Although Todd Pletcher has the two favorites, according to the morning line, for Saturday's 138th running of the Belmont Stakes, a veteran of the Triple Crown races is lurking right behind him. Pletcher will send Bluegrass Cat (3-1) and Sunriver (4-1) postward, while third choice Bob and John (5-1) appears a dangerous threat.
Stonerside Stable's Bob and John hails from the barn of a relaxed Bob Baffert, who entertained reporters outside John Terranova's Barn 7 before his charge went to the track for exercise Thursday morning just after the 8:15 renovation break. Baffert, who narrowly missed the Triple Crown when beaten in the 1997 and 1998 Belmonts (Silver Charm and Real Quiet), and lost by a substantial margin with War Emblem in 2002, did win the third jewel of the Triple Crown with Point Given in 2001.
There is considerably less pressure on the white-haired quipster from California this time around. When Bob and John finished 17th in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), Baffert was able to skip the Preakness and point to this race with the son of Seeking the Gold. "Bob and John never got a chance to run in the Derby," Baffert noted. Bob and John was sandwiched shortly after leaving the gate, then was jostled going into the first turn. When he began to pick up horses on the backstretch, he bumped with Steppenwolfer and essentially his race was over.
Bob and John worked a bullet six furlongs in 1:12 1/5 June 5 at Santa Anita, his fourth consecutive bullet work since the Derby. Fast workouts are a way of life with Baffert, however, and the conditioner said he has done nothing out of the ordinary trying to prepare his charge for the 12 furlongs of the Belmont. "You can try to do too much prepping for this race," he said. "Charlie Whittingham said he over-trained Sunday Silence for the Belmont."
Flashing his famous sense of humor, Baffert explained why the Belmont is a bigger race to win than the Preakness (gr. I). "It's more important for a trainer because the trophy is so much nicer," said Baffert. "You only get a bowl for winning the Preakness as a trainer. And the (Kentucky) Oaks (gr. I) is the worst. You get nothing. I was complaining to Wayne Lukas that I never got my trophy for winning the Oaks with Silverbulletday, and Wayne said he never got one either--they don't give them out. After (Nick) Zito won it with Bird Town, I told him 'nice work, but you get nothing.' His whole face dropped."
Getting back to Bob and John, Baffert said, "His style fits this race. It takes a certain type and style to win the Belmont. He's doing well and he deserves a shot. He was a very immature horse when we first got him at Del Mar last summer, but he's changed quite a bit and is really coming on." John Adger, racing manager for Robert and Janice McNair's Stonerside, added, "We're anxious to see him run here and get into a long, sustained rhythm."