Rival trainers Baffert and Lukas share a strong friendship

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Bob Baffert has spent his whole life following D. Wayne Lukas.

As a teenager at the quarter horse track in Arizona where Baffert tagged along with his dad and learned about racing, he looked up to Lukas as a legend.

Preakness Stakes: What Time, Where to Watch and More.

“I’ll never forget when he came in with his fancy trailer and man, there’s Wayne Lukas,” Baffert said. “He was huge then. He’s always set the bar.”

Baffert even asked Lukas for a job out of high school. Lukas turned Baffert down, but in the four-plus decades since, they’ve developed a friendship as deep as their combined success.

They are two of the best thoroughbred trainers in racing history and their paths are crossing again this week at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. They will go head to head in the Preakness, a race that each has won six times.

“We’ve become good friends because we have a lot in common, we had a lot of quarter horse stories and friends that we knew coming up,” Baffert said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

Baffert goes into the Preakness with Kentucky Derby winner Justify , the heavy favorite to advance to the Belmont Stakes with the chance to give the 65-year-old his second Triple Crown champion in four years. A win Saturday would tie the 83-year-old Lukas’ record of 14 Triple Crown victories.

Lukas said Baffert “is going to roll right past that” mark.

“Bob is an excellent horseman,” said Lukas, who is expected to start Bravazo and Sporting Chance in the Preakness. “Not only has he got a good clientele base and gets some nice horses, but he absolutely knows what to do with them.”

Baffert’s dad got him involved in horse racing at age 11 and he considers his father his mentor – but he holds Lukas in high regard. Lukas has been an icon and rival for Baffert over the years, especially in the 1990s and 2000s when owner Bob Lewis pitted the two against each other.

Calling Lukas one of the hardest workers he has ever seen, Baffert set out to duplicate those efforts with incredible success. Lukas and Baffert just kept winning – including a combined 34 Breeders Cup’ races to go along with the Triple Crown victories – and became closer along the way.

“The one thing that you quickly find out is who you can greatly respect and respect is what really starts to bond these friendships that we develop over the years,” Lukas said. “I have developed a deep friendship and respect with him and his whole family, (his wife) Jill and everybody for the simple reason that I think he’s a very good horseman and he does a very, very good job.”

Baffert has done such a good job that Lukas considers him one of the top three or four trainers in history. If Justify wins Saturday, it would tie him with 19th-century trainer R.W. Walden for the most Preakness victories.

Leading up to Saturday’s race, Baffert will again share a barn with Lukas, who is looking for his first win on the Triple Crown trail since 2013. Despite the drought, Lukas is still the standard by which many younger trainers measure themselves.

“To me, he is still above me,” Baffert said. “He thinks he’s going to win everything.”

As much as Baffert praises Lukas for changing quarter-horse and thoroughbred racing, Lukas acknowledges Baffert’s more recent impact. The old-school Lukas looks to Baffert’s management model now and jokes, “I’m saddling horses for him and I’m sort of his assistant.”

“Our game is more than just trying to race horses,” Lukas said. “It’s managing people, managing horses, developing studs and put them out, effecting the breeding industry, causing economic impact in the sale ring and Bob has done all of that. … Bob affects every facet of the industry in some way or another.”

Baffert has come a long way from the 18-year-old who Lukas had no job for back in the day. Baffert ended the 37-year-old Triple Crown drought with American Pharoah in 2015 and continues to build his resume race by race.

“I learned it by trial and error – mostly error,” Baffert said. “And I said (to Wayne), `I’m sure glad you turned me down, because you’d be taking all the credit for this.”‘

Jockey suspended for using whip on another rider in Arkansas

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) A jockey has been suspended 60 days for misusing his whip – not on a horse – but on another rider in a race at an Arkansas track.

A stewards’ ruling posted Thursday on the Association of Racing Commissioners International website alleges that David Cohen “deliberately” whipped fellow jockey Edgar Morales several times during the eighth race at Oaklawn Park on April 6.

Cohen and his horse Bolita Boyz were forced wide into the stretch by Morales and No Funny Biz. The two raced side-by-side through the stretch, with Cohen whipping his mount left-handed and apparently also striking Morales.

Neither horse won the race.

Upon returning to the jockeys’ room, the ruling said that Morales confronted Cohen, telling him, “You whipped me more than you did your horse.” Morales testified at a hearing that Cohen replied, “Be patient and don’t take me wide.”

Morales testified he had four welts on his right thigh from Cohen’s whip. Although jockeys can be accidentally struck by a whip in a race, Morales told stewards that “it was not an accident, he meant to do it.”

According to the ruling, Cohen said he wouldn’t deliberately hit another jockey with his whip and that if it happened it was accidental.

The ruling said other riders and valets testified they overheard a discussion in the jockeys’ room and that they considered Cohen’s admission as indicative of a deliberate action rather than being accidental.

The stewards agreed with Morales after finding that Cohen’s action was deliberate and violated multiple rules. The stewards said Cohen’s actions jeopardized the safety of other jockeys and horses in the race.

Cohen’s suspension runs from April 27 to June 25.

He was earlier suspended for April 25 and 26 by the stewards as the result of careless riding in the eighth race at Oaklawn on April 7.

His agent, Bill Castle, is appealing both suspensions.

Cohen is second in the Oaklawn jockeys’ standings, with 59 wins from 258 mounts.

Santa Anita to run three days a week, hike purses for six weeks

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Santa Anita will race three days a week instead of four over the next four weeks because the track has lost some of its horse population to out-of-state venues.

Several stables have shipped horses to Kentucky to run at Keeneland and Churchill Downs, leaving Santa Anita with fewer horses to race and smaller field sizes.

Track officials have yet to decide whether to race three days or four for the final three weeks of the spring meet, which ends June 23.

The track said Friday it is raising purses for all non-stake races by $10,000 each for the next six weeks as a way to help owners and trainers who lost money when the track was closed for most of March.

The deaths of 23 horses since Dec. 26 forced the closure while the track’s dirt surface was examined. Racing resumed March 29, with one horse death occurring since then as the result of injuries in a turf race.

The purse increase announced Friday begins April 26 and runs through June 2. Track officials will decide later whether to continue it through the end of the meet.

The increase is being funded by existing excess money in the purse account and money from The Stronach Group, which owns the track.

Thoroughbred Owners of California chairman Nick Alexander says his group will match the purse supplements funded by TSG in the hopes of returning to racing four days a week.