Gray and bay heads peered out over the red stall webbings of Charlton Baker's shedrow, ears pricked as a horse walked back to its barn from the Oklahoma Training Track. Baker sat in his golf cart parked feet away from the stalls, glancing at a condition book in his hand as he recounted his introduction to racing. (Editor's note: Originally published in Aug. 26 issue of The Saratoga Special.)
"My dad was a trainer back in Jamaica," said Baker, in the midst of a career meet at Saratoga. "He was a jockey, then he became a trainer, so I was always around horses back in Jamaica. And we lived next to a track, so I was always in the barn area after school, sometimes before school. I loved the horses so I was always at the barn. I was pretty much born into it."
Baker, who began his training career at Finger Lakes in 1998, shipped his first horse to run at Saratoga in 2001. Fifteen years later, and 30 days into the 2016 meet, he's won eight races from 21 starts through Thursday, most notably sending out 9-year-old gelding Moonlight Song to win his second consecutive John Morrissey Stakes after a year-long layoff.
"The horses have been coming together at the right time," Baker said. "Fresh horses, young horses, even the old horses."
Baker talked about his Saratoga string Sunday after training hours with The Special's Annise Montplaisir.
Moonlight Song: The veteran really needs no introduction, but he's riding a three-race win streak which goes back to Belmont Park's Hudson Handicap in October 2014. Al Fried's homebred is 9-for-18 lifetime with $534,294 in the bank. "He's the old man of the outfit. The big man. He's a horse you just love, he'll throw it all out there. He's a horse you root for. He's got a laid-back personality, been around and seen it all. The John Morrissey was really exciting coming back off that year. We had a lot of delays in training getting to that point. Just a month before the John Morrissey everything kind of went right where we could get him working where we wanted to. Two works before the John Morrissey he worked at Belmont and he worked beautiful. That was when I was sure he was ready to run. This might be his last (year). I wouldn't count on it, but I'm thinking he doesn't go until he's 10. He's a beautiful horse, he'll go to the farm. I was watching a replay on my phone yesterday and he got up in his stall and rushed to the front when the announcer started. I had to turn the volume down because he was getting so excited. As soon as he heard it he charged that webbing."
Wake Up In Malibu: The 5-year-old Malibu Moon gelding ran fourth in an allowance-optional Aug. 10. "It was in the slop, seven-eighths, I think we might have cut him back a little too short. Before that he won (the Saginaw Stakes) in Belmont. He didn't run terrible but he didn't run his best. So we started pointing to the Evan Shipman (Sept. 2)."
Gold For The King/Freud's Friend: Two-year-old homebred geldings for Francis Paolangeli won their debuts at Saratoga. Gold For The King is entered in today's $200,000 Funny Cide. Freud's Friend finished third in the Skidmore Stakes Aug. 19. "(Gold for the King) won impressive. From Day 1 we thought he was going to be a nice 2-year-old. We had him in Finger Lakes training. We had two of them, him and Freud's Friend, they were working partners all the way up to the race and they both showed promise. All along we had Saratoga marked for them, and they were ready to run maybe three weeks before Saratoga started."
Tiznow's Smile: Paolangeli's 2-year-old homebred Tiznow filly finished fourth in her debut Aug. 4 and is entered in today's $200,000 Seeking the Ante Stakes. "She's out of a very good mare, Serenity's Smile. She's had like six foals and five of them are stakes winners. This is her seventh foal, and she showed a lot of promise in her first race, like she wants to go a little further. She's a big filly."
Riot Worthy: Baker owns 3-year-old daughter of Patriot Act, who won 6-furlong allowance Aug. 19 and is back in today's $200,000 Fleet Indian. "She's pretty consistent. We purchased her privately after a race at (Gulfstream Park West) and she broke her maiden at Aqueduct. She's been consistent all year, she just won the a-other-than down here and we're kind of thinking we might take a chance in the Fleet Indian. That was the plan going into the last race. She came out of the race in good shape, she ate up pretty good, so we're thinking of taking a quick turnaround."
Birchwood Road: Newman Racing's 6-year-old grey Pure Prize gelding finished eighth in Aug. 21 allowance. "He's a horse we claimed (July 14). New York-bred that was running for the a-other-than open. Seemed like he was knocking on the door, they dropped him in for 40 New York-bred."
Love That Jazz: Happy Face Racing Stable's Not For Love ridgling won the Ontario County Stakes at Finger Lakes June 27 and finished fifth in Aug. 22 allowance at Saratoga. "Nice 3-year-old New York-bred. Won a couple stakes already. Won one before I got him, he broke his maiden in (the Aspirant Stakes) and came back, we got him to win an a-other-than when I got him this year and he won (the Ontario County). He'll develop into a good 4-year-old. Hopefully he'll try and fill the shoes of Moonlight Song when he retires. Big shoes to fill but he's a nice horse."
Barrel Of Dreams: A 4-year-old filly by Not For Love won a starter allowance Aug. 7 for Newman Racing going 1 1/16 miles on the turf. "A filly we claimed last year, intent on running her on the grass, off-the-turf races. She's looking at condition New York-bred races, but she's seemed like a pretty decent grass horse so far."
Cosmic Tale: Baker owns 4-year-old daughter of Cosmonaut, who won starter allowance Aug. 4 and finished seventh in allowance Aug. 20, and says she's the oddest in the barn. "She's a little bit on the flighty side, you can never know what to expect from her. Nice-looking filly, but she can be a little quirky."
Rachel's Temper: Saul and Max Kupferberg's 5-year-old Flatter mare won Monday's $100,000 Summer Colony Stakes. "Best personality. She's a nice filly to be around, gentle sweet horse. She gets a little attitude on race day from what I've seen. She washes out in the post parade and when she does I don't think she runs very good from what I've seen of her. When she's on the track she'll jump, we send her with a pony. But other than that she's the sweetest horse in the barn."