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Trainerspeak a tip-off on beaten favorite Coliseum

By Dick Powell

About 30 years ago, a friend of mine had a horse with a very famous trainer. I talked to my friend and he told me that the horse had a chip removed from his knee arthroscopically that morning. Later in the day, I had to speak to the trainer and in a friendly manner asked him how the horse was doing? “He’s doing great. Breezed him a half-mile this morning.”

Clearly when trainers speak, you need to have a filter to get to the truth. We all knew that Easy Goer had a bad ankle, but trainer Shug McGaughey would not answer questions about it. It wasn’t in his interests to affirm that Easy Goer toed out real bad as it might have an effect on his stallion career. There’s no compelling reason to tell the truth or answer questions that haven’t been asked.

Over the years there have been some trainers that you can bank on what they are saying. Mike de Kock, Saeed bin Suroor and John Gosden are incredibly candid about how their horses are doing and what can be expected. But they are international trainers. In America, Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown treat interviews like they are making hostage tapes. Nothing but the bare facts.

So, when Bob Baffert was a bit cautious about COLISEUM‘s seasonal debut in the Sham (G3) last Saturday, it caught my eye. Coliseum was awesome in his career debut going seven furlongs in good time at Del Mar on November 17. He was one of the first horses that Baffert was training for Godolphin and it looked like all systems were go for the son of Tapit.

But Baffert made numerous references to Coliseum’s lack of maturity and focus. In his debut, he drew off once he cleared the field and was never challenged. The Sham would be run around two turns at Santa Anita so it would be a different test for Coliseum.

Not one to take what Baffert says literally (see Justify the day after the Kentucky Derby), I then went to Andy Harrington’s National Turf Clocker’s Report to see what he said about Coliseum’s workouts. Sure enough, Harrington’s report on his last workout before the Sham said, “Headstrong off the pole in :11.4, :23.1, :46.2 slowing some but not asked in 1:12.2. Has plenty of speed, would like to see him cool those mental jets.”

Usually, Baffert’s top horses finish their workouts strong and gallop out at least another quarter-mile. Maybe because he is a son of Tapit, but Coliseum runs fast early in his workouts despite all efforts to get him to do it the other way.

With this concern from his trainer, there he was entered in a Grade 3 stakes on January 5. I thought that was suspicious itself, but the public was not having any of it. Coliseum opened up at insane 1-9 odds and finally settled at 3-5. When the gate opened and he was a bit slow to get away, Joe Talamo had to steer him to the outside where he pulled hard around the first turn. Extremely wide every step of the way, at no point did it look like he would win and he basically ran one-paced to the wire, beaten more than four lengths in sixth place.

Can he make up those four lengths with a better start and use his speed to best advantage? Sure he can, but then the final time of the Sham was very slow. Even if he had won, there would have been doubts about who he beat. If Coliseum is going to get it together, it will happen in the morning when Baffert’s team gets him to settle early and finish full of run. Tapit colts tend to be flighty, but Tapit did sire three winners of the Belmont Stakes (G1), so it’s not like his offspring can’t get a distance of ground.

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