I have been watching the “Big Cap” saga, and there is so much on YouTube, that it is hard not to find anything. But, after further review, I have come away with a feeling in my gut.
Chantal Sutherland is a bright star. She rode the winner Game on Dude to victory in the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap for trainer Bob Baffert. Chantal looked cool as she explained her side of the story, and had the look of a well-seasoned veteran. But what caught my eye was Mr. Baffert. Bob usually has that California cool about him, and with his blue blazer and shades, he has the look of a man who is comfortable in his own skin. There was someone taping the entire event as the inquiry sign went up, and everything that went down.
Baffert started pacing. He then began to get animated. This is out of his wheelhouse, and far from his cool demeanor. He approached Victor Espinoza, who was up on Setsuko for Dick Mandella. He told Espinoza, “your horse was empty, you had nothing left.” Victor did not reply as Baffert is a big player, and he would want to secure some mounts down the road.
There was a great deal of bumping down the lane, the stewards talked to Sutherland and Espinoza twice, and Bob Baffert…. I understand the riders, but unless a trainer claims a foul, they are not to be on the phones. Mr. Baffert was told by the stewards that they did not have time to talk to him as they were sorting out the finish. They would talk to him the next day and ask why he called them…. Good question…..
Dick Mandella was the quiet man. He said no comments, and did not lobby for his runner. He let his rider do the talking, and the stewards do their job. This is how it is intended. But, Baffert felt that he needed to pace, talk, make excuses, talk to the other riders, and then call the stewards. Isn’t this a little odd? How come Mandella did not?
After a 12-minute inquiry, and in front of 23,304 fans, the inquiry came down and the stewards voted 2-1 not to change the outcome. Baffert danced, and went over and shook the hand of Dick Mandella. Nice gesture, but you could have taken a cue from him on how to act. He did not comment or draw attention to his camp. He let the process take place, and it wasn’t until the next day that voices were heard.
Victor Espinoza said the following day “that the wrong decision was made.” His horse was compromised, and Setsuko lost by a head after being brutalized. Mandella did not really revel in the loss, and was more worried about his horse. That is the business, and you are not to extend your views to influence others. I am happy for Chantal, as she became the first woman to win the “Big Cap.” I have read that she was greeted to the winner’s circle to a throng of boos….. That had to be bittersweet, and must have been hard. In my opinion, I feel that it is not the place of the trainer to lobby the stewards, and approach other riders. It could be taken as a sort of intimidation, as Baffert is the player on the left coast. But at the end of the day, Game on Dude is the winner, and Setsuko ran a head behind for second.