Saffie Joseph Calculates Move Up For Math Wizard In Breeders’ Cup Classic

October 11, 2019

Math Wizard’s victory at 31-1 in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby last month moved trainer Saffie Joseph into national headlines and eyeing the Longines Breeders Cup Classic for his improving three-year-old.

Ten years ago, Joseph was a leading trainer at Garrison Savannah in Barbados where he saddled the Barbados Triple Crown winner Areyoutalkintome, and soon after, he and his father left their home country to set up his racing stable in Florida, USA. That was just a step towards his lifelong dream to be the best and win the most prestigious races in the world.

 The 32-year-old trainer has been dedicated to thoroughbred horse racing since he began working alongside his father, Saffie Joseph Sr. a leading trainer himself in their native Barbados. “I always followed racing in both the United States and the U.K., broadening my horizon, and learning everything I could,” he said.

He inherited his father’s talent to “read” a horse and follow its cue as to the where, when and how it would race.

As a teen, Joseph spent a year in school in Trinidad, but kidnapping became so rampant in the country that his father sent him back to finish out his high school education at Gulliver Preparatory School in Florida, followed by a year at Florida International University.

A third-generation horsemen, Joseph has always heeded his father’s words.

“He has always preached to take care of the horses, and then they will take care of you. His best advice to me was to keep my horses happy. He said if they are happy, they will run—even if they have a few small aches and pains.

Garrison Savannah is the oldest functioning racetrack in the Americas, and is a 30-acre former parade ground, and holding historic significance as an 18th century British military headquarters. In the early 1900s, it became an area where officers of the British Regiment would match their horses with local businessmen and plantation owners. The Barbados Turf Club was established in 1905 and still regulates and organizes races. The track offers more of a fair-like atmosphere, although there are serious horseplayers there as well.

“The track itself is a 6-furlong turf course, like a bullring track,” said Joseph “We would train on dirt, race on the turf, but we’d train horses a lot more lightly because of the turns on the shorter track. On a shorter track we have more soft tissue injuries, and we see fewer catastrophic injuries. I always had good horses there and did very well.

“The biggest difference between racing in Barbados and in the United States, and unknown to many Americans,” said Joseph, “is that we use the European model for drug testing in Barbados. All of the urine and blood drawn post-race is sent to England for testing. The U.K. is not really medication-free. They use the same medication that Americans use, like lasix, banamine, and bute but the out time is hours or even days earlier. lasix is used for breezing horses, and not allowed for racing.”

When the decision was made to move to America, the father-son team brought to Florida only two horses.“The most difficult part was starting over again when we moved to the United States, but we stayed focused.

“My father and I found getting stalls at Calder to be very difficult. We could not get any, and ended up at a training center, he said. “We’d beg the racing secretary at Calder regularly for stalls, and he’d keep telling us to come back the following week, or when we’d come back, he’d say he forgot, said Joseph. “Finally, he gave us six stalls, and by then we had four others at the training center.

“My first owner was Sir David Seale, who races a lot of runners in Barbados. He sent me Town of Towns, a horse he owned in partnership and was racing at Woodbine, he said.

Town of Towns won one race for Joseph and was claimed just a month later. Sir Seale, who runs his family’s Foursquare Rum Distillery in Barbados, continues to support Joseph by keeping one horse with him every year.

Artefacto was one of the two horses that shipped from Barbados to United States with Joseph. The Josephs purchased him from the 2010 OBS April Two-Year-Olds in Training sale for $40,000. “We brought him back to Barbados but he never raced there, said Joseph. “In 2011 when we decided we were coming to the USA, we kept him to run in Florida, and he was our first winner. He was a cool horse. Artefacto won his first three races at Calder and was eventually claimed in 2015. Joseph claimed him back a year later for $6,250.

2019 has been Joseph’s most successful year yet. He is racing at the best tracks in United States, and his two most well-known charges, Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby winner Math Wizard, and two-year-old multiple Florida Sire Stakes winner Chance It, have been the biggest contributors to the nearly $3 million in earnings year-to-date. For the past 5 years, he has consistently maintained wins at over 20%.

