ELMONT, N.Y. – Trainer Charlton Baker said he is keeping his 30-horse barn fit and ready to race during the delay to the start of the Belmont Park spring/summer meet.
“We’re maintaining their fitness and continuing to breeze them, so we’re ready to go when we get the green light,” said Baker. “I have a few coming off a layoff and we’re working to get them ready in time for when we re-open.”
A native of St. Catherine Parish in Jamaica, Baker grew up around the racetrack. A third-generation horseman, his father, Carl, trained horses at Caymanas Park in Jamaica and later at Finger Lakes.
Baker said he initially wanted to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, Cecil, and become a jockey.
“All the kids in my neighborhood wanted to be a jockey because we lived beside the track,” said Baker. “We grew up around racehorses and went to the races every weekend, but when I turned 10 I decided I wanted to be a trainer.”
Baker left Jamaica in 1987 in pursuit of his passion and worked his way up from hotwalker until eventually taking out his trainer’s license in 1997. He has more than followed through on his ambitions with 1,666 career wins and purse earnings just shy of $34 million.
His greatest success thus far came with Joking, a horse he claimed for $20,000 in 2014, who would complete his career in 2016 with four straight wins including scores in the Grade 2 True North and Grade 1 Vosburgh Invitational at Belmont Park.
“He was definitely my most accomplished horse so far,” said Baker. “He was such a competitor and he always wanted to win.”
The Kentucky-bred Joking shipped to California for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint but became ill and had to be scratched.
“It’s unfortunate because he was doing so great, but that’s part of the game,” said Baker.
Joking was retired with a record of 39-10-8-8 and purse earnings of $846,138, and is now enjoying the good life at Old Friends Farm in Kentucky.
“He’s doing pretty good down there. They send me pictures of him all the time,” said Baker.
Baker’s business focuses mainly on New York-breds, including 2019 NYSSS Staten Island victor Our Super Nova and the popular Francis Paolangeli homebred Gold for the King, who finished third in the 2019 Grade 3 Toboggan at Aqueduct.
“I’m willing to venture outside that, but my clients are breeders and they breed New York-breds,” said Baker. “They like the New York-bred program because of the incentives. It’s a great program and that’s why I have more New York-breds than anything else.”
Gold for the King is a four-time stakes winner with scores in the 2016 Notebook, 2017 NYSSS Times Square, as well as the 2017 and 2018 NYSSS Thunder Rumble. The now 6-year-old gelding was off-the-board last out in the 2019 Thunder Rumble on November 24 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
“He’s currently on the farm,” said Baker. “He’ll be back in a few weeks to get ready for the campaign.”
Our Super Nova, owned by Baker with Michael S. Foster and Lauren Linn, boasts a record of 6-4-3 with purse earnings of $351,695. Bred in the Empire State by Tracy Egan, Baker said the 5-year-old Boys At Toscanova mare will be back in training soon.
“We gave Our Super Nova a couple month’s off and we’ll try and bring her back in another week or so,” said Baker. “She’s been on the farm getting ready.”
Baker said he also has high hopes for New York-bred Awesome Debate, a 4-year-old daughter of Honorable Dillon bred and owned by the veteran conditioner.
The hard-trying grey has four wins and two seconds from eight career starts and earned a career-best 72 Beyer Speed Figure in a last-out state-bred allowance win on March 14 at Aqueduct.
“She’s a very game filly. She’s only ran two bad races in her career and she had excuses for those. She tries hard every time,” said Baker. “She’s only raced twice as a 4-year-old, so she has room to improve.”
Awesome Debate, currently in training at Belmont Park, is out of the Freud mare Heathy Debate, who posted a record of six wins and two seconds in 15 career starts.
“I trained the mare and always liked her – she was very game – and I decided I wanted to breed her,” said Baker. “It’s nice to be able to breed one, see them grow up and watch them come along to the track.”
Until live racing returns in New York, Baker said he will continue to keep his horses fit and happy, including the Kentucky-bred Honor Way, a multiple-stakes placed daughter of Caleb’s Posse, who breezed five-eighths in a bullet 59.01 on April 25 on the Belmont Park dirt training track.
“She’s in good fitness right now and ready to run,” said Baker. “Hopefully, we’ll have a chance to run sooner than later.”
NYRA Press Release
Photo: Joking wins the 2016 Vosberg with Manuel Franco up on a very sloppy track. Credit: Coglianese Photos/Susie Raisher