Bob Baffert is planning to watch the Derby from his couch

0 Comments

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Bob Baffert went from thinking he could win a fifth Kentucky Derby to being out of it in the space of a few seconds.

Once Mastery got hurt after winning a prep race this winter, Baffert no longer had a horse for the first Saturday in May. It was a huge blow to a trainer who’s missed the Derby just twice since 2009 and whose four victories are tied for second-most in history.

Mastery won the San Felipe Stakes by 6 } lengths at Santa Anita, and Baffert made his way to the winner’s circle believing the colt was “the second coming” of his Triple Crown champion American Pharoah.

“We were so excited,” he said Tuesday. “I had taken my time with him. I wanted him ready for all three races.”

But just past the finish line, Mastery took a bad step and sustained a condylar fracture, a common injury among thoroughbreds. The colt had screws inserted in his left front ankle and is recovering.

“It’s a part of the game that gets really bitter,” Baffert said. “It gets you so upset. It can be so cruel.”

Now there’s no need for metal barriers to keep back crowds outside Baffert’s barn on the backstretch at Churchill Downs. All the pre-Derby hustle and bustle is going on elsewhere in the stable area. No media hordes waiting for a few bon mots from the white-haired trainer.

That’s what happens when you’re an observer and not a participant in America’s greatest race.

Don’t think it doesn’t bother him.

“I’m just trying to get there again,” he said. “I want another shot at it with an American Pharoah (foal). His babies look really good.”

In 2015, American Pharoah swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont for the sport’s first Triple Crown victory in 37 years. The horse retired later that year and is now busy producing offspring that Baffert hopes follow in their sire’s hoof prints.

He bred a mare to American Pharoah, who stands in nearby Lexington, where the trainer and his wife Jill have visited their equine friend who became like family.

American Pharoah’s achievement cemented Baffert’s reputation as one of the greatest trainers in the sport’s history. Even without a current Derby runner, he still got rock-star treatment Tuesday from backstretch visitors eager for signed photos, ball caps and whiskey bottles done up in the colors of American Pharoah’s silks.

Fans posed against the backdrop of green-and-white signs nailed to the barn wall naming Baffert’s Derby and Triple Crown winners.

They shouldn’t feel sorry for him. He trains Arrogate, a 4-year-old colt who was injured during last year’s Triple Crown series but rebounded to win the Travers Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup, racking up $17 million in earnings. Arrogate is set to resume racing this summer.

Baffert does have one bit of business this week. He’s here to saddle filly Abel Tasman in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks on Friday. Then he’ll fly home to Southern California on Saturday morning and be back in time to catch the Derby from the comfort of his couch.

“I’ll be watching everybody stressing out,” he said. “It’ll be fun.”

Baffert has a rooting interest in four Derby runners that were sired by horses he once trained.

“That’s when you know you’ve been in this game a long time,” the 64-year-old Hall of Famer said.

Two of them – Always Dreaming and Classic Empire – could be the favorites for the 1 \-mile race. Always Dreaming, trained by Todd Pletcher, was sired by Pioneerof the Nile. Classic Empire, trained by Mark Casse, was sired by Bodemeister.

The other two will be longshots. Lookin At Lee, trained by Steve Asmussen, was sired by Lookin At Lucky. Sonneteer, who is 0 for 10 in his career and trained by Keith Desormeaux, was sired by Midnight Lute, who never ran in the Derby.

Baffert is also cheering on his pal Bode Miller, part-owner of Fast And Accurate, one of an expected 20 horses in the field. For years, the Olympic skier has been a Derby week regular at Baffert’s barn. The trainer’s pre-teen son is named for the athlete.

“It’s a different feeling if you’ve got a horse in there,” Baffert said. “Believe me, he’ll come out of it with a totally different perception. He’ll understand what it’s all about – the importance of the race, the emotions that run through you. Everybody should go through it.”

Baffert hopes he does again next year.

369 horses nominated to compete in Triple Crown series

Getty Images
0 Comments

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A total of 369 3-year-olds were made eligible to compete in this year’s Triple Crown series during the early nomination period.

Each of the horses was nominated through a $600 payment to compete in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont stakes. The Triple Crown opens May 6 with the Derby.

The number of nominated horses increased by 57 from last year’s total of 312. They include a record 37 horses based in Japan.

Among the notable horses is Forte, last year’s 2-year-old champion trained by Todd Pletcher.

Also among the predominantly male horses nominated was a filly named Hoosier Philly.

Brad Cox led all trainers with 38 horses nominated to the series. Pletcher was second with 36 horses, followed by Steve Asmussen and Ken McPeek with 13 each. Chad Brown and Hideyuki Mori had 12 each.

Others nominated include Arabian Knight, Cave Rock and Newgate, all trained by Bob Baffert. He is currently banned by Churchill Downs Inc. through this year’s Derby, although Baffert is challenging his two-year punishment in federal court.

For the Derby, horses under the care of any suspended trainer may be transferred to another trainer and become eligible to earn Derby qualifying points as long as the transfer is done by Feb. 28.

Last year, Baffert transferred two horses to another trainer and both ran in the Derby, although neither was highly placed.

Horses that were not nominated to the Triple Crown series by the early deadline of Jan. 28 can make a late payment of $6,000 through March 27 to become eligible.

Newgate wins Robert B. Lewis Stakes; Baffert runs 1-2-3-4

0 Comments

ARCADIA, Calif. — Newgate won the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by a neck, with Bob Baffert as the trainer of all four horses in the Kentucky Derby prep race at Santa Anita.

Ridden by Frankie Dettori, Newgate ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.11 and paid $4 and $2.60 as the even-money favorite. There was no show wagering because of the field size.

Hard to Figure returned $5.20 at 12-1 odds. Worcester was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Arabian Lion was fourth.

“So much improvement in all these horses,” Baffert said. “I was actually nervous before the race, worried that something weird might happen, but I can relax now.”

The Lewis was a Kentucky Derby prep race, but no points were awarded because Baffert has been banned for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The Hall of Fame trainer was in Louisville to testify in federal court as he seeks a temporary injunction to end the suspension, which runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet. It was meted out following a failed drug test by Medina Spirit after the colt finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Newgate earned his first graded stakes victory. The colt was second, beaten by a neck in the Sham Stakes last month in his previous start.

“Frankie Dettori has been teaching him how to just sit back, relax and come with a punch and that’s what he did today,” Baffert said.

The victory, worth $120,000, increased Newgate’s career earnings to $241,975, with two wins in six starts.