Trainer Jenine Sahadi made history as The Deputy won at Santa Anita
The ending could not have been more appropriate. As the jockeys were steering their mounts back to the unsaddling area, trainers Bob Baffert and Jenine Sahadi formed a perfect picture in contrasts: Baffert, his face expressionless, listening to the taunts that followed him to the track; and the ebullient Sahadi, the most accomplished female trainer in America, fairly floating through the knots of well-wishers, her face wreathed in a smile nicely suited to a woman who had just made history.
Sahadi's colt, a gritty Irish-bred named The Deputy, had outrun War Chant down the lane to win by a length in the $1 million Santa Anita Derby, the last major California prep race before the May 6 Kentucky Derby. This was the 63rd running of the nine-furlong classic, and Sahadi had become the first woman to saddle the winner.
As Sahadi stepped into victory lane, at least 80 celebrants greeted her with an ovation. The cause of all this adoration of Sahadi was Baffert, who was taking heat from the fans leaning over the rail. At last Thursday's post-position draw, the two trainers were sitting at opposite ends of a long table, answering questions about their horses. One of Baffert's least endearing qualities is the whirring of his motor mouth; at times he runs it without considering the hurt it can cause. In 1998 he described trainer Sonny Hine as " Elmer Fudd" because of the horseman's voice. Baffert didn't know that Hine was suffering from Bell's palsy and apologized.
Now Baffert looked over at Sahadi and jockey Chris McCarron and said to the rider, "Who's training The Deputy? You or Jenine?"
Sahadi seethed. She had fought off suggestions all her life that she owed her success to her connections. She had come from a powerful family of California horsemen, was the onetime girlfriend of a successful trainer, Julio Canani, and is the wife of trainer Ben Cecil. Even though Sahadi had proven herself by training Breeders' Cup winners Lit de Justice in 1996 and Elmhurst in '97, there were whispers that McCarron, who also exercises The Deputy, had been an influence in the horse's success. So Baffert, beyond being politically incorrect, had just sprinkled salt on a very old but still open wound.
A few minutes later, when asked if she planned to give McCarron any instructions, the 37-year-old Sahadi grabbed the microphone and said, "I won't give him instructions. Thank god my horse has class, because there are a lot of people who don't." With that, she slammed down the microphone and left. "I'm not interested in sitting up there and getting degraded by the guy," she said later. "He does that s—-all the time. He did it with Sonny Hine. What is he, six-years-old?"
Baffert says he was only jesting, adding, "People have no sense of humor around this place."
Baffert certainly wasn't smiling last Saturday. He had won three of the last four Santa Anita Derbys—Silver Charm and Real Quiet had gone on to win the roses—but this was not his year. His Derby colt, Captain Steve, finished third, beaten three lengths.
"Hey, Bob, who trains your horse?" one fan needled.