Bob Baffert failed to win any of the Triple Crown races this year, but he nevertheless reached the zenith of his profession. He has developed so many good horses of so many different types that he has come to the Breeders' Cup with a contingent of astonishing strength. The silver-haired Californian could make history on Saturday.
Baffert became the nation's most recognized trainer as he won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Silver Charm in 1997 and Real Quiet in 1998. At the time, he might have been viewed as a one-dimensional trainer good at revving up young prospects for the classics. He supplanted D. Wayne Lukas as the king of the Triple Crown, and this was Lukas's annual game plan: Put your youngsters on a fast track to the classics; win with them as 2-year-olds, win Triple Crown races. Most of them were finished by the end of their 3-year-old campaigns.
Baffert is as preoccupied by the Kentucky Derby as Lukas, but he has shown this year how versatile he is, too. Not surprisingly, he comes to Gulfstream Park with a pair of star 2-year-olds: the undefeated filly Chilukki and the brilliantly fast colt Forest Camp. But he also comes with a filly turf specialist, Tuzla; a rapidly developing sprinter, Forestry; the champion 3-year-old filly Silverbulletday; a 7-year-old ex-claimer, River Keen; and a late-blooming 3-year-old, General Challenge, who flopped in the Kentucky Derby but has developed into one of the country's top horses. Baffert has the first or second choice in the morning line for five of the eight Breeders' Cup races.
Baffert has managed these horses in very different ways, and his work with Forestry has been especially fascinating. If the 3-year-old beats the tough field in the Sprint, Baffert deserves an Eclipse Award (which he is sure to get anyway) for this job alone.
Although Baffert has enjoyed his greatest successes with modestly bred, modestly priced horses--"ham sandwiches," he likes to call them--Forestry is a blue blood who cost lumberman Aaron Jones $1.5 million. The colt won five straight races in the spring and summer, at distances up to 1 1/16 miles, and in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell Invitational at Monmouth he ran well to lose by only a length. Most trainers would have kept him on the trail to the Breeders' Cup Classic.
But Baffert told Jones he didn't believe Forestry could go 1 1/4 miles, and that he wanted to try running him in a sprint at Saratoga on Aug. 28. When Forestry won by zipping seven furlongs in 1 minute 21 seconds, the trainer adopted a radically new plan. He was going to aim for the Breeders' Cup Sprint, and he wasn't going to run Forestry again before that race.
In his years of quarter-horse training, Baffert had great success bringing horses to big races off a layoff; such a horse in a short race is ready to deliver a controlled explosion of energy. "With sprinters," he said, "you can't race them too much or they will disintegrate on you. [Forestry] had a pretty tough schedule, so we gave him plenty of time with the idea of having a fresh horse for the Sprint." When he gave most of their horses their final serious workouts on Monday, he was looking for sharp, fast drills for all of them except one--Forestry. There is probably not another trainer in America who would have managed Forestry the way Baffert has. He's flexible, he's creative and he has well-founded confidence in his own judgment.
Baffert has handled all of his Breeders' Cup horses with a distinctive touch. While he has been gearing up Forestry for one big effort, he has run Silverbulletday 17 times in the last 17 months, and she has won 14 of them. Many people think she has started to tail off, but Baffert said he relaxed her training before her last two starts, but now has cranked her up again. "This is the race we've been waiting for and she's trained hard for it. Don't worry about Silverbulletday."
He has coped with the persistent foot problems of River Keen, who overcame them to win the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup. He has been patient with General Challenge, who disappointed him throughout the year before a pair of top-class performances in his last two starts. The two make a formidable one-two punch in the $4 million Classic.
Baffert has a chance to equal or break Lukas's record of three victories in a single Breeders' Cup. At the same time he could pass Lukas's all-time record for purse winnings in a single year. But he approaches the day with a characteristic sense of perspective.
"We could win one, two or five races on Saturday," he said. "Or we could get blanked. You have to prepare yourself for any of those things to happen. But if you've gotten to this point, you've done the right thing by your horses."
