By Dick Jerardi
Trainer Ernesto Padilla-Preciado, aka Chito, understood when owner JKX Racing said Malibu Star was going to be sold at the Keeneland April Horse of Racing Age sale. The 6-year-old had been claimed for $25,000 in July 2022 and won more than $100,000 in six races with Chito. The last three races, all at Parx, were wins by a combined 21 lengths.
“He did the right thing,” Chito said. “He took a nice profit.”
So he said goodbye to the best horse in his barn. Chito was at his barn at feeding time when Malibu Star hit the auction stage at Keeneland and watched as the bidding went all the way to $140,000. JKX Racing had made $240,000 after that $25,000 claim, but Chito still did not have Malibu Star.
“I was kind of upset when they first took him to the sale because I really didn’t want to lose that horse,” Chito said.
What he did not know is who made the winning bid.
“I got a call like three times, but I did not know the number so I did not answer,” Chito said.
Eventually, he listened to a voicemail and called Jaime Guerrero who told him, without telling him the horse’s name, that he was going to be sending him a horse the next day.
Guerrero, brother of Parx trainers Carlos and Lupe Guerrero, liked Malibu Star every bit as much as Chito. So he drove to Kentucky with his girlfriend, started bidding, and did not stop until the hammer fell and he owned Malibu Star.
“I couldn’t believe he was actually going to be put up for sale,” Guerrero said. “I would never sell anything like that, but I was curious.”
The more he thought about it, the more he said: “I can’t let an opportunity like this go by. It’s so hard to get a good horse. You sometimes spend millions for a horse that you don’t even know if he’s going to run.”
So he made the drive to Lexington, Kentucky.
“And before you know it, I end up with the horse,” Guerrero said.
And made that call to Chito, who asked for the horse’s name.
“It was that horse you used to have,” Guerrero told Chito.
“Well, tell me that name,’’ Chito asked.
Then, Guerrero told him he was the buyer of Malibu Star.
“What, did you buy that horse?” Chito asked. “That was something very special. I was very surprised.”
Malibu Star, a son of the great Giant’s Causeway, was sold to Gary and Mary West at the 2018 Keeneland September Sale for $450,000. The colt was turned over to trainer Bob Baffert, but made just one start for Baffert at Santa Anita before being sent east to trainer Kelly Breen.
After the colt broke his maiden at Aqueduct in December 2020 for the Wests, he was promptly sold. Malibu Star did not win for those owners and was claimed for $16,000 in February 2022. He did not win after that claim and then was claimed again by owner/trainer William Hogan for $7,500 in June 2022. Malibu Star won twice and finished second once in three starts for Hogan over just a month’s time. Hogan made $64,000 in purses and the claiming price.
Now, Malibu Star is right back where he has been since last July.
“I had options with the horse with the trainers,” Guerrero said. “Of course, my brothers would have been one of the options. But I also knew Chito. I know what kind of work he does. He worked for my brother Carlos back in the day. And he got to know the horse so good.”
So Malibu Star went back to Chito. And the colt is running just like he never left. In his first start back for Chito, Malibu Star, sent off at 1-2 last Wednesday, crushed his field by 9 lengths under Jeremy Laprida, who has ridden him during this dominating four-race win streak, with Beyer figures of 94, 98, 99 and 93.
“He feels like he owns the race track,” Guerrero said of Malibu Star.
And the horse runs just that way.
“He passed those horses like they were standing still,” Guerrero said.
Chito worked as a hot walker for his uncle, Park Hall of Famer Lupe Preciado. Carlos Guerrero taught him how to gallop horses. He worked for Scott Lake, who has won more races at Parx than anybody and is a charter member of the Hall of Fame. He was at Fair Hill with Bruce Jackson. He also worked for Hall of Famer Kate DeMasi and spent five years working with the starting gate crew. He became a trainer in 2020 and now has a barn full of horses.
Malibu Star cost all that money at the yearling sale partially because of his pedigree. Now, with the race record to match, there is a chance the horse could become a stallion someday. For now, there are more races and purses to be won. If Malibu Star does become a successful stallion, that $140,000 is going to seem like even more of a bargain.