Mike Maker’s track record for turning horses acquired via the claim box into stakes and graded-stakes winners caught the attention of the father-son team of Kirk and Jordan Wycoff of Philadelphia. That has played out in spades with Bigger Picture, who runs in the $4 million Turf at 1 1/2 miles.
Maker, whose main base is Churchill Downs’ Trackside training center, actually trained Bigger Picture as a young horse for owner-breeder Ken and Sarah Ramsey of Nicholasville. Off a 6 1/2-month layoff and with Ken Ramsey gunning for the Saratoga owners’ title and having a surplus of turf horses, the son of Badge of Silver was put in a $25,000 claiming race. He finished third, was claimed and Ramsey didn’t win the title.
But Maker said he kept following the gelding, believing he was a horse who wanted to race longer distances on turf. When Bigger Picture showed up in a $32,000 claiming race almost exactly two years ago at Aqueduct, Maker nabbed him for the Wycoffs’ Three Diamonds Farm (so named for the elder Wycoff’s three children). The gelding won last fall’s Grade 3 Red Smith at Aqueduct for his first stakes victory and has been racing against the sport’s best this year, winning Monmouth’s Grade 1 United Nations before narrowly losing his past two starts in Saratoga’s Grade 2 Bowling Green and Grade 1 Sword Dancer.
“It’s his attention to detail,” Jordan Wycoff said of Maker’s skill at transforming claims into stakes horses. He creates a different program for every horse, do whatever is going to make the horse the happiest. He always jokes, ‘Just keep ’em happy.’ We were based at Fair Hill (Maryland), and we wanted somebody who liked to ship (to races around the country), did it well and was easy to get along with. Mike checked all the boxes.
“Bigger Picture was an easy claim. I was on the golf course that morning. I called Mike and said, ‘You want to take Bigger Picture back?’ He said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ He was probably a little tired, so we sent him home and came back a much nicer and fresher horse. But Mike said he always wanted to stretch him out. He had him as a 3-year-old and the races just weren’t long enough.”
Bigger Picture was off 5 1/2 months before resuming racing after the claim, winning a second-level allowance first time out for his new connections. He won the United Nations off a 2 1/2-month layoff and Maker is hoping he keeps up the winning ways off a hiatus in the Turf, a race in which Britain’s Ulysses is the 7-2 favorite, with Arlington Million and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic winner Beach Patrol 4-1 and 2016 Breeders’ Cup victor Highland Reel 5-1. Bigger Picture, who breaks from post 8, is 15-1.
“He’s going to like the tight little turns,” Jordan Wycoff predicted. “He’s a handy little horse. If we drew 1, 2 or 3, we’d have been ecstatic, really confident.”
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