They are 2-year-olds from opposite ends of the horse racing
universe. Storm Flag Flying is an East Coast filly from old money
and the old school, owned and bred by the stately Phipps family
and trained by a patient backstretch traditionalist who answers
to Shug. Vindication is a West Coast colt plucked from the sales
ring with new money, owned by a software millionaire and trained
by Bob Baffert, the irreverent and quip-ready voice of the sport.
So different, these two, yet with this in common: They are the
There is nothing in sport like the first sight of greatness, and
it was there last Saturday in the 19th Breeders' Cup, at
Arlington Park outside Chicago. During the stretch drive of the
Juvenile Fillies race, Storm Flag Flying took the lead from
Composure, lost it and then dug in and took it back in three
jumps before gliding away to win by half a length. Four races
later Vindication dismissed a dozen peers with ease and won the
Juvenile title by nearly three lengths. The victorious filly and
colt were the promise that something great lay ahead.
Projecting 2-year-old champions as Kentucky Derby winners is
risky business. No winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (or
Juvenile Fillies) has won the Derby. "It takes a special horse to
go short [distances] at two, then go a mile and a quarter at
three," says trainer Bobby Frankel. "The ones who win at two are
like the kid who was a great basketball player when he was a
freshman. The ones who win Triple Crown races are the seniors who
catch up." This year the Breeders' Cup stretched 2-year-old races
to a mile and an eighth, just a furlong shy of the Derby
distance--and a better test of potential.
Storm Flag Flying is owned by Ogden Mills (Dinny) Phipps, 62, the
son of Ogden Phipps, a wealthy industrialist who died last April
at 93. The Phippses have long bred stallions to their own mares,
which they did to produce Storm Flag Flying: My Flag, the '95
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner (whose dam is the unbeaten
mare Personal Ensign), was bred to Storm Cat, the top sire in
North America, in the spring of 1999. She was unbeaten in three
starts before the Breeders' Cup, and now the Derby beckons,
although only three fillies have won it. "We won't just throw her
to the wolves," says trainer Shug McGaughey. "She'll let us know
if she's ready."
The Vindication saga began at the 2001 Saratoga yearling sales,
amid rumors about a Seattle Slew colt: not sound. Among the
bidders was Padua Stables owner Satish Sanan, a native of India
who in 1989 started IMR Global, a computer software firm that by
'99, he says, was worth $1.2 billion. That allowed him to get
into racing, but in 2000, he says, "I lost a billion in market
capital and sold $18 million worth of horses." In 2001 Sanan
replaced his trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, with Baffert, but losses
had made him cautious.
Baffert, though, pushed him to bid on the Slew colt. "I gamble
good with other people's money," he says. The colt was bid up to
$2.15 million, and Sanan was ridiculed for paying so much.
Defiantly, he named the colt Vindication. "Now it's a matter of
keeping him sound until spring," says Baffert.
McGaughey faces the same challenge. Not long after Storm Flag
Flying's win, he watched as the British horse Landseer snapped a
leg in the Breeders' Cup Mile. With that reminder of how fragile
these gifted animals are, he headed for the barns to check on his
filly. More than just horsemen now, McGaughey and Baffert are the
keepers of dreams.