Filly & Mare Turf (3YO and up)
1. Spanish Fern McCarron 6-1
2. Pleasant Temper Stevens 15-1
3. x-Caffe Latte Nakatani 12-1
4. Gandria Sellers 30-1
5. Natalie Too Antley 30-1
6. Zomaradah Dettori 8-1
7. Insight Asmussen 20-1
8. Borgia Fallon 12-1
9. Mossflower Davis 12-1
10. Perfect Sting Day 6-1
11. Anguilla Smith 12-1
12. Soaring Softly Bailey 7-2
13. Louve Peslier 15-1
14. Coretta Santos 5-1
Trainers (by post position): 1, Robert Frankel. 2, Elliot Walden. 3, Julio Canani. 4, James Cheadle. 5, D. Wayne Lukas. 6, Luca Cumani. 7, John Hammond. 8, Andre Fabre. 9, Richard Schosberg. 10, Joseph Orseno. 11, Thomas Skiffington. 12, James Toner. 13, Andre Fabre. 14, Christophe Clement.
Distance: 1 3/8 miles (turf). Purse: $1 million. First place: $520,000. Second place: $200,000. Third place: $120,000. Fourth place: $56,000. Fifth place: $20,000.
Juvenile (2YO colts and geldings)
1. Chief Seattle Prado 6-1
2. High Yield Bailey 10-1
3. Personal First Herbert 30-1
4. Millencolin Day 15-1
5. Mull of Kintrye Kinane 15-1
6. Graeme Hall J. Velazquez 20-1
7. x-Captain Steve Gomez 12-1
8. Charlie's Beau MartinJr. 30-1
9. Anees Stevens 15-1
10. Forest Camp Flores 3-1
11. Kiss a Native C. Velasquez 6-1
12. Dixie Union Solis 4-1
13. Hugh Hefner Nakatani 30-1
14. Brahms Peslier 12-1
Trainers (by post position): 1, John Kimmel. 2, D. Wayne Lukas. 3, Daid Paulus. 4, D. Wayne Lukas. 5, Aidan O'Brien. 6, Todd Pletcher. 7, Bob Baffert. 8, Bobby Barnett. 9, Alex Hassinger Jr. 10, Bob Baffert. 11, Bill White. 12, Richard Mandella. 13, Marty Jones. 14, Aidan O'Brien.
Distance: 1 1/16 mile. Purse: $1 million. First place: $520,000. Second place: $200,000. Third place: $120,000. Fourth place: $56,000. Fifth place: $20,000.
Turf (3YO and up)
1. Dream Well Asmussen 10-1
2. Royal Anthem Stevens 5-1
3. Daylami Dettori 7-2
4. Bonapartiste McCarron 15-1
5. Buck's Boy Gomez 8-1
6. Honor Glide Santos 12-1
7. Courteous Fallon 15-1
8. First Magnitude Peslier 15-1
9. Val's Prince Chavez 6-1
10. Fahris Velazquez 20-1
11. Dark Moondancer Mosse 8-1
12. Yagli Bailey 10-1
13. Unite's Big Red Smith 50-1
14. Thornfield Dos Ramos 20-1
Trainers (by post position): 1, Pascal Bary. 2, William Mott. 3, Saeed bin Suroor. 4, Ronald McAnally. 5, Noel Hickey. 6, Christophe Clement. 7, Paul Cole. 8, Andre Fabre. 9, James Bond. 10, Kiaran McLaughlin. 11, Ronald McAnally. 12, William Mott. 13, Randy Mills. 14, Philip England.
Distance: 1 1/2 miles (turf). Purse: $2 million. First place: $1,040,000. Second place: $400,000. Third place: $240,000. Fourth place: $112,000. Fifth place: $40,000.
Classic (3YO and up)
1. Catienus Prado 30-1
2. Behrens Chavez 3-1
3. River Keen Antley 6-1
4. Golden Missile Desormeaux 20-1
5. Vision and Verse Stevens 20-1
6. Cat Thief Day 12-1
7. Almutawakel Bailey 6-1
8. Ecton Park Solis 20-1
9. Budroyale Gomez 12-1
10. General Challenge Flores 4-1
11. Lemon Drop KidSantos 8-1
12. Chester House Nakatani 20-1
13. Old Trieste McCarron 12-1
14. Supreme Sound Velazquez 30-1
Trainers (by post position): 1, Richard Schosberg. 2, James Bond. 3, Bob Baffert. 4, Joseph Orsno. 5, William Mott. 6, D. Wayne Lukas. 7, Saeed bin Suroor. 8, Elliott Walden. 9, Ted West. 10, Bob Baffert. 11, Flint Schulhofer. 12, Robert Frankel. 13, Mike Puype. 14, Michael Dickinson.
Distance: 1 1/4 miles. Purse: $5.12 million. First place: $2,662,400. Second place: $1,024,000. Third place: $614,400. Fourth place: $286,720. Fifth place: $102,400.