By Christie DeBernardis
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.–On the morning of Saratoga's annual Red Jacket Ceremony, honoring a member of the racing community who has made a major impact at the Spa, the TDN's Christie DeBernardis caught up with new inductee Bob Baffert. The Hall of Famer reflected on his career, D. Wayne Lukas's effect on it, his Triple Crown winners and more.
Receiving the famous Red Jacket:
“I think it is a very important honor. When they first started doing it, I thought, 'Wow, this is such an honor.' It is a very private club. I think it is a privilege and an honor to be in the same group as those people. I told Wayne to fluff me up good!”
D. Wayne Lukas as a role model and pioneer:
“Wayne is the one who really encouraged me to try the Thoroughbreds. I remember Wayne, when I was 16, walking into a dusty old track in Arizona. He came in there a cowboy with his fancy trailer with fancy chrome wheels. That is when I said, 'I want to be like that guy right there.' He has always been a role model. He opened it up and gave us the confidence when he switched over to try Thoroughbred racing. We would probably all still be there if he hadn't tried it.
So when we came in, people said, 'Well Wayne did it, so maybe we will give this guy a chance.' He had a lot of success in the Quarter Horse business and I did too. I, luckily, won everything at Los Alamitos, so I figured I'd try [Thoroughbreds] out. Now, I'm winning all the Thoroughbred races there. We don't take anything for granted. We just try to keep it going. We think, 'How can we do better than last year?' That is our goal to do better than last year.”
Baffert's career, especially his recent string of impressive success:
“I've been so fortunate. I can't believe it. I had [American] Pharoah, Arrogate and Justify. You are lucky to even get one like that in your lifetime. Every so often you have to pinch yourself. I have been so busy that I haven't had a chance to think about what I've accomplished. People say to me, 'Do you realize what you've accomplished?' I say, 'Well no, not really because once one good horse leaves, you are trying to get the next one in there.' Maybe one day, 10 years from now, when I am sitting back there and things slow down a little bit, I will think, 'Damn, you know what, we were in a pretty good run!' But, we haven't had a chance to think about it. It is a lot of fun.
A lot of work goes into it, but everyone back here [on the backside] works hard. All of these trainers work hard seven days a week. We have just been so fortunate to be able to get those kind of horses. I feel confident when I do get one that we know what to do with it. I am glad I didn't [have these kind of horses] when I first got in the business. I would have been overwhelmed by them. I remember Thirty Slews, that was my first big horse. I should have won the [GI] Breeders' Cup Sprint like two years in a row, but I was just figuring out the business. I think he won in spite of me because he was just that good. I think I am a better trainer today than I was five years ago and so on. Racing is trial and error. You learn from your mistakes, so when you do get a good one, you go, 'Okay, I am not going to do this or I am going to do this.'”
Triple Crown winner Justify (Scat Daddy):
” One-hundred and 12 days tho, that was pretty incredible. When they are that good at that young age, they are just going to get better. He is just an incredible horse, incredible. I thought Pharaoh was incredible, but this guy, what he did, just incredible. That is why all the players kept waiting, like they did with Pharoah, and saying, 'Okay, he can't do it. He's going to bounce.' And, boom, he does it. But, we knew he was that good, Mike Smith and everyone knew. It was fun, but it was quick. It didn't last very long. It was sort of sad not to be able to run him again.”