Trainer Bob Baffert out of Dubai's big horse race
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - Bob Baffert is back in Dubai, this time keeping a lower profile.
The Hall of Fame trainer has no horses in the $10 million Dubai World Cup, which he has won twice. In fact, he has only one horse racing Saturday - Euroears in the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen.
Baffert had planned to enter Game On Dude in the world's richest horse race, but the 4-year-old injured a foot after his victory in the Santa Anita Handicap. Baffert considered sending Misremembered but felt he needed more time to get ready.
Baffert said Game On Dude cracked a hoof the day before he was to be shipped to Dubai, a relatively minor injury but serious enough to persuade him to hold the horse back. He said his cautious approach was partly inspired by Silver Charm, who "ran flat'' at the World Cup in 1999 a year after winning the big race.
"It's one of those things. I would have loved to have brought Game On Dude. He would have been a good fit for this track,'' Baffert said. "When he popped the quarter, it was sort of like someone was telling me, 'You know what, maybe you shouldn't go.'''
Even without a World Cup contender, Baffert said he wanted to make his first trip to Dubai since 2001 to recognize the work of ruler Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum and see the $2 billion monument to the sport - Meydan Racecourse - that opened last year.
"It's amazing how the whole city has changed and grown,'' said Baffert, who said he had skied at one of the Dubai malls during his stay. "I'm just glad to be back. I wanted to come back here because Sheik Mohammed has been good to racing and Bob Baffert.''
Baffert couldn't help but relive some of his greatest triumphs in Dubai - winning the race with Silver Charm in 1998 and then again in 2001 with Captain Steve. He said the most thrilling victory of the two was with Silver Charm, who won by a nose over Swain of Ireland.
"He was a derby winner. There was a lot of pressure because you hate to see a derby winner get beat,'' Baffert said. "It was an exciting race. I remember it looked like he would get beat at the top of the stretch and I thought he would run third or fourth. Then he came back.''
Baffert joked that he still wasn't sure of the victory because it was a photo finish and didn't know at the time if the track had a photo-finish camera. He got some confidence when his jockey, Gary Stevens, pumped his fist as he crossed the line. But it was the thumbs-up from Mohammed, sitting just below him, that convinced him he had won.
"Then the photo came out and it was like an inch,'' he said. "That was really, really exciting.''
Baffert said his two World Cup wins were among his most cherished memories in a decorated career.
He won the Kentucky Derby three times with Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet a year later and War Emblem in 2000 - all three of which went on to win the Preakness. Baffert also won the 2001 Preakness and Belmont with eventual Horse of the Year Point Given and last year's Preakness with 3-year-old champion Lookin At Lucky.
While the Kentucky Derby is about history, Baffert said the World Cup is more international in scope and tests trainers like no other race.
"You stand up there and you have won something like that, and you've brought your horse halfway across the world,'' he said. "As a trainer, it's more difficult when you come here. You can train a certain way and you have to change. You have to read your horse every day. He tells you how much he can take. That's why I came here. If he gets beat, I can just blame myself.''
The Dubai Golden Shaheen is no World Cup, but it does include the much-talked about Rocket Man as well as last year's winner, Kinsale King. Baffert said the biggest question mark will be the Tapeta track, a surface his horse has never run on.
"My horse is fast and there is a lot of speed in the race,'' Baffert said. "That is when Tapeta comes in. On dirt, my horse is so fast he separates himself from the horses. But on Tapeta it's tougher. It takes away the brilliance of a really, really fast horse. It's just one of those things out of my hands.''
Kinsale King's trainer, Carl O'Callaghan, knows what it's like going against Baffert.
"Every time I run against him I worry,'' he said. "His reputation is huge and he has got a lot of good horses. ... I see him every day, watch him train and try to learn from him.''
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