The 2-year-old season is an exciting time for horsemen, management, and fans alike as the babies bring a youthful excitement to the track as they learn, grow, and prepare for their first career races.
That time is well underway at Calder Casino & Race Course, as many trainers have already added one or more 2-year-olds to their stables. The babies can be seen in multitudes on both the training track and the main track as 82 juveniles, according to racing secretary Mike Anifantis, are presently on the grounds.
Most of the 2-year-olds come to Calder from the Ocala farms and training centers where they were prepared to be racetrack ready. Once at Calder, the 2-year-olds tend to be sent out to the track in groups and pairs by the trainers, while 2-year-olds who are the only baby in a trainer’s barn joins with another trainer’s group, allowing the horses to better acclimate to their new surroundings.
Trainer Antonio Sano has about one-third of the 2-year-olds currently on the grounds at Calder, with 24 under his care so far, and more 2-year-olds still on the way in the months to come.
“They are all horses to run in the first baby races and not for the auction,” said Sano. “They can get accustomed, get rid of their fear, and try harder when they’re working.”
The babies for the 2014 season started rolling into Calder a little more than one month ago. Once they have sufficiently acclimated to their surroundings through galloping they will advance to workouts on a horse-by-horse basis. Prior to making their first career start, horses must be at least 24 months old from their foaling dates, be approved by the starter from starting gate training, and have at least two official published workouts within 30 days of their race debut date in order to be eligible to run.
With the first races for 2-year-olds still weeks away, the babies will continue to gallop for awhile before advancing further in their training.
“At the beginning of April they will breeze,” said Sano. “The goals are that they are all the best but they are very green still.”
In 2013, Sano saw his 2-year-old Brothersofthetime win the Seacliff Stakes at Calder and the 2-year-old Bon Accord win the Calder Turf Dash, both on Juvenile Showcase day. Bon Accord went on to run in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita Park and finished fourth.
Trainer Kathleen O’Connell also sends her horses out in groups and makes sure to spend an extra amount of time at the gate with her babies to help alleviate any nerves that may arise when the horses first start.
“I like to train in groups because they are better off and they get better adjusted,” said O’Connell. “They are just better to socialize like that, comfort in numbers. It’s an ongoing process. I feel lucky that we can change inside, outside positions so everybody kind of gets comfortable with everything.”
O’Connell said she has 12 2-year-olds at Calder so far and expects to carry about twice that many in total in the upcoming months.
“Last year I had 26, so I’m hoping to have about the same number because we had a very big year,” said O’Connell. “They’re the stars of the future so to speak, the diamonds in the rough. It’s always exciting to see them develop and come in. For me the biggest part of the whole business is the babies.”
In 2013, O’Connell became the first female trainer to sweep the Florida Stallion Stakes Series’ filly division with her 2-year-old filly Scandalous Act. The filly went on to a sixth-place finish in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita. O’Connell also scored two out of the three division races for the boys with her 2-year-old colt My Brown Eyed Guy. O’Connell said she has siblings of both horses among her slew of 2-year-olds this year. Wicked Rascal is a half-brother to Scandalous Act, while Blue Eyed Babe is a half-sister to My Brown Eyed Guy.
In addition to Sano and O’Connell, trainers such as Gennadi Dorochenko, Mario Morales, Bill White, and Ronald Pellegrini also have one or more 2-year-olds for the first set of juvenile races that will begin in the coming months.
“Two-year-olds are what brings a lot of people to the track every day,” said Anifantis. “They think they’ve got the next Kentucky Derby winner, and that’s what they’re all looking for. It gets a lot of people out of bed every day.”
One of the horses stabled at Calder who broke his maiden at Calder as a 2-year-old in 2013 before hitting the road and setting his sights set on the 2014 Kentucky Derby trail is Morales’ Casiguapo. At 3 years old, the Triple Crown nominee currently has five points for the Kentucky Derby and has a possible run in the Grade I Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park as his next race in order to earn more points to be able to run in the Kentucky Derby.