The Bob Baffert-trained Flashback, who generated plenty of buzz with his debut maiden win in December, officially burst onto the Kentucky Derby scene with a dominating display in Saturday's Grade 2, $196,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. Sent off as the heavy 1-2 favorite in a four-horse field, Gary and Mary West's colorbearer led throughout and surged 6 1/4 lengths clear under minimal encouragement from jockey Julien Leparoux.
"I want to thank Gary and Mary West for putting a monster like this in my lap," said Baffert, a Hall of Famer who has won the Kentucky Derby three times. "It makes it more fun when you have a horse like this."
A son of hot sire Tapit, Flashback easily secured the early lead through an opening quarter in :24 on the fast track. Even though the other Tapit colt, He's Had Enough, moved up to apply a modicum of pressure on the backstretch, Flashback proceeded to stride comfortably through splits of :48 3/5 and 1:12. Den's Legacy, his stablemate from the Baffert barn, and longshot Little Jerry tracked just behind.
Leaving the far turn, as Flashback kicked into high gear, He's Had Enough could no longer keep pace. The odds-on choice quickly opened up in a matter of strides, and the stretch run turned into a triumphal procession.
Flashback, who reached the mile mark in 1:36 2/5, widened his advantage and finished 1 1/16 miles in 1:42 4/5. Now a perfect two-for-two, the gray colt rewarded his fans with payouts of $3 and $2.40. There was no show wagering.
"I think he's still a little green," Leparoux said. "It was an easy race, we won easy, and this is a nice horse. If he keeps improving, I think he has a bright future."
Leparoux, who had ridden eventual Belmont Stakes hero Union Rags earlier last year, was asked if Flashback bore any comparison to him.
"Not yet," Leparoux said. "I think he will improve off this race, and I can't wait to ride him next time out. Many thanks to Bob Baffert and the owner. It's a pleasure to ride these kind of horses."
Baffert responded similarly when asked if he wished the Kentucky Derby were tomorrow.
"No, he's not ready yet," Baffert said. "We were hoping he would do something like that, but when a horse came to him, he pinned his ears a little bit. He's still pretty green. You can actually put him wherever you want him.
"They were going pretty slow early," the trainer added, "but I think he'll get something out of that race. As far as distance, it's not a problem. He has speed; he has tactical speed, but I don't think he's the kind of horse that needs to be on the lead or anything like that."
Den's Legacy overhauled He's Had Enough by a half-length for runner-up honors, completing the Baffert exacta. Third-placer He's Had Enough had 5 1/2 lengths to spare over Little Jerry.
Flashback, who was purchased for $260,000 as a Keeneland November weanling, has now bankrolled $147,000. He premiered at Hollywood Park in a seven-furlong maiden on December 8, where he rolled from just off the pace to score by 3 1/2 lengths. His impressive stakes, and two-turn, debut earned him 10 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
"We knew he was a special horse," Baffert said, "and to win the Robert B. Lewis is really a sentimental win for me because he was one of the greatest owners in the sport. It brings back a lot of good memories."
Baffert, who conditioned such memorable runners as 1997 Derby and Preakness-winning champion Silver Charm for the Lewises, has yet to decide on Flashback's next start.
"Right now, I don't know," Baffert said. "I'll speak with Gary (West). We'll just figure out a plan for him and just keep him healthy. That's the main plan right now. Right now I can't think that far ahead -- I just have to keep him healthy and keep him going forward."
Bred by William G. Andrade and Michael E. Hernon in Kentucky, Flashback is a full brother to the top-class filly Zazu, who captured the Grade 1 Lady's Secret, Grade 1 Las Virgenes and Grade 2 Hollywood Oaks. Her five stakes placings include the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch, the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks and the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks.
Flashback and Zazu are out of the winning Mr. Greeley mare Rhumb Line. She has also produced stakes winner Corinthian's Jewel and Group 2-placed Art Princess.