Baffert savors journey with another Triple Crown in reach

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NEW YORK (AP) The only thing Bob Baffert wanted to do in horse racing was win the Triple Crown.

Been there, done that in 2015 with American Pharoah.

Now, the white-haired trainer is back with another chance to saddle a colt to a sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.

Belmont Stakes: What Time, Where To Watch and More

Justify could become racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner and second in four years if he wins the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.

“I’ve won it so I’m actually going to enjoy this a little bit more,” Baffert said.

Don’t mistake Baffert’s California cool for nonchalance.

He’s on top of every little detail involving Justify: workouts, eating, the colt’s health, and how he acts around the barn.

“He always puts his horses first,” said Dale Romans, who plans to saddle Free Drop Billy in the Belmont. “He’s just got that sixth sense about him.”

Baffert arrived in Southern California from his home state of Arizona in the 1980s, switching from quarter horses to thoroughbreds.

Long before he had good horses of his own, he would pick the brains of legendary trainers like Charlie Whittingham.

“I’m not bashful about asking questions,” Baffert said. “Something that took them 20 years I can learn it in two minutes. I have all this information stored up in my brain. I know what I need to do.”

It showed in 2015.

American Pharoah ended a 37-year drought when he accomplished one of sports’ toughest feats. Until he did, there was talk of changing the Triple Crown format of three races in five weeks at three tracks. People said it was too hard, a reason why it hadn’t been done since Affirmed in 1978.

“I said, `Man, I hope they don’t change it,”‘ Baffert said. “I want to do it before they change it because it won’t mean anything.”

He had missed on three previous Triple tries: Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002), all derailed in the Belmont.

“They didn’t get it done because they were getting tired,” he said. “We’ve seen so many great horses get beat because they get tired.”

Now, it’s Justify’s turn to take a shot.

The chestnut colt wasn’t even Baffert’s top Kentucky Derby hopeful this year. That role belonged to McKinzie, who got injured in March and couldn’t run in the Santa Anita Derby. Justify won that race, instantly inserting him into Derby contention.

“The horse brought us along on his own,” Baffert said. “He’s handled everything we’ve thrown at him.”

Justify won the Kentucky Derby just 77 days after making his racing debut in mid-February. He didn’t compete as a 2-year-old, partly because of a pulled muscle that delayed his progress. He won the Derby and Preakness on sloppy tracks, and rain is forecast for Saturday.

In Baltimore, Justify had what Baffert called “a scary win.” After pulling away from Good Magic in deep stretch, Justify fended off fast-closing Bravazo and Tenfold to win by a half-length.

“Only the great ones can do something like that,” Baffert said.

To complete the Triple Crown, Justify will have to run 1 + miles in the Belmont, the longest of the three races. If successful, he would join Seattle Slew as the only unbeaten Triple Crown winners.

“It makes me feel even better going into the Belmont because I know if it comes down to a fight, he’s going to give it to us,” Baffert said. “They said before he wasn’t battle-tested. He’s battle-tested. He knows he’s good. Those great horses have that attitude.”

Justify’s swagger is, well, justified. He’s 5-0 in his brief career.

“When he walks out there, he knows he’s the man,” Baffert said. “Nothing bothers him.”

Not much ruffles Baffert since he survived a heart attack in Dubai in 2012. Still quick with a quip, he takes time away from the track and relies on his crack staff to handle some of the load.

“It’s so much easier now than when I was 45,” said Baffert, who qualified for Medicare when he turned 65 in January.

His mantra is simple: Expect the worst and hope for the best.

“If you don’t have that attitude, this game will drive you crazy because you’re going to lose more than you win,” he said. “If you can win at 20 percent you’re knocking it out of the park.”

Baffert could join James “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons as the only trainers of two Triple Crown winners. Fitzsimmons oversaw Gallant Fox in 1930 and Omaha in 1935, a decade that saw three horses sweep the Triple Crown.

Although he’s never been what he calls “a goal guy,” he wanted to win the Triple Crown while his parents were alive. It didn’t happen. His mother, Ellie, died in 2011; his father, Bill, the next year.

The loss left Baffert all the more emotional when American Pharoah made his triumphant sweep.

“I figured they were up there helping me out,” he said. “I still think they’re helping me out.”

