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Horse POWER
Tim Layden
October 28, 2002
With War Emblem and a flock of fleet 2-year-olds entered in the Breeders' Cup, trainer Bob Baffert, like him or not, is the king of his world
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October 28, 2002

Horse Power

With War Emblem and a flock of fleet 2-year-olds entered in the Breeders' Cup, trainer Bob Baffert, like him or not, is the king of his world

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HORSE

RACE

OWNER

SKINNY

War Emblem

Classic

The Thoroughbred Corporation

Faces challenge from Came Home, who beat him on Aug. 25 in the Pacific Classic, and handicap stickout Evening Attire

Atlantic Ocean

Juvenile Fillies

The Thoroughbred Corporation

Purchase price of $1.9 million was highest ever for a 2-year-old filly at an auction

Bull Market

Juvenile

James Mclngvale

Speedy front-runner finished a gutty second to stablemate Kafwain in Norfolk Stakes on Oct. 5 at Santa Anita

Composure

Juvenile Fillies

Bob and Beverly Lewis

Classy filly must beat favorite Storm Flag Flying; owners have twice won the Derby

Kafwain

Juvenile

The Thoroughbred Corporation

Beat Bull Market in a stretch duel in Norfolk Stakes; will try to do same to favorite Sky Mesa

Santa Catarina

Juvenile Fillies

Bob and Beverly Lewis

Finished second by two lengths to Storm Flag Flying in the Frizette at Belmont on Oct. 5

Vindication

Juvenile

Padua Stables

Baffert's best 2-year-old; dark bay son of Seattle Slew is three for three this year

It is not just a house that Bob Baffert has built for himself and his new wife in the long shadows of the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California, not far from Santa Anita Race Track. It is a 5,000-square-foot, six-bedroom monument to the fleeting moments that have made the man a star. In the foyer stands a 20-foot-long glass-enclosed trophy case filled with the spoils of horse races large and larger. On Baffert's office wall are the bridles worn by Real Quiet, Silver Charm and Point Given, three of the horses he has trained to victories in Triple Crown races. In a game room on the second floor are massive brass-framed photographs of Baffert in winner's circles. Scattered around the house are Baffert-related cartoons from the Daily Racing Form.

Here is a man who pines for fast horses and big moments; the rest of life is just filler. "All we do is live from one big horse to the next," says Baffert, 49. Two decades ago he was a quarter horse trainer running hard and partying long in the minor leagues. He conquered that world and took on thoroughbreds, winning a Breeders' Cup race in 1992, finishing second in the Kentucky Derby in '96, then winning the Derby in '97, '98 and 2002. Cameras found his snowy white hair and cool sunglasses; microphones recorded his bons mots. "My fault," Baffert says. "I was born with a personality." He became a celebrity, the face of his sport, so recognizable that for the last two summers he has been paid $50,000 to bring his big horse—in 2001 Point Given, this year Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem—to Monmouth Park on the New Jersey shore for the Haskell Invitational. Baffert's job is not only to deliver a fit horse but also to sign autographs.

"Look how most trainers act when they get on TV," says Eoin Harty, who was Baffert's assistant from 1991 to '99 and now trains 2-year-olds for Dubai-based Godolphin Racing." 'Yup.... Nope.... [Here he goes into full Hee Haw mode.] He shore is a nahce horse.' Everybody gets his 15 minutes. You can do what most people do, or you can do something different. Bob did something different."

While fame and success have made Baffert rich, they have also made him the biggest target in his sport. "He's so loose it's almost beyond belief," says trainer Nick Zito, a two-time Derby winner. "The old-time guys, they want a more classic-type horseman." Baffert takes a whipping when his horses fail or his life turns tabloid, as it did when he married the former Jill Moss on Aug. 3 after a four-year romance that began while he was married, with four children. And when critics cut Baffert, he bleeds.

"Bobby is very sensitive to stuff that's said about him," says Mike Pegram, who financed Baffert's start in thoroughbreds in 1989 and for whom Baffert has trained numerous horses, including '97 Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet. "Criticism eats at him. It also makes him more competitive."

For Baffert, the intoxication of winning at the highest level is worth any cost. "Every year you hope for a lifetime season with one horse," he says. "Real Quiet, Silver Charm—that's what keeps you going."

On Saturday, Baffert will send at least half a dozen bona fide contenders to the post at the Breeders' Cup at Arlington Park near Chicago, including War Emblem in the Classic. He will also enter 2-year-old colts Bull Market, Kafwain and Vindication and 2-year-old fillies Atlantic Ocean, Composure and Santa Catarina (chart, page 62). It is a rich assortment of runners, and Baffert will watch the young ones with an eye toward spring. "The Breeders' Cup is a great TV show," he says, "but if you win a Breeders' Cup race, you're not going to cry. You win the Derby, you cry like a baby."

It is now that the race to Louisville begins. Baffert has nearly 50 2-year-olds in his barn, so numbers are in his favor, but he had almost as many last year and none got to the Derby. He won it because he persuaded Saudi Arabian prince Ahmed bin Salman of the Thoroughbred Corporation to buy War Emblem for $900,000 three weeks before the race. It was a bold play, and there might never be another quite like it.

In July bin Salman died of heart disease at age 43. Baffert and the prince were kindred spirits, big kids who loved to play with expensive toys. "He liked the horses and the competition," says Baffert. "Sometimes I put my hand on a horse in the winner's circle, and I just want to say, 'Thanks for running your guts out.' The prince was like that too."

Baffert lost more than a jolly friend when the prince died. He lost a benefactor who trusted him so much that in 1999 he told Baffert to pick out and race the best five horses training at the prince's California farm. One of those was Point Given, who won the 2001 Preakness and Belmont Stakes and whom Baffert (whose license plate reads PTGIVEN) calls his best horse ever. "You dream about having a client whom you can call and tell, We need to buy this horse,' and he says, 'Go buy him, no matter how much he costs,' " says Baffert. "I have good clients, but they can spend only so much. I bought Real Quiet for $17,000, so you can win at all levels. But the more you spend, the less luck you need." He pauses. "I need another guy with deep pockets, and they're hard to find."

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