Officer does his duty, takes Champagne

Attack site moves Baffert, keeps win in perspective

October 07, 2001|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

ELMONT, N.Y. - Bob Baffert drove into New York City on Friday and visited the site where the World Trade Center once stood.

Yesterday, he stood in the winner's circle at Belmont Park after Officer, his electrifying 2-year-old colt, won the Champagne Stakes.

"It makes you think," Baffert said of the devastation in the city. "Here I am worried about losing a race, or worrying about a horse getting sick."

Then, speaking about Officer's potential, he said: "At least the people around here got a little excitement today. Maybe people can get behind this horse. Maybe this is the start of something big.

"Racing fans out there are always looking for the next superstar. Hopefully, he's it."

Officer has run only five races during a span of three months, but in that time he has captured the imagination of a sport searching for the next Cigar, Secretariat or Seattle Slew. After four overpowering victories in California and yesterday's leisurely triumph in the Grade I $500,000 Champagne, Officer packs more star potential than any other horse in this country.

Officer's jockey, Victor Espinoza, has ridden Point Given, Tiznow and Fusaichi Pegasus, and he said of Officer: "He's much the best of all of them."

As the 1-5 favorite, Officer returned $2.60 to win after completing 1 1/16 miles in 1 minute, 43.39 seconds. Jump Start finished second, and Heavyweight Champ, a Maryland-bred son of Two Punch, finished third after setting the pace.

Not even the best older horses in America can match Officer for pop and sizzle.

Three races after the Champagne, Aptitude devoured six opponents in the Grade I $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup, winning by 10 lengths.

Trained by the hot Bobby Frankel, Aptitude might have earned the role of favorite in the Breeders' Cup Classic, to be run in three weeks at Belmont. Yet Aptitude, a winner of five of 14 races and best known for fast-closing seconds in last year's Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, lacks the appeal of the still-unproven Officer.

Aptitude's victory and You's win in the Grade I $500,000 Frizette Stakes provided Frankel his 12th and 13th Grade I scores of the year.

The California-based Frankel credited Aptitude's recent success - three straight victories after only two in his first 11 tries - to the addition of blinkers and to soundness. He said that Aptitude, a 4-year-old son of A.P. Indy, has overcome minor physical problems that compromised earlier efforts.

Of his colt's effort in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Frankel said: "Awesome, awesome. I never gave up on him, and he's coming around."

Generous Rosi, a 23-1 long shot, finished second, and the 82-1 Country Gold rallied for third. Albert the Great, the 6-5 favorite, finished a lackluster fourth.

As the 7-5 second choice, Aptitude paid $4.80 to win and headed a $69 exacta and $754 trifecta. Aptitude's time for 1 1/4 miles was 2 minutes, 1.49 seconds.

You carried jockey Edgar Prado to a 6 1/4 -length win over Cashier's Dream in the Frizette, a 1 1/16-mile test for 2-year-old fillies. You, at 7-5, and Cashier's Dream, at even money, combined for a $7.80 exacta. Treasure Coast Gem, an 18-1 long shot trained by Fran Campitelli at Pimlico Race Course, finished fourth in the five-horse field.

Frankel's other entrant in a top stakes at Belmont, 3-year-old filly Flute, finished second in the $750,000 Beldame Stakes. Exogenous, at 7-2, upset 4-5 Flute with a late, swerving charge down the stretch. Spain claimed third, and 6-year-old Beautiful Pleasure staggered home sixth.

In the Grade II $250,000 Kelso Handicap, Forbidden Apple surged on the rail for a half-length victory in the mile race on turf. Union One, trained by Michael Dickinson at his farm in Cecil County, finished eighth.

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