Baby Yoda wins an allowance optional claiming Oct. 7 at Belmont at the Big A (NYRA/Coglianese)
NYRA Press Office Updated 11/28/2022 3:13 PM
OZONE PARK, N.Y.— Owner Adam Wachtel reported that seven-time winner and multiple graded stakes placed Baby Yoda will pursue his first stakes triumph in Saturday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Cigar Mile Handicap presented by NYRA Bets at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Owned by Wachtel Stable in partnership with Pantofel Stable, Gary Barber and Jerry Zaro and trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, Baby Yoda was most recently a close second as the favorite in the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap on October 29 at Belmont at the Big A. He set a moderate tempo on the backstretch before being passed up by upset winner and probable returning rival Double Crown inside the sixteenth pole.
A four-time winner of eight starts this season, the 4-year-old Prospective gelding defeated starter-allowance company going six furlongs twice in Kentucky at the beginning of the year before securing allowance optional-claiming scores on the NYRA circuit going seven furlongs and a one-turn mile, respectively. He was a narrowly-beaten second in the Pelican at Tampa Bay Downs in his 2022 debut and was a distant second to Flightline in last year’s Grade 1 Malibu at Santa Anita.
Baby Yoda worked a half-mile in 48.60 over the Belmont Park training track on Saturday.
“He’s a little bit of a folk hero, but he’s never won a stakes race,” Wachtel said. “He’s come close a couple times, he finished second to Flightline in the Malibu. I would hope that we get some weight from some of these others. But so far, that’s the plan. If he comes out of yesterday’s work in good shape, we’ll be there next Saturday.”
Baby Yoda is most well-known for recording a 114 Beyer Speed Figure at allowance level last September at Saratoga, defeating eventual Grade 1-winning stablemate Olympiad by 4 1/4 lengths going 6 1/2 furlongs.
“That was quite something. I came up that day on a last-minute trip and I knew he was training well and I knew how good Olympiad was,” Wachtel recalled. “That was quite the extraordinary effort. The next morning, I was at the training track and other trainers that I knew were making comments about how good the horse was. He’s been a really cool horse that’s run in big races against big competition. We gave him a little class relief in Kentucky this spring running in some starter races, just trying to get his confidence back up.”
Wachtel, who is a part-owner of the Mott-trained 2020 Champion Male Turf Horse Channel Maker, said the 8-year-old son of English Channel will remain in training in 2023. The earner of over $3.7 million was seventh in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf on November 5 at Keeneland last out to cap off a season which included victories in the Grade 2 Elkhorn in April at Keeneland and the Grand Couturier in July at Belmont Park.
“Physically, the horse looks unbelievable. He’s 8 years old and Bill and his staff said this summer that he looks better now than he did two years ago,” Wachtel said. “He’s all dappled out and he looks phenomenal, and he hasn’t lost anything. As long as he is physically well enough, we see no reason why we shouldn’t go on with him. He’s getting a little break, but he’s not leaving the track. We probably won’t run him until late February at the earliest.”
Channel Maker, bred in Ontario by Tall Oaks Farm, has won some of the NYRA circuit’s premier events for turf horses, including the Grade 1 Man o’ War , Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational  and Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational [2018, 2020].