Bob Baffert isn't hard to pick out of a crowd, and as he arrived at his box at Monmouth Park on Sunday, shortly before his superstar colt, War Emblem, romped to victory in the $1 million Haskell Invitational, many of the 45,212 fans turned and cheered. When the trainer and his bride of 24 hours, Jill Moss, raised their hands jointly in acknowledgment—just call them the Juan and Evita of the horsey set—the cheers rose to a powerful roar. "He's a star, and the horse is a star," said George Zoffinger, the president of the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority. "Anybody who doesn't think we did the right thing by bringing this horse here is nuts."
Zoffinger was referring to the controversy that erupted over the news that the NJSEA was paying Baffert a $50,000 appearance fee to bring War Emblem to the Haskell. Appearance fees are almost unheard of in racing, though Baffert claims they are offered to him regularly. This large sum is a testimony not only to the prestige of War Emblem, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, but also to Baffert's celebrity power. "I've turned down a lot of deals where I didn't go because the horse wasn't right," says Baffert "Nobody works harder to promote racing than me, and if somebody wants to pay me for it, I'm going to take it." (He did, however, donate half his fee to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation in the name of War Emblem's owner, Prince Ahmed bin Salman, who died on July 22.)
A little extra dough, and War Emblem's wire-to-wire, 3�-length victory, is nothing unusual for Hollywood Bob, whose horses had won 80 races and more than $7 million this year; that wasn't even the best day of the weekend for him. On Saturday, at the Hotel Del Coronado outside San Diego, Baffert and Moss were married before more than 250 guests as well as a handful of paparazzi. "When was the last time a trainer's marriage was covered in the papers?" wondered one veteran turf writer. Is Baffert a star without his horses? Of course not, but that hardly mattered to Zoffinger. "Look at this," he said, gesturing to the second-largest crowd in the track's 132-year history. "Having him here is good for the sport, and it's good for us."