Mr. Buff winning the Feb. 22, 2020 Haynesfield by 20 lengths
Saturday marks the eighth running of the $100,000 Jazil at Aqueduct Racetrack and one familiar face will be noticeably absent from the nine-furlong test this year. Mr. Buff, winner of the last three consecutive runnings of the Jazil, retired from racing in November of 2021 and has settled in well at owners Chester and Mary Broman’s Chestertown Farm in upstate New York.
A New York homebred, the millionaire chestnut son of Friend Or Foe was foaled in 2014 and was eventually gelded and named Mr. Buff, a fitting name for a horse standing 17.2 hands tall.
Trainer John Kimmel recalled the gelding towering over his stablemates even as a 2-year-old.
“He looked like two men in a horse suit. He was this huge 2-year-old and was just big and awkward,” said Kimmel. “You never know where a good horse will come from. Sometimes, you get one you think will be ordinary and they wind up being really good. And sometimes you have one you think will be really good and they turn out ordinary. He was one that really matured into a special horse. We miss him; he was such a big presence.”
Out of the Speightstown mare Speightful Affair, Mr. Buff’s size did not inhibit his racing talents, breaking his maiden in his juvenile season at second asking when stretching out to seven furlongs from six furlongs on debut.
With two allowance wins as a sophomore, Mr. Buff made 14 starts as a 4-year-old, capped off by a year-end win in the Alex M. Robb at Aqueduct to score the first stakes win of his career. Mr. Buff’s Alex M. Robb would prove to be the start of a long list of stakes accomplishments, the first of 11 career stakes wins with five other placings, including a third in the Grade 3 Westchester at Belmont Park last year.
Of his three Jazil victories, Mr. Buff’s most impressive effort came in last year’s edition when he took down the Jazil for the third consecutive time. Ridden by Kendrick Carmouche, who also earned his third Jazil win that year, Mr. Buff contested the pace set by Musical Heart and was held 1 1/2 lengths back in second down the backstretch.
Given the cue from Carmouche rounding the turn, Mr. Buff took command and bounded away to a dominating seven-length victory, wrapped up at the wire in the penultimate victory of his career.
Mr. Buff won two other stakes on multiple occasions, taking back-to-back editions of the Alex M. Robb [2018, 2019] and the Empire Classic [2019, 2020], both at Aqueduct.
The second of Mr. Buff’s Empire Classic wins came on the heels of a short layoff in 2020, regrouping for two months after off-the-board finishes in the Grade 2 Suburban at Belmont and the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga.
Kimmel shared that his fondest memory of Mr. Buff’s 48-start career was his repeat win in the Empire Classic.
“He came in off two bad races and people were writing him off like he was done,” said Kimmel. “He hadn’t run since August and I had him ready to run at the end of October from nothing but training and to have him run that kind of race was good. That was a happy day.”
Mr. Buff’s final win came in last year’s Stymie, grinding out a half-length victory over Limonite in the one-mile event at Aqueduct. After a third in the Grade 3 Westchester next time out, he ran off the board in his last three starts, prompting his connections to retire the then-7-year-old gelding after six seasons of racing in November of 2021.
Mr. Buff retired to Chestertown Farm with a record of 48-17-8-5, earnings of $1,403,536, and two New York championship titles [Older Dirt Male in 2019 and 2020], cementing him as an all-time fan favorite in the New York racing scene.
Loretta Lusteg, assistant to Kimmel, emphasized that it takes a dedicated team to campaign a horse like Mr. Buff to so many successful seasons on the racetrack.
“I give so much credit to Arturo [Sanchez, Mr. Buff’s groom], and his exercise rider and our barn foreman Jorge Munoz,” Lusteg said. “They were very hands on and there with him through the winters. It was a team effort.”
Sanchez, Mr. Buff’s groom for his entire career, recalled his affection for Mr. Buff and said things around the barn are a bit different now that the large chestnut has left for retirement.
“I worked for six years with him,” Sanchez said. “That’s a long time to work with a nice horse. For me, he’s the best horse I’ve worked with. I miss having him around. I’ve seen lots of pictures of him and he’s doing well.”
Gregg Falk, manager of Chestertown Farm, has been keeping Mr. Buff’s connections up to date on his retirement ventures and shared that he has been in fine order since arriving in the beginning of November.
“He’s relaxing and hanging out here on the farm. He let down very well and he’s a smart horse,” Falk said. “He figured out things pretty quickly. He’s turned out by himself right now because we didn’t want him to get attached to other horses and make friends if he’s going to be leaving to do something else. I’m not sure what that would be yet but I’ll leave that up to Mr. Kimmel and Mr. Broman.”
Kimmel indicated that the gelding’s professionalism and experience on the racetrack may make him a good candidate to return to his barn as a pony.
“I don’t think he likes the cold up in Chestertown,” Kimmel said. “I think he wants a second career; he needs to do something. I’m thinking maybe he could be a pony for me. He could teach the 2-year-olds a lot and do well with them. I do worry he may try to take off with the racers, but he could be a good pony. He’s a natural leader. There’s also someone interested in making him a jumper.”
Lusteg shared Kimmel’s sentiments, noting Mr. Buff’s leadership around other trainees.
“He was very strong but kind. You could put him in company with another horse and he would babysit the younger ones. He was good in that way,” Lusteg said.
No matter what Mr. Buff ultimately finds himself doing in a second career, it is almost certain that the large fanbase he garnered in his racing career will continue to follow him wherever he goes. Lusteg recalled what it was like to have a local celebrity in the barn for so many years.
“It was so special to see the fans,” said Lusteg. “He was a horse that you could walk up to in the stall and pet him. You didn’t have to worry about him biting anyone and he loved the attention. People loved to come and get a picture with him.
“He had no idea how strong he was and was kind in the stall,” Lusteg added. “He loved his peppermints and was a good dude. He’s a part of our family and is missed around the barn.”
Now enjoying retirement at the place of his birth, Mr. Buff is sure to be enjoyed for years to come as his fans and connections continue the journey with him into his next career.
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