Joining him in New York this time will be his four grown children from his first marriage and 13-year-old son Bode with wife Jill in tow. None of his kids has any interest in the sport beyond attending the biggest races.

“I would never encourage it,” Jill Baffert said. “It’s a tough way to make a living, especially if you don’t have the passion for it.”

Bode, who aspires to be a meteorologist, provides race day forecasting for his dad using live Doppler radar on his cellphone.

“He loves the storms and lightning,” said Jill Baffert, noting their son correctly provided early warning of the monsoon that hit Pimlico just before the 2015 Preakness.

Bob Baffert is prepared for sunshine or dreariness after the Belmont, knowing he’s saddled good horses three other times that didn’t get it done.

“The journey is the best part of the whole thing,” he said.

What: 150th Belmont Stakes
When: June 9, 2018
Post time: 6:37 p.m ET
Where to watch: NBC, NBC Sports app

Triple Crown winner Justify to resume training in California

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Triple Crown champion Justify has returned to his base at Santa Anita accompanied by a police escort and was greeted by trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith.

The winner of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont flew from Louisville, Kentucky, to Ontario, California, on Sunday. After landing, four Arcadia Police Department units traveled with the 13th Triple Crown winner to the racetrack.

After winning the Belmont in New York on June 9, Justify returned to Churchill Downs, where he and his human connections were honored on Saturday night.

Justify will resume training this week and be paraded between races this weekend.

NBC presents 22 hours of daily live coverage of Royal Ascot

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STAMFORD, Conn. – June 14, 2018 – NBC Sports presents daily live coverage of the Royal Meeting in Ascot, Berkshire, England  – one of the most prestigious horse racing meets in the world – including the first-ever NBC broadcast of the race on Saturday, June 23, at 9 a.m. ET. Live coverage of the event begins Tuesday, June 19, at 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN, with daily telecasts of the full five-day Royal meeting on NBCSN through Friday, June 22. In total, NBC Sports Group will present 22 hours of coverage over the five days.

Royal Ascot is one of the world’s most valuable horse racing events, attracting many of the world’s finest racehorses.  The event features 30 races, including eight at the world championship “Group One” level. Highlighting the American contingent is trainer Wesley Ward, who has won nine races at Royal Ascot over the years. He is scheduled to bring 10 horses to Ascot this year, highlighted by Lady Aurelia, who is looking to win her third straight race at The Royal Meeting. She races in the King’s Stand on Tuesday during NBCSN’s first day of coverage.

The Royal Meeting is the center of the British social season and a pivotal week in the calendar of the Royal Family, who arrive every day by the world famous “Royal Procession” – with the first carriage carrying The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

NBC News’ Dylan Dreyer makes her Royal Ascot debut on Friday and Saturday, alongside Nick Luck, who will host coverage for all five days. On Friday morning, June 22, Dreyer will report live from Berkshire on TODAY.

Following is NBC Sports’ schedule for the Royal Ascot next week:

Date Time (ET) Show Network
Tues., June 19 8:30 a.m. Royal Ascot NBCSN
Wed., June 20 8:30 a.m. Royal Ascot NBCSN
Thurs., June 21 8:30 a.m. Royal Ascot NBCSN
Fri., June 22 8:30 a.m. Royal Ascot NBCSN
Sat., June 23 9 a.m. Royal Ascot NBC

NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app – NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, tablets, and connected TVs – will stream coverage of the Royal Meeting. The NBC Sports app will stream coverage via “TV Everywhere,” giving consumers additional value to their subscription service, and making high-quality content available to MVPD customers both in and out of the home and on multiple platforms. Powered by Playmaker Media, the NBC Sports app is available on Apple iOS, Android and select Samsung devices, as well as on Amazon Fire, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Win10, and Xbox.

NBC SPORTS GROUP AND HORSE RACING: In addition to the Royal Ascot, NBC Sports Group is the exclusive home to the most important and prestigious events in horse racing, including the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup. Also in 2018, NBC Sports Group televised the world’s richest horse race (the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational) and the $10 million Dubai World Cup, and in June presented the Epsom Derby. NBC has been the exclusive home of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes since 2001, and the Belmont Stakes since 2011, when NBC Sports Group reassembled the Triple Crown.