bertram R. Firestone, secured her ninth career win to remain undefeated in two starts for Handal.
The 6-year-old First Defence mare was claimed for $25,000 out of a third-place effort on January 26 at Aqueduct Racetrack. She followed up by earning a career-best 86 Beyer Speed Figure with a 3 ¼-length score in a restricted claiming sprint on March 15 before shipping outside of New York for the first time in her 27-race career.
"When I got her, I thought of her as being ready made and as long as she kept running the way she was running we could make money with her," said Handal. "She's done well for us and put on weight. Even shipping down to Arkansas, she held her weight real well.
"She's been a good claim," continued Handal. "I think when racing starts back up here in New York, we'll be in good shape. She could be a New York-bred stakes horse."
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Notables on the Belmont work tab
A busy Saturday saw 174 horses take to the Belmont Park dirt training track led by last year's Grade 1 Belmont Stakes champ Sir Winston, who covered five-eighths in 1:01.93 for trainer Mark Casse. Also on the work tab for the Casse barn was Grade 1 Spinaway winner Perfect Alibi, who was clocked five-eighths in 1:02.67.
Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stables' Mind Control covered a half-mile in 50.03 Saturday morning. Trained by Gregg Sacco, the 4-year-old Stay Thirsty colt's ledger includes a pair of Grade 1 wins at Saratoga Race Course, beginning with the Grade 1 Hopeful as a juvenile and the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens in August.
Jeff Fazio and Michael Fazio's Joevia, who won the 2019 Long Branch at Monmouth Park, breezed a sharp half-mile in 48.04 Saturday. The dark bay son of Shanghai Bobby was third in last year's Belmont Stakes.
Rudy Rodriguez sent out a slew of stakes winners to work this week including 2019 Easy Goer champ Majid who breezed a half-mile in 50.03 on April 28. Not That Brady, the 2018 Damon Runyon winner and 2019 Grade 3 Withers runner-up, worked a half-mile in 50.44 on April 28. Water White, last out winner of the Busher Invitational, also breezed on April 28 covering five-eighths in 1:04.22.
Trainer John Morrison sent out stable stars Carrera Cat and The Last Ace on April 28. Carrera Cat, winner of the 2019 Union Avenue at the Spa, breezed five furlongs in a bullet 59.74 with impressive maiden winner The Last Ace clocking five furlongs in 1:00.88.
Stakes-placed wet track specialist Slimey, trained by David Cannizzo, went a half-mile in 51.87 on April 28.
Chad Brown's last-out Biogio's Rose winner More Mischief breezed a half-mile in 48.60 on April 29. That same morning, 2018 Grade 1 Malibu runner-up Identity Politics went four furlongs in 49.36.
New York-bred Fierce Lady, winner of the 2019 Seeking the Ante at Saratoga, breezed three-eighths in 39.99 on Thursday for trainer Dermot Magner.