While cutters head for major events that begin this weekend in Oklahoma and Nevada, Quarter and Thoroughbred race fans will be tuned to New Mexico and New York for the first leg and the last leg of racing’s two Triple Crown events.
The Non-Pro Cutting, in Ardmore, Okla., the PCCHA Core Balance Derby, in Las Vegas, and the Ruidoso Futurity and Derby, highlight Quarter Horse performancers. The Ruidoso Futurity is the first jewel in the Quarter Horse Triple Crown, but the 2018 Belmont Stakes, where Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Justify makes his bid for the Thoroughbred Triple Crown, also has strong Quarter Horse connections.
Justify’s trainer, Bob Baffert, grew up on a 240-acre cattle ranch near Nogales, AZ and began galloping his father’s Quarter race horses when he was 12. He hoped to become a jockey, but by the time he graduated from the University of Arizona, he was training Quarter Horses on the side.
In the early 1980s, with leading trainer titles to his credit from Arizona’s Rillito Downs and Prescott Downs, Baffert landed in California, where he acquired Gold Coast Express, a 3-year-old palomino gelding that he conditioned to win the 1986 AQHA World Championship.
In the late 1980s at California’s Los Alamitos Race Track, in addition to Quarter Horses, Baffert began training Thoroughbreds. He rose to national prominence in the Thoroughbred world when he saddled Thirty Slews to win the 1992 Breeders Cup Sprint at Gulfstream.
In 1997 and 1998, Baffert won rare back-to-back victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes with Silver Charm (1997) and Real Quiet (1998); in 2002, he won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes with War Emblem; and in 2015, Baffert sent out American Pharoah, who became the first Thoroughbred Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
Justify’s jockey Mike Smith, looking for his first Triple Crown win at the age of 52, got his start riding Quarter Horses in New Mexico, where he grew up. Other Quarter Horse connections in the 2018 Belmont Stakes include contender Tenfold’s trainer Steve Asmussen, who won his first race at Ruidoso Downs, where his father rode Quarter Horses and his mother trained them, and Todd Pletcher, who saddles contenders Vino Rosso and Noble Indy, and as a boy served as a hot walker for his father Jake, a trainer at Ruidoso Downs.
Post time for the Belmont Stakes is Saturday, June 9 at 4:00 pm CDT: https://www.nbcsports.com/belmont-stakes
The $1 Million Ruidoso Futurity will be the last of 10 races beginning at 1:00 pm at Ruidoso Downs on Sunday, June 10: https://www.raceruidoso.com/suza-returns-faces-tough-task-in-1-million-ruidoso-futurity/