TDN Q&A: Bob Baffert

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Bob Baffert | Keeneland photo

The 2018 GI Kentucky Derby was a great feat for both Justify (Scat Daddy) and his trainer. In the span of just 76 days, Bob Baffert took an unraced horse and turned him into a Derby winner. Justify became the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Derby without having had a start as a 2-year-old. For Baffert, it was his fifth Derby win and still one more example that when it comes to winning America’s most famous horse race, race nobody does it better.

Baffert was a recent guest on the TDN podcast, presented by Taylor Made. Excerpts from that podcast appear below.

TDN: In your mind, how significant was the so-called curse of Apollo and/or the obstacles involved when it comes to winning the Derby with a horse who had not raced at two?

BB: I’m so glad we beat the Apollo curse because you don’t know how many clients I have had who said, “Please, Bob, can you start my horse before he turns three.” So, now, people can chill out and relax. It can be done but it has to be done with a superior racehorse.

TDN: The pace was very fast, so fast that most horses would have stopped well before the wire after enduring so much pressure. Take us through your thoughts as the race was unfolding.

BB: Once he got away from the gate, he broke really well and he really hustled him out of there. It was like Mike Smith was on a Quarter Horse. Once he got him in the clear, I thought, ‘Alright, he’s good, let’s get some easy fractions now.’ Then on the first turn, Bolt d’Oro (Medaglia d’Oro) was right on his flank and I was hoping no one would be pushing him from the outside to make him go faster. We knew Dale Romans’s horse [Promises Fulfilled] was going to be in the lead. We knew he was going to be the speed of the race. He’s sitting off him, but all of a sudden I see ’22 and 1′ and I thought, “Wow, that is fast.” I’m watching the race with my wife and she says, “Bob, they’re going too fast.” But I knew he was stroking it. He was in a nice groove. They get to the half-mile and I looked up at the television and I thought it read “46 and 4.” I didn’t think that was too bad. She said, “No, it is 45 and 4.” That wasn’t good. But he still wasn’t pushing on him. He had a good hold on him. I’m panning the field to see who’s back there. Good Magic (Curlin) was right there and I’m watching him really close. At the three-eighths pole, Dale’s horse was out and we inherited the lead. My wife said that I said at that point, “Okay, big boy, let’s see how great you are.” We were still there, but I was worried that he was going to lay down, that he was done. I saw Good Magic coming and I know he’s a good horse. Mike hit him a couple times left-handed and he responded and he just kept going.

TDN: Obviously all races are not the same, but with five Derby wins, are they still as special as ever?

BB: The Classics are very emotional for me. They are the most important races. The whole world is watching. To me, the Kentucky Derby is the greatest horse race in the world. No race compares to the Kentucky Derby. There are 150,000 people there and it’s on everyone’s bucket list. When you win the Kentucky Derby, it’s the pinnacle of your career as a trainer. I have been so fortunate to win five. I never thought I could win one. When I got beat the first time, I was so disappointed and I realized how difficult the race was to win. Every time I go there I think that I better enjoy it, because you never know if you’re going to get back. It’s been an incredible run.

TDN: You are on an incredible run, but to get there you had to start with almost nothing. Let’s go back to those early days of your training career–at least your career as a Thoroughbred trainer.

BB: I started by claiming a Thoroughbred and he ran last three times in a row for me. The third time he ran, I couldn’t get my brother to come out to the track to watch the horse run. It was a very humbling experience. I was very successful with the Quarter Horses, but I knew I had to learn. I was hoping to follow in the footsteps of Wayne Lukas. He set the bar a long time ago, the way he transitioned from the Quarter Horses to the Thoroughbreds. He was the one who opened it up for Quarter Horse trainers. I got over here [in California] and I got to talk to Charlie Whittingham, Laz Barrera, Ron McAnally, all these guys I had read about and was in awe of. When I met Leroy Jolley, I told him that when I grew up I watched him win all those big races. I was a little bit shy about going up to some of those guys, but I wanted to introduce myself to them. When I first got into the business, I saw Woody Stephens sitting down on a bench and I was afraid to go up to him and introduce myself. I wish I had.

To listen to the remainder of this podcast, click here.

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