Campbell feature: Holistic methods guide Buscador’s way back

Trainer Todd Fincher (far right) prepares to saddle his colt, Senor Buscador, at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas. The son of Mineshaft was making his first start in over a year.
Trainer Todd Fincher (far right) prepares to saddle his colt, Senor Buscador, at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas. The son of Mineshaft was making his first start in over a year.

Last fall, Todd Fincher arrived at one of his New Mexico bases early, just as he always does. Fincher is the type of trainer that interacts with each and every one of his horses. Attentive, he never misses the opportunity to greet them all individually. To him, it’s part of being a horseman, and this is one of the perks of the job. However, sometimes shed rounds can yield results that are supremely negative. Just like a doctor who looks in on patients, uncertainty is rife when dealing with humans … so it can be with horses. As he told me, with characteristic openness and honesty, “You never know when you will be facing a $7,000 bill.”

When he arrived at Senor Buscador’s door that morning, a colt by Mineshaft that was in the midst of an 8-month comeback from an injury, something was dreadfully amiss. He was standing, but his right hind leg was airborne … he simply couldn’t put any weight on it. Fincher immediately entered to investigate, but there were no marks on him … no cuts, abrasions; nothing that screamed, this is what happened! The trainer suspects that a thunderstorm might have spooked him in the middle of night, but he still has no idea of the root cause. Whatever the case was, once again, the talented "Buscador" was out. Would a return to the racetrack ever happen?

The answer begins with the approach of owner Joey Peacock Jr., a San Antonio native whose father employed Fincher before he sadly passed away in September 2020. Peacock Jr. learned equine lessons from his father about patience and time after being involved intimately in the racing business. The family pursued what could be termed a “holistic approach" of the equine variety. In other words, it’s the whole horse that needs to be considered … and that includes their present situation and also the future. Out of the broodmare Rose’s Desert, a champion New-Mexico runner that has produced some excellent offspring for the Peacocks, Buscador just needed the opportunity to heal on his own time. Bloodlines and conditioning are important for sure, but what is even more valuable tenet is you can't give up on the animal.

For the horse that he broke himself, Fincher knew immediately what was needed, but it wouldn’t be along a straight line. “We needed to listen to the horse, and it’s a frustrating road, but when you have an owner that cares deeply, then it’s easy from there.” The first hurdle was to fight the ensuing infection, which happened to turn into a nasty one. As the months rolled on and the new year approached, trainer and owner were in lock-step. They sent the colt to “rehab” where he swam laps, boarded him at Kimberly and Danny Sorenson’s Ranch in Texas, watched as he steadily started to improve, and while some would have given up and moved on, they stayed focused on a Buscador return.

Peacock and Fincher were in this position before with Buscador. After the 2-yr-old made a massive eye-popping late run at Remington Park in the $400k Springboard Mile in Oklahoma City in late 2020, the Derby Trail was halted in February. Running in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds in mid-February resulted in what Fincher called a “sprain,” and that put the plans for Derby glory on ice. Thoughts were forming that Buscador could point towards the Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn, but they knew it was going to put the horse in jeopardy. To go with Peacock’s approach, Fincher’s own holistic methods when it comes to training has served him well, and it always makes him his harshest critic. Spend any amount of time with him, and you will find him thinking and re-thinking his approach.

Once the spring dawned this year, it was time to put Buscador through some early tests. Assessments were essential, especially since the colt had not competed in over a year. “We knew how talented he was, so we didn’t overthink it, we just wanted him to go out and take it slow,” Fincher said. At Sunland Park, just outside of El Paso, Texas, the colt graduated in March/April from 2 furlongs to 3 … then it was time for him to head to Ruidoso, New Mexico for some more work in May. “Oh, he loved it there, and was really rounding into shape nicely,” beamed his trainer, “I liked what we saw, and that gave us confidence to do more and more.” Going a half mile in .47 flat will do that. As June flipped, Fincher began to contemplate the possibility of a summer start … the target? Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas would be the spot for the debut.

