DEL MAR — Sometimes even the best jockeys make mistakes. But riders who are cream of the crop learn from their mistakes, make adjustments and win graded-stakes races like Flavien Prat showed Sunday at Del Mar.
Prat, who flew in from New York to ride Prince of Monaco, one of trainer Bob Baffert’s top 2-year-olds, won the $200,000 Grade III Best Pal Stakes aboard the son of Speightstown. He won like he’ll enjoy going longer and he figures to be tough to beat in the Grade I Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 10 if Baffert chooses to run him.
The 31-year-old Prat rode the Baffert-trained first-time starter, Elegant, in the race before the Best Pal and apologized to Baffert after the race for going too fast early. Elegant faded and finished fifth. Baffert told him to make sure he didn’t make the same mistake in the Best Pal.
Like the excellent rider he is, Prat didn’t make the same mistake. He came from fourth in the field of five to win for fun, outrunning stablemate and 1-2 favorite Muth by 4 1/4 lengths as the 9-5 second choice.
“He rode that filly (Elegant) really fast and he goes, ‘Oh boy.’ I said, ‘It’s OK. Just don’t do that on this one,’” Baffert said. “‘Just break.’ We knew the other horse (Tranche) was really quick and I was hoping he (Juan Hernandez) would lay off the pace (with Muth), but he engaged early. I saw when Prat knew what was going on, he just took back. But I liked the way the horse responded to him … he just sat there, and you put good riders on good horses. But it was really key that he rode that filly for me in the third race.”
Prat knew Prince of Monaco was a good one because Baffert phoned his agent, Brad Pegram, and told him about the colt. Like E.F. Hutton, when Baffert talks, people listen.
“I told Prat’s agent I got a really nice 2-year-old, I’ve got a pretty good group of 2-year-olds, and I think this is a (good) horse for the future,” Baffert said. “The thing is, I’ve got a good understanding with the agents. When I tell ’em I have a really good one, they’ll come ride ’em. These are two really good horses.”
Prince of Monaco ran the 6 furlongs in 1:09.19, the fastest time at the distance during the first 15 days of the 31-day meet. He’s 2 for 2 after winning his debut by eight lengths at Los Alamitos on July 9 and has earned $147,000 after picking up the winner’s share of $120,000 Sunday.
“He’s bred really well,” Baffert said. “He’s a beautiful horse, so is the other one, and they ran really fast. I hate to run those two together, but you gotta learn about them, whether to take the blinkers off and get them to relax a little bit.”
Said Prat: “Mr. Baffert called me and asked me to come out and ride a horse for him. And so here I am. He was very comfortable out there, felt good all the way. I saw the pace was hot and I just waited my turn. He’s a nice colt. And yes, I think he can run farther.”
Maybe the mile-and-a-quarter distance of the Kentucky Derby?
There’s pressure with any horse. We have a lot of responsibility, not only caring for the horses, but caring for the people who work for us. They work so hard to prepare these horses. We have a great team. We work really hard to get in this position. It’s nice when it works out.
They are very valuable horses and you want the best riders and the best people working for you.