Faustin breaks his maiden in style (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)
By Amber Joyce
The lack of racing on Christmas was made up for on Boxing Day with heaps of stakes action across the country, the best of it coming at Santa Anita Park, which kicked off its 2022-23 Classic Meet. In race four on the opening day card (highlighted by six graded stakes, including the RUNHAPPY Malibu (G1), won by Taiba), Hall of Famer Bob Baffert unveiled a classy colt.
Enter Faustin, a gray son of Curlin out of three-time G1 winner Hard Not to Like, by Hard Spun. Traveling six furlongs on the dirt for his maiden special weight debut, the flashy colt was one of three Baffert trainees in the race, Sonoran (owned by Baffert’s wife, Jill) and Worcester also making their debuts. There was no doubt crossing the wire who was the best of the bunch.
Bet down to 4-5 favoritism, Faustin did not display the pacesetting speed that Baffert trainees are well-known for. Instead, after being shuffled between horses shortly after the break, he found himself seventh of eight in the very early stages and was no better than fifth a quarter into the race. Coaxed along by Ramon Vazquez up the backstretch, he improved to fourth rounding the turn and raced one length behind the dueling leaders.
Entering the stretch behind a wall of three horses, he angled out and turned on a new gear. Sonoran had the advantage a sixteenth from home but was no match for his stablemate, who easily sailed by him and kicked clear to win by 2 ¾ lengths. Following splits of :21.68, 44.47, and 57.49, Faustin stopped the clock in a final time of 1:10.08 over the fast track.
Faustin did a few things that I like to see, especially in young horses.
First, he won with a running style that may not be his preference. Bob Baffert’s training regimen puts an emphasis on speed and based on Faustin’s workouts coming into the race—as well as the addition of blinkers—speed was anticipated. He instead adapted to his situation, preserved his speed, and used it when the time was right. Oftentimes you’ll see horses get shuffled back or break poorly and still gun for the lead, which frequently results in them using up too much energy and therefore a bad placing. Faustin did not do this, and that’s a green light.
On the other side of the coin, some horses will get discouraged after a not-so-stellar beginning. Capable of speed or not, they simply won’t put the effort in. Faustin did not get discouraged. Like I said, he adapted to his situation, and clearly, that did wonders.
Lastly, similar to my previous point, he passed horses. A simple-sounding thing, sure, but that ability can mean a lot, especially in two-year-olds. Not to mention the sheer ease Faustin did it with. You can see it in his works, too. This recent workout of his is available to watch and it shows exactly what I’m talking about. He traveled patiently alongside his workmate and then, with minimum urging by the exercise rider, swooped by him. Then he just kept going.
This leads me to the age-old question: can he handle stretching out to a route distance? In the likely situation that he targets the Kentucky Derby next year, this is an important question. Personally, I think he can. He runs like he can and if pedigree is any indicator, he’ll be just fine.
Being sired by Curlin is a major bonus for Faustin. He has sired many stellar dirt routers, such as: Good Magic (possibly a Triple Crown winner had he not run into Justify), Vino Rosso (2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner), Exaggerator (winner of the 2016 Preakness), and Keen Ice (sire of Kentucky Derby phenom Rich Strike and winner of the 2015 Travers, in which he upset American Pharoah). This year we saw the likes of Malathaat, Cody’s Wish, Nest, and Clairiere strut their stuff going long on the dirt. All are by Curlin.
Curlin himself was no stranger to winning while traveling a route of ground. Among his long list of achievements are wins in the Dubai World Cup, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Jockey Club Gold Cup (twice), Woodward, Stephen Foster, and more.
The dam side of Faustin’s pedigree also suggests he’ll be fine stretching out. As mentioned before, his dam, Hard Not to Like, won three grade ones in her racing career. In 2014, she pulled off the upset in the Jenny Wiley, a 1 1/16-miles affair on the turf. The following year she captured the Gamely and the Diana (in which she set a course record), both 1 ⅛-mile turf events. And though she did have the most success on grass, she was G1-placed on dirt, finishing second in the 2012 Ashland.
Unsurprisingly, Faustin was not a bargain. After going unsold for $285,000 as a yearling, he was acquired for $800,000 by owner Michael Lund Petersen at the 2022 OBS Spring Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale. During the Under Tack Show prior to the sale, he breezed an eighth of a mile in 10 seconds flat. That breeze can be viewed below.
It’s plain to see that Faustin is a talented colt. But how talented? Many people are talking as if the horse is already wearing the Garland of Roses on the first Saturday in May, but personally, I’ll need to see a few more races from him before I come to a solid opinion.
So I ask you: is Faustin Bob Baffert’s next superstar, your 2023 Kentucky Derby winner? Or is he another highly-touted colt doomed to burn out and fall off the radar?
One thing is certain though. Regardless of where he’s destined, he is a colt to keep an eye on.