Around 7 o’clock on Sunday morning, walking into the barn to see Buscador, Fincher was already checking on him. With fans blowing air in his direction, the trainer said, “He doesn’t care much for this heat, and I can tell he is missing that temperate weather in Ruidoso.” When I asked the trainer about his prospects for the race that evening, he was cautious when he said, “We’ll see.” His stablemate, a runner named Goddard, was part of an uncoupled entry, and Fincher told me that was because the race Buscador entered didn’t fill. Jockey Rudy Guerra, who rode him as a 2-yr-old in-training, would get the call in the Allowance contest at Lone Star that evening. The instructions were simple … “Let him run how he wants to.”

With major heat in Texas, Senor Buscador keeps cool in the Lone Star Park barn area under the watchful eye of his trainer, Todd Fincher.
With major heat in Texas, Senor Buscador keeps cool in the Lone Star Park barn area under the watchful eye of his trainer, Todd Fincher.

Just as the sun was ticking downwards, the steam and final rays offered a barrage of heat from the Texas sky. Always an odd place, the Paddock went from being a ghost town to teaming with horses and humans in seemingly a matter of seconds. As the entries for Race 8 arrived with their grooms, there was no question that Senor Buscador was making his presence felt. He was somewhere between the poles—agitated and excited. Like a prizefighter itching to get into the ring, if they told him he could run around the fountain in the center, he was up for it. His trainer arrived ready to saddle him, and taking him out of the stall, and onto the grass for the saddling process was a good plan.

Fincher, backed by his staff and family, looked laser-focused, and watching him, you could tell that he was looking at every twitch the colt was making. I remembered before the Risen Star in New Orleans, asking him if he was concerned about a possible wet track. He gave a sharp retort, “I’m concerned about everything.” As Buscador and the others pointed towards the real oval, Fincher gave a glance back at the tote in the Paddock … no, the son of Mineshaft wasn’t the favorite. During warmups, one had to wonder just how Buscador was going to react once the gates opened … then they did.

Off a touch slow, jockey Guerra rallied his mount, going 3-wide towards the end of the backstretch. As he ranged up around the turn, you could tell those powerful gears that the horse utilized so ably in Oklahoma that December … dormant for many months … were ready for action. The colt rolled up down the lane, and accelerated in what looked like an effortless victory. The mysterious leg injury from last fall seemed to be a distant memory. You could tell, as horse and rider returned for a well-earned ice dunk, that Fincher was pleased.

After the festivities in the Lone Star Winner’s Circle were concluded, I asked him about the road taken. Fincher told me, “You know it’s funny, in 4 career races he still has never been the favorite!” He reminded me that Buscador travels throughout the southwest circuit should serve him well moving forward. With a critical horseman’s eye, there was still room for improvement. “He was amped up, and I am thinking about what I could’ve done different to settle him down through his training,” he admitted. Fincher … always contemplating the next set of decisions … he knows they will come quickly.

Depending on how Buscador ships back to Ruidoso, in the coming days Fincher will assess the colt’s options. Del Mar’s Thoroughbred Club is an intended target, he told me, and we could see Peacock’s ace by the end of July in Southern California, along with a number of others in the trainer’s string. “We will take some time here, and make sure he’s sound,” Fincher said, using the standard trainer-speak. The subtext that did become evident on Sunday is that Senor Buscador took a major step on the road to recovery.

Through a holistic approach, time and patience ran its course, despite setbacks. Both Todd Fincher and Joey Peacock embrace the fact that success doesn’t come overnight, nor does rushing the process. Remember, the horse will tell you … Looking at the situation, they guided Buscador along a different trail last year and into this one. It wasn’t the Derby result they were after, but maybe in the end, it may still turn out to be significant. That’s what happens when you see the totality of a horse. It's even more gratifying to witness his progress, as Senor Buscador makes his way back.

Cool down ... Senor Buscador heads to the winner's circle with Rudy Guerra aboard. His return to the racetrack was a success on Sunday.
Cool down ... Senor Buscador heads to the winner's circle with Rudy Guerra aboard. His return to the racetrack was a success on Sunday.