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Bob Baffert still relishing ‘greatest day’ at Derby

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, center, checks out Preakness Stakes hopeful Dortmund after his bath outside Barn 33 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Monday, May 11, 2015. Holding the big colt is Santiago Rameriez.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, center, checks out Preakness Stakes hopeful Dortmund after his bath outside Barn 33 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Monday, May 11, 2015. Holding the big colt is Santiago Rameriez. The Associated Press

Trainer Bob Baffert doesn’t want his boys to grow up to be horsemen.

Even after reaching thoroughbred racing’s pinnacle again, Baffert wants to spare his five children the heartbreaks so common in his profession. The Hall of Famer knows horse racing has far more downs than epic peaks such as his latest Kentucky Derby win, May 2 with American Pharoah.

“I’ve never felt so much pressure in my life leading up to the last few days (before the Derby),” Baffert said. “(But) the stars were lining up, it was just a matter of getting it done and – it was a relief.”

At age 62, Baffert relishes moments like he experienced with his family in Louisville after favored American Pharoah gave the California trainer his fourth Derby victory.

“I had my (older) boys there with me; they’d never been to a Derby,” said Baffert, who has had 26 Derby starters since 1996. “And Bode (his youngest) cheering; he wanted it so bad. It was just raw emotion. ... It was the greatest day of my racing career.”

Entries will be drawn Wednesday for the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the 140th Preakness Stakes at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course. American Pharoah’s impressive win in the Kentucky Derby convinced most of his prior opposition that the colt is too hot to face again so soon.

Compared to the Derby’s original 20 entries and 18 runners, just seven horses are expected to enter the Preakness, including the first three Derby finishers: American Pharoah, Firing Line and Dortmund, also trained by Baffert. Danzig Moon, fifth in the Derby, is the lone also-ran to advance. Newcomers expected to enter are Bodhisattva, Divining Rod and Tale of Verve.

Baffert said he doesn’t sweat the Preakness; he’s won it five times.

“I’m going to go to the Preakness and really enjoy it,” he said. “There’s less pressure there. If it happens (and American Pharoah wins, setting up a chance at the Triple Crown), it’s good for racing. But right now, it’s one race at a time.”

Baffert said he wanted to linger on his Derby high a little longer. After a heart attack three years ago, he’s not sure how many more Derbies he has left.

“Ever since I had my little heart attack scare, I started realizing I’m not invincible,” he said. “You never know how long you have. You better enjoy what you have.”

Although he grew up in a racing family in southern Arizona, Baffert didn’t encourage his children to follow him into the sport. His four older children from his first marriage are almost all through college and beginning their own careers.

Canyon, an Arizona graduate like his dad, works for Kaleem Shah, Dortmund’s owner, at Shah’s telecommunications and intelligence consulting company in Virginia. Taylor works in sales at a Mercedes-Benz dealership in Newport Beach. Forest is about to graduate from San Diego State. Daughter Savannah missed the Derby because of finals at Cal Poly.

“There are no lawyers or doctors in there; they’re just getting through,” Baffert said. “My kids have never really been into horses for some reason; they never really got the bug.”

Unlike his older siblings, Bode, 10, has grown up in winner’s circle photos posing next to his mother, Jill, Baffert’s second wife. Bode jumped with glee after American Pharoah’s victory, the first time he experienced a Derby win with his dad. Although he loves his father’s horses, he likely won’t become a trainer, either.

“Bode wants to be a meteorologist or storm chaser,” Baffert said. “He’s very into weather.”

Sharing the winner’s circle with his sons made this last Derby victory so special.

“I sacrificed a lot in my life to be in this sport,” Baffert said. “That was the payday.”

Debbie Arrington: (916) 321-1075, @debarrington

Preakness at a glance

  • When: Saturday, 3:18 p.m.
  • Where: Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore
  • TV: 1:30 p.m., Ch. 3
  • Post position draw: Wednesday, 2 p.m., HRTV
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