LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Taiba (Gun Runner) and Messier (Empire Maker), as it turns out, weren’t trainer Tim Yakteen’s only two GI Kentucky Derby prospects approaching the first Saturday in May last spring.
While preparing that ‘Rising Star’ duo for the first leg of the 2022 Triple Crown as their former trainer Bob Baffert began serving a highly publicized two-year ban by Churchill Downs, Yakteen received a phone call from owners Leslie and Pierre Amestoy during the OBS April 2-Year-Old Sale.
“Pierre and Leslie had a Distorted Humor the year before that they were planning on sending me provided that the horse moved forward,” said Yakteen, who left his native Germany for the U.S. at the age of 18 in 1982. “They had him down there in New Mexico and he didn’t progress the way that he needed to to be able to come to the West Coast. So, when they bought these three horses at OBS, they called me up and told me right away that they were coming my way. They were very excited with what they got.”
You can certainly see why.
Practical Move (Practical Joke), a $230,000 OBS April purchase (:10 1/5 breezer) by the Amestoys and Roger Beasley out of the Eisaman Equine consignment, heads to the 149th Kentucky Derby as the best from the west following impressive wins in the GII Los Alamitos Futurity, GII San Felipe S. and GI Runhappy Santa Anita Derby. He’s the only runner in the field of 20 to post two triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures and is a generous 10-1 on the morning-line.
“Practical Move, he’s one of those horses that just makes his trainer and everybody that’s connected with him look good,” Yakteen said. “Leslie, Pierre, Roger and I always had high hopes for him. He’s developed into the horse that owners dream of having.”
That development took shape with Yakteen at the helm throughout a well-orchestrated, five-race 2-year-old campaign. Practical Move broke his maiden with an assist from the stewards via disqualification in his two-turn debut at third asking going a mile at Santa Anita Oct. 10, then cut back with a third-place finish in the seven-furlong GIII Bob Hope S. the following month at Del Mar. He’s won three straight since, all with brilliant, ground-saving, stalk-and-pounce trips beneath Ramon Vazquez, including a game nose tally as the even-money favorite in the Santa Anita Derby.
“He’s tactical and he’s there for you when you need him,” Yakteen said. “That would probably be his best weapon. He’s not reliant on the pace.”
Bred in by Kentucky by four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown and Sol Kumin’s Head of Plains Partners, Practical Move previously RNA’d for $90,000 as a KEESEP yearling. He hails from the second crop of promising young sire Practical Joke and is out of the grassy, multiple stakes-placed, New York-bred Ack Naughty (Afleet Alex), who brought $500,000 from Chester and Mary Broman in foal to Upstart earlier this year at Keeneland January. The 2005 GI Preakness S. and GI Belmont S. winner Afleet Alex is also the broodmare sire of 2019 Belmont upsetter Sir Winston (Awesome Again).
The previously mentioned Yakteen-trained 2022 OBS April trio also includes last-out GIII Santa Ysabel S. third-place finisher Blessed Touch (Girvin) ($140,000 OBS April graduate) and Mar. 18 Santa Anita debut third-place finisher Neiman (Munnings) ($50,000 OBS April graduate).
Groomed for Success…
As a former assistant to two of the best to ever do it, Yakteen is no stranger to the big stage.
During his second of two stints with Baffert, Yakteen worked alongside Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners Silver Charm, Real Quiet and War Emblem as well as Preakness and Belmont winner Point Given. While serving as the right-hand man for the legendary Charlie Whittingham, two-time champion grass mare Flawlessly, GI Santa Anita H. winner Sir Beaufort and Japan Cup winner Golden Pheasant were all under the tutelage of the ‘Bald Eagle.’
Yakteen, 58, went out on his own in 2004. He is married to XBTV commentator Millie Ball. The couple have two sons, Sam and Ben.
“Very fortunate to have worked for both of those individuals,” Yakteen said. “The one thing that I would take away from them both is to have the confidence in your horse, and that I do, and don’t be afraid to train them. That’s something that both Charlie and Bob were very similar in those regards.”
Prior to saddling Taiba and Messier to a one-two finish in last year’s Runhappy Santa Anita Derby–they were both transferred to Yakteen ahead of the final major Kentucky Derby prep in Arcadia–Yakteen’s two big horses were California-bred Grade I winners Points Offthebench (Benchmark) and Mucho Unusual (Mucho Macho Man). The former was the 2013 champion sprinter.
“The more horses you have, the more opportunities you have of running across a good horse,” said Yakteen, who typically trains around 40 head. “I would love to have quality. That’s the direction the stable has been moving and hopefully we can continue to work on that.”
Yakteen will have just that on Kentucky Derby day.
In addition to Practical Move, Yakteen will also saddle former Baffert runner Reincarnate (Good Magic) in the main event. Following a game win in the GIII Sham S. Jan. 8, the handsome gray has rolled a pair of threes in two tries for Yakteen in Oaklawn’s GII Rebel S. and GI Arkansas Derby, respectively. Like Messier, Reincarnate is campaigned by a large group headed by SF Racing, Starlight Racing and Madaket Stables. The $775,000 KEESEP yearling purchase is out of the Scat Daddy mare Allanah and was bred in Kentucky by Woods Edge Farm.
Yakteen’s stable will also be represented by the streaking California-bred Kangaroo Court (Dads Caps) and GI Curlin Florida Derby fifth-place finisher Fort Bragg (Tapit) in the GII Pat Day Mile S.; two-time stakes winner Johannes (Nyquist) in the GII American Turf S.; and Dillinger (Into Mischief) in the $120,000 maiden special weight nightcap.
“Personally, I’m very proud of my staff,” Yakteen said. “I have an unbelievable team. When I think about it, I’m so happy for them. That’s what (having two horses in the Derby) means to me, that somehow I can repay all their hard work. It’s not an individual achievement. It’s a team achievement.”
Are You Experienced…
Yakteen’s first two starters in the Kentucky Derby failed to make an impact as Rich Strike (Keen Ice) shocked the world at 80-1 last year.
Zedan Racing Stable’s Taiba finished 12th as the 5-1 second-choice while making just his third career start in the Derby. Messier was 15th at 7-1 after racing close to a super sonic early pace.
Taiba and Messier rejoined Baffert’s stable following the Derby. The former followed up with wins in last term’s GI Pennsylvania Derby and GI Runhappy Malibu S. and was also third in the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic. Messier has finished off the board in three subsequent tries. He RNA’d for $475,000 at the recently concluded Keeneland April Horses of Racing Age Sale.
“Fortunately, I had a relationship with the owners and was very comfortable with the connections,” Yakteen said of temporarily taking over training duties of the pair. “I felt it was a very natural step forward and I didn’t look at it in any other facet. We were just moving forward and we had a goal. We accomplished part of that. But, unfortunately, we weren’t able to close the deal. This is another year and we’re taking steps towards trying to get a better result this time around.”
Anything Yakteen can take away from that experience as he heads back to the Derby double fisted once again?
“As a horsemen, you draw on all your experiences, as well as you do just in everyday life,” Yakteen said. “I’ve been to the Derby multiple times, and every time you go back, you always draw on the experiences. I can’t say I’m gonna draw on one particular experience, but I will draw on all of my experiences from the times I’ve been there and work that in my favor.”
Yakteen concluded, “I only reflect on it in a positive way. It’s been an enjoyable journey and I wouldn’t change anything that I’ve been granted in life. I feel very lucky.”
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