Bob Baffert was all business down on the apron near Santa Anita’s track early Thursday morning. He waved off a camera crew anxious to do an interview.
“My life is out there right now,” he said, nodding toward the racing surface, where Indian Blessing, Midshipman , and Midnight Lute were going through their training paces for the upcoming Breeders’ Cup World Championships. “I’ve got $20 million worth of horses out there.”
Baffert is in the rare position of having a pair of Breeders’ Cup winners from a year ago back in this season’s event, with Indian Blessing (by Indian Charlie) graduating from her Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) triumph a year ago to run in the Filly & Mare Sprint Friday, and Midnight Lute (by Real Quiet) seeking to repeat in the Sprint (gr. I) Saturday. Midshipman (by Unbridled's Song ) will be contesting the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) Saturday as well.
Baffert received what was good news for him Thursday morning when Indyanne was declared out of the Filly & Mare Sprint, taking away some likely pace pressure from Indian Blessing. “There’s some other speed in there,” Baffert noted, “but none with her class. She is my best shot for a victory here, and I’ll be sick if she doesn’t win.”
Hal and Patti Earnhardt's Indian Blessing has followed up her juvenile filly championship last season with an outstanding 2008 campaign, including wins in the Test and Prioress (both gr. I) by daylight margins. She has won five of seven outings this year while racing exclusively in graded company.
Midnight Lute, owned by Mike Pegram in partnership with Watson & Weitman Performances, had raced just twice since his victory in last year’s Sprint, and one of those races was a month later in the Cigar Mile (gr. I), where he finished second. A try in the Pat O’Brien Handicap (gr. II) at Del Mar yielded a 