In addition to the task of his daily trips to the track, Bob Baffert knows he is going to be asked to make just as many ventures down memory lane in the coming days.
Ten years ago, the Hall of Fame trainer celebrated his first and only victory in the Grade I Travers Stakes when his towering charge Point Given delivered a sublime effort during the Mid-Summer Derby in what would be the final achievement of his Horse of the Year campaign.
Happy as he is to do it, Baffert isn't at Saratoga this week merely to recall what it was like to witness Point Given's emphatic coronation. Instead, Baffert is hoping the residual ability of his former champion is still able to produce a victory in the 11/4-mile race that leads to divisional honors.
A decade after Point Given's win, his son and fellow Baffert trainee Coil will try to duplicate his sire's feat when he faces nine others in the $1 million Travers on Saturday.
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Though Coil is coming off a win in the Grade I Haskell on July 31 — another race previously won by his sire — the lightly raced colt was made the 3-1 second choice in the morning line behind Grade II Jim Dandy winner Stay Thirsty, who was installed as the 5-2 pick and drew post position No. 9.
He may share the same chestnut coat as his sire but Coil's path to potential Travers glory bares only faint resemblance to Point Given's. Where Point Given was already head and shoulders above his peers off his romps in the Preakness Stakes, Belmont, and Haskell, Coil didn't even make his season debut until May 6 at Hollywood Park thanks to surgery for a minor knee chip at the end of 2010 that sidelined him for 40 days.
What Coil has displayed in his three wins from four starts this year is the kind of all-encompassing talent that made his father such a monster to hook. His neck victory over Preakness winner Shackleford in the Haskell was his first start on dirt, his first try against Grade I company, and the first time he had to rally from far back instead of using his natural speed.
"Point Given was definitely lightly raced as a 3-year-old, he only had two starts coming into the Derby and he was getting better and better as he went along," Baffert said. "Coil sort of reminds me of him a little bit in the fact that he's not as big, but he's the kind of horse that looks like he puts on weight with every race. He's a good doer, as we say, he's tough, but he's a lightly raced horse himself. I think this is a good spot for him. I'm just glad he's doing really well and I think it's going to be a great race."
After winning his season debut going 6 furlongs, Coil was more impressive in his first try going two turns when he captured the Grade III 11⁄16-mile Affirmed Handicap at Hollywood by a length.
Although he was caught in the lane by Dreamy Kid to finish second in the Grade II Swaps on July 9, he carried six more pounds than the winner that day. Owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman — who purchased Coil privately after his first start last October — agreed to press on to the Haskell where they watched their colt overcome a horrible start to rally from last and put himself in position to become the first 3-year-old male in this country to earn two Grade I wins in 2011.
"(Jockey) Martin Garcia was completely on his own last time," Baffert said of the Haskell. "It was a brilliant move on his part (to take him back) so I leave it up to Martin. I'd like to take more credit for the last race, but actually that was all Martin."
Coil has been battling a scratched right eyeball the past week but appeared unaffected when he worked a bullet 4 furlongs in :46.12 at Saratoga on Tuesday.
"It seems like we have it under control," Baffert said. "When he works like that he usually runs well."
Coil will break from post No. 7 on Saturday while Shackleford drew the outside post No. 10 and was made the 9-2 third choice.
"I don't think there is anybody quick enough to get in front of us if we want the lead," said Dale Romans, trainer of Shackleford. "From the 10 hole we may have to go, try to open up a couple and see what happens."
Uncle Mo making return
One year after his winning debut on Travers Day at Saratoga Race Course, reigning juvenile Uncle Mo will attempt to steal the limelight once again when he makes his first start in more than four months against seven others in Saturday's Grade I, $250,000 King's Bishop, the featured undercard race preceding the Travers.
Owned by Mike Repole, Uncle Mo has not raced since running third in the Grade I Wood Memorial in April and was subsequently knocked off the Triple Crown trail with a liver ailment. The son of Indian Charlie was made the 9-5 morning-line top choice for the King's Bishop and will break from post No. 7.
"We're somewhat limited in options," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who also conditions Travers morning-line favorite Stay Thirsty. "When you have a horse like that, who has accomplished a lot and doesn't have any allowance conditions left, you have to start somewhere. We think he's the kind that's talented enough to do something off the bench like that."