Bob Baffert has been proclaiming the virtues of his 3-year-old, General Challenge, since the spring. But the gelding flopped in the Kentucky Derby, and he had never lived up to his trainer's accolades -- until today.
With a powerful performance, General Challenge defeated his elders in the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar, scoring by three lengths over his stablemate, River Keen.
It was a near-perfect day for Baffert. He also captured the Del Mar Debutante Stakes when his undefeated filly, Chilukki, scored her fifth consecutive victory.
General Challenge was aided today by a wave of injuries that reduced the quality of the field for the Pacific Classic, the climactic event in "NTRA Champions on Fox" racing series.
Victory Gallop, Real Quiet and Mazel Trick -- any of whom would have been the favorite today -- were all knocked out. But it is uncertain if any of them would have been able to surpass the effort of the winner, who ran 1 1/4 miles in a sparkling 2:00 2/5 over a track that was not exceptionally fast.
After breaking from post position one, jockey David Flores positioned General Challenge behind the early leaders and quickly found himself in tight quarters. When he swung out three wide on the backstretch, Flores might have wanted to stalk the pacesetters a little longer, but the headstrong General Challenge had other ideas.
"He was fresh and he wanted to go," Flores said.
He moved to battle Barter Town and Smile Again, then accelerated past them to open a commanding lead on the turn.
Flores also rode Chilukki to her victory in the $250,000 Debutante, though it wasn't quite as easy as bettors anticipated when they made her the 1-to-5 favorite.
For the first time in her career, Chilukki had a rival in front of her when She's Classy sprinted to a lead. The two fillies dueled briefly on the backstretch, and then Chilukki spurted to a clear lead, still under a hammerlock by her jockey.
When Spain launched a strong, wide move from far behind, Flores still sat chilly. Spain came within a length, but Chilukki comfortably kept her perfect record intact.