In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a new sheriff in town when it comes to the best sprinters in Southern California. His name is Straight No Chaser, and his past two races have been off the charts.
The 4-year-old Speightster colt won an optional claimer by 7¼ lengths at Oaklawn Park on April 1. To show that was no fluke, he stepped up in class to the Grade III Maryland Sprint on Saturday at Pimlico and drew away in the stretch for a 7½-length victory while running the 6 furlongs in a sparkling 1:08.27 and earning a 107 Beyer Speed Figure.
Trainer Dan Blacker knew he had a good horse when Straight No Chaser first arrived at his barn, but he admits he didn’t envision anything like what he’s accomplished so far.
“He’s the best work horse I’ve ever had,” Blacker said during a telephone interview Wednesday morning. “He has a nice pedigree, but it’s a modest pedigree. He’s the first graded-stakes winner for Speightster (who died last year after a stall accident) and to say we expected him to be running these kind of numbers at this stage I’d be lying. He’s passed my expectations and I’m just thrilled by what he’s achieved. I’m just thankful to have a horse like that in the barn.”
Owned by MyRacehorse, which allows fans to buy shares in horses, Straight No Chaser won his first start at 5 furlongs on the turf at Del Mar last summer. He then ran last in an optional claimer at the same distance seven weeks later and he’s raced exclusively on dirt in his past five races.
“Because he was such an impressive work horse on the main track in the mornings, I always thought he was going to be dirt, that would be his best thing,” Blacker said. “The plan was always to run him on dirt, but the last Santa Anita maiden race (in 2022) came up a bit too soon, he wasn’t quite ready, and so we pushed him back to Los Alamitos the first week in July. The final work before that race he scoped with a little mucus so I didn’t want to send him over to Los Al after seeing that. The Del Mar (maiden) race they didn’t schedule until the last week in August, so I was like, ‘Man, this horse is just kicking the barn down.’ I really wanted to run him and the first weekend they had a 5-furlong turf race.”
Straight No Chaser won by 2¼ lengths that afternoon, but when he came back and turned in a disappointing effort in his second race on the grass, Blacker decided to shake things up.
“He won obviously super impressive on turf first time out and second time he ran against winners, he was a little slow breaking, it was a big day and it was just a bit overwhelming,” Blacker said. “After that I was like, ‘OK, we gotta get back to dirt.’ Being out of a Johannesburg mare, I’m not saying we might not try turf again in his future. You never know, but he’s run a 107 Beyer on the main track and it’s tough to make a change (back to turf).”
Blacker has followed a pattern of running Straight No Chaser about every seven or eight weeks. He says that’s by design, that analytics are now part of horse racing just like in most every other sport. He’d like to run him every two weeks, but because of his light frame and other factors, that’s not realistic.
“There’s a lot of talk these days about trainers spacing their races out and I think there’s this notion that trainers are scared of running them too often,” he said. “It’s not that, really. It’s a fact that now everything is analyzed in terms of Beyers, Ragozin and Thoro-Graph … they look at the numbers of how these horses run and grade their performances each time. I think over the last 15, 10, 20 years that we’ve been using these numbers. Trainers have been able to see that, on the whole, horses run way bigger when they’re fresh, when they have more time between races.”
Straight No Chaser has won 4 of 7 starts with a third-place finish thrown in for $245,800 in earnings, but Blacker believes he’s just getting started. The Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita on Nov. 4 is the long-range goal. He said the $400,000 Grade I Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar on July 29 might be Chaser’s next race.
“I think he’s improved,” he said. “Even as a 4-year-old, it seems like he’s getting better. He’s matured so much since last summer. Physically, he’s gotten stronger. People forget, sometimes these horses can mature through their 4-year-old year. That’s what he’s doing, and I think there’s even more improvement to come.”
One of the items on Blacker’s to-do list is deciding who will ride Straight No Chaser in his next start. Edwin Maldonado was aboard during his first five starts and Hall of Famer John Velazquez got the call at Oaklawn and Pimlico.
“We’ll cross each bridge when we come to it,” he said. “Edwin’s a really talented jockey and certainly Johnny has ridden him really well in his last two races. We still got quite a bit of time to figure that out. I never say never, but obviously I’ve got to talk to the owners. We haven’t made any definite arrangements in terms of that right now.”
For now, they’ll just savor the thrills Straight No Chaser has given them and dream about what the future may hold.
Follow Art Wilson on Twitter @Sham73