Alcindor may soon be center of attention

Bob Baffert, who’s won three Kentucky Derbies, has trained many talented horses throughout his Hall of Fame career. But he may never have trained a horse with a name that raised as many eyebrows as the one who debuted in the third race at Hollywood Park on Saturday.

Alcindor, named after the former UCLA and Lakers standout Lew Alcindor, who changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in May 1971 after leading the Milwaukee Bucks to the first of his eventual six NBA titles, is a 3-year-old son of Unbridled’s Song who was purchased for $1.15 million by Thoroughbred Legends Racing Stable at the 2008 Keeneland September yearling sale.

He’s getting a late start to his career, much like a horse by the name of Zenyatta, who didn’t make her first start until late in her 3-year-old campaign. But he showed in his career bow that he could live up to the name Alcindor, who at one time led his high school, Power Memorial Academy in New York, to 71 consecutive victories before leading the Bruins to three consecutive NCAA titles and an 88-2 career record while in Westwood.

“He was a really big horse and looked like he was going to be something special,” Baffert said while explaining why it took so long for the dark bay colt to make his first start and why he was named after the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. Alcindor stalked early fractions of 21.86, 44.94 and 56.86 seconds and closed from third after the first quarter-mile to get up and beat 6-5 favorite Chapman’s Peak by a nose, running the six furlongs in 1:09.45 under jockey Martin Garcia as the 8-5 second choice in the wagering.

“He showed a lot of grit to win,” Baffert said. “I thought he would be on the lead, but I liked the way he sat behind horses and waited.”

Along with his physical appearance, the Kentucky-bred Alcindor showed in his workouts that he could be a runner. He turned in two bullet works in August at Hollywood Park, drilling five furlongs in 59.40 on Aug. 7 and six furlongs in 1:11.80 on Aug. 14.

Derby winners Silver Charm, Real Quiet and War Emblem all hold a special place in Baffert’s heart, as do other standouts he’s trained like Midnight Lute, Silverbulletday, Pioneerof the Nile and Lookin At Lucky.

But if Alcindor continues to progress, he could be a major player in the Strub Series for 4-year-olds at Santa Anita this coming winter and give Baffert another major player in his barn.

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