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.”‘

What to know about the 151st Belmont Stakes

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Rogue riderless horse Bodexpress won’t make an appearance at the 2019 Belmont Stakes, but the 151st iteration of the race won’t be without major star power. Mark Casse‘s War of Will looks to claim the third jewel in the Triple Crown just three weeks after his 2019 Preakness Stakes win and a month removed from the 145th Kentucky Derby, where he was one of the horses most impacted by the disqualified first place finisher Maximum Security. The field is set to be a combination of Derby and Preakness horses, some of which have never met before—only fitting for a race known as the “Test of the Champion.”

What is the Belmont Stakes? The Belmont Stakes is the last leg of the American Triple Crown of horse racing. Like the Derby and the Preakness, it’s a Grade I Thoroughbred stakes races. The Belmont Stakes is 1 1/2 miles, or 12 furlongs, which makes it the longest race in the Triple Crown.

The Belmont is run on the dirt track (also known as “Big Sandy”) at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. It was first raced in 1867, making it the oldest jewel in the Triple Crown (and the fourth oldest race in North America). However, the race wasn’t run in 1911 or 1912, which is why the Kentucky Derby is still the longest continuous sporting event in the country. The Belmont always been run in or around New York City, having raced at Jerome Park (now closed), Morris Park (also closed) and Aqueduct in addition to Belmont, which is just east of Queens.

Aside from being the last hurdle for Triple Crown contenders, the Belmont is known for Secretariat’s 31-length victory in 1973, which sealed his Triple Crown title and set the current world record at 2:24 for 1 1/2 miles on dirt.

When is the 2019 Belmont Stakes? The 151st Belmont Stakes is on Saturday, June 8. Post time will be at approximately 6:50 p.m. ET.

What is unique about the Belmont Stakes? The Belmont is the final test for horses seeking a Triple Crown title. Horses have an additional week of rest between races as opposed to the Preakness, but the Belmont is also the longest race of the three.

Belmont Park is only a few miles away from New York City, and city dwellers can just hop on the Long Island Rail Road for a day at the races. The annual Belmont Festival features several days packed with racing and other events. This year, hip-hop artist Flo Rida will perform on June 8.

How can I watch the 2019 Belmont Stakes? NBC is home to the 151st Belmont Stakes, providing comprehensive race coverage and analysis live on TV and NBCSports.com before, during and after the main event. Get started with NBCSN on Friday, June 7 at 5 p.m. for the Belmont Gold Cup. NBCSN coverage continues on Saturday, June 8 at 2:30 p.m. before moving to NBC at 4 p.m. See the broadcast schedule here.

Who are the horses to watch?

  • 2019 Preakness winner War of Will could become just the 12th horse in history to lose in the Derby but come back to win both the Preakness and Belmont. The last horse to do this was Afleet Alex in 2005. “WOW” crossed the wire 8th at Churchill Downs and was elevated to 7th.
  • Trained by 2019 Kentucky Derby winner-trainer Bill Mott, the easy-to-spot gray horse Tacitus finished fourth in the Derby and was elevated to third.
  • Longshot Preakness runner up Everfast and third place finisher Owendale will look for redemption against War of Will.
  • Master Fencer was one of the biggest surprises of the 145th Kentucky Derby. Not only did he become the first Japan-bred horse to race in the Run for the Roses, but he defied expectations and finished 7th (elevated to 6th), crossing the wire ahead of fellow Belmont competitor War of Will.

Who won the 2018 Belmont Stakes? WinStar Farm’s colt Justify, trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Mike Smith, won the 150th Preakness Stakes to become the 13th-ever Triple Crown winner.

What comes next? NBC Sports is home to all things Breeders’ Cup and will have comprehensive coverage from Santa Anita on Friday, Nov. 2 and Saturday, Nov. 3. Qualifying races for the 2020 Kentucky Derby will start back up in the late winter and early spring of next year on NBCSN. Racing fans can also hope for a competitor in Gary West‘s $5 million challenge to the horses impeded by Maximum Security that they can’t beat him in a race.

3rd horse in 9 days dies at Santa Anita

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) Santa Anita had its third horse death in nine days when a gelding pulled up during a race and was euthanized.

Twenty-six horses have died in racing or training at the Southern California track since Dec. 26.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Kochees sustained an injury to its left front leg in a 5 1/2-furlong race Saturday.

Kochees was taken off the course with a splint. The newspaper says during surgery Sunday it was determined that the 9-year-old horse had lost blood flow to the leg and the decision was made to euthanize.

Santa Anita is scheduled to host the Breeders’ Cup Nov. 1-2. It’s considered the biggest two-day event in U.S. horse racing.