Math Wizard, his first graded stakes winner, is owned by a partnership led by New Jersey native John Fenelli. “I met John Fenelli three years ago at Gulfstream, said Joseph.

“We were doing well, and I asked him to give us a chance to train for him. He races a lot at Parx with other trainers, claiming horses here, racing them there when they cannot win at Gulfstream. Parx purses are big but the competition is easier.

Shooting Star Thoroughbreds LLC’s Chance It, a Florida-bred son of Currency Swap, is headed toward the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs on November 30 after scoring an impressive 7 1/2 length victory in the 1 1/16 mile Florida Sire In Reality Stakes. The $200,000 race, also at 1 1/16 miles is a steppingstone for the 2020 Kentucky Derby

“This horse is a superstar, said Joseph. “He has run three stakes races in a row, winning two of them, and making everything he does look easy. He’s got a great cruising speed, he has stamina. It’s time to freshen him up and we’ll see if he has Derby potential.

Joseph has no concerns about sending Breeders Cup Classic contender Math Wizard to Santa Anita despite the increase in racing fatalities at the track this year. “Whenever there are so many breakdowns, there is always a concern. If you wanted to have that many injuries, you could not make it happen, it is not normal,” he said.

“But I think they (management) are making progress. They did not have to go to certain extremes, but they did. Everything is under the microscope and I believe they are doing everything in their power to make things safe.

Joseph sees the need for educating people outside of the racing industry,

“People don’t understand, he said.”These horses are treated well. That is the reality. And the reality is also that they get injured, but so do human athletes, but their injuries are easier to fix. You cannot fix a horse who has has laminitis from his injury, like you can fix a broken bone or muscle pull in a human. This is not how horses are made.

“They go to the farm to rest, but even at the farm they get hurt. There are accidents there, too, as well as on the track, he said.

“They are high-strung animals, and their natural instinct is to run. The media portrays only the worst, and just like everything else in life, there are good apples and bad.

While some trainers with horses traveling for the Breeders Cup are worried about the lack of direct flights from Florida to California, heading west is not a concern for Saffie nor for the well-traveled Math Wizard. “He really does handle it like a pro,” said Joseph. “He flew via FedEx to Parx for the PA Derby, by Tex Sutton to the Wood, and vanned everywhere else.”

Joseph has again scheduled FedEx to take his three-year-old to the biggest race of his career on October 29, four days before the Classic, with an overnight stop in Memphis en route to his California destination. He does not have plans to breeze his horse over the track.

“As a trainer, you can’t overthink things, he said. “Once a horse is fit, they can handle a change in surface unless there is something very unusual about it. I galloped him over the Parx track just once before he won the Pennsylvania Derby.

“Watching him live in the Derby, at the 3/8 pole he looked like he’d run 5th, or get beaten two lengths. Then he just took off, Joseph said. 

“It was like watching one of those flat airport escalators that you stand on, and if you start walking on it, it looks like everyone else is standing still.

Despite Math Wizard’s impressive performance at Parx, Joseph realizes that the Breeders’ Cup Classic is a more difficult task. “He is doing very well, but realistically he will have to improve by about 3 to 4 lengths to win a race like the this, he said.

 “He has about six weeks time until the race, and I plan on three more works: one at 3/8s, then a half, then 5/8s, said Joseph.

“I’d like to keep him home in his own environment as long as I can.

Joseph’s centers his life around his horses and his family. He met his wife, Morgan, while living in Barbados, and they married in the U.S. and have two children Rocco, 2, and Sienna, 5.

His interests frequently intertwine as seen on his website Saffie Joseph Racing (saffiejosephracing.com), where his father-in-law’s watercolor paintings of thoroughbreds decorate the pages, along with photos of his smiling children in the winner’s circle. Although retired, Joseph, Sr., instrumental in his son’s move to the U.S., still plays a part in the family’s success in the racing world.

“I always believed in our ability to get here,” said Joseph, Jr. “My strength is in observation of my horses, seeing and knowing each of them. It is the key to any trainer’s success.”

Joseph hopes success may be in saddling Math Wizard for a victory in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic on the first Saturday in November.

Math Wizards Last Start in the Pennsylvania Derby

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