They are 2-year-olds from opposite ends of the horse racing universe. Storm Flag Flying is an East Coast filly from old money and the old school, owned and bred by the stately Phipps family and trained by a patient backstretch traditionalist who answers to Shug. Vindication is a West Coast colt plucked from the sales ring with new money, owned by a software millionaire and trained by Bob Baffert, the irreverent and quip-ready voice of the sport. So different, these two, yet with this in common: They are the next chapter.
There is nothing in sport like the first sight of greatness, and it was there last Saturday in the 19th Breeders' Cup, at Arlington Park outside Chicago. During the stretch drive of the Juvenile Fillies race, Storm Flag Flying took the lead from Composure, lost it and then dug in and took it back in three jumps before gliding away to win by half a length. Four races later Vindication dismissed a dozen peers with ease and won the Juvenile title by nearly three lengths. The victorious filly and colt were the promise that something great lay ahead.
Projecting 2-year-old champions as Kentucky Derby winners is risky business. No winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (or Juvenile Fillies) has won the Derby. "It takes a special horse to go short [distances] at two, then go a mile and a quarter at three," says trainer Bobby Frankel. "The ones who win at two are like the kid who was a great basketball player when he was a freshman. The ones who win Triple Crown races are the seniors who catch up." This year the Breeders' Cup stretched 2-year-old races to a mile and an eighth, just a furlong shy of the Derby distance—and a better test of potential.
Storm Flag Flying is owned by Ogden Mills (Dinny) Phipps, 62, the son of Ogden Phipps, a wealthy industrialist who died last April at 93. The Phippses have long bred stallions to their own mares, which they did to produce Storm Flag Flying: My Flag, the '95 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner (whose dam is the unbeaten mare Personal Ensign), was bred to Storm Cat, the top sire in North America, in the spring of 1999. She was unbeaten in three starts before the Breeders' Cup, and now the Derby beckons, although only three fillies have won it. "We won't just throw her to the wolves," says trainer Shug McGaughey. "She'll let us know if she's ready."
The Vindication saga began at the 2001 Saratoga yearling sales, amid rumors about a Seattle Slew colt: not sound. Among the bidders was Padua Stables owner Satish Sanan, a native of India who in 1989 started IMR Global, a computer software firm that by '99, he says, was worth $1.2 billion. That allowed him to get into racing, but in 2000, he says, "I lost a billion in market capital and sold $18 million worth of horses." In 2001 Sanan replaced his trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, with Baffert, but losses had made him cautious.
Baffert, though, pushed him to bid on the Slew colt. "I gamble good with other people's money," he says. The colt was bid up to $2.15 million, and Sanan was ridiculed for paying so much. Defiantly, he named the colt Vindication. "Now it's a matter of keeping him sound until spring," says Baffert.
McGaughey faces the same challenge. Not long after Storm Flag Flying's win, he watched as the British horse Landseer snapped a leg in the Breeders' Cup Mile. With that reminder of how fragile these gifted animals are, he headed for the barns to check on his filly. More than just horsemen now, McGaughey and Baffert are the keepers of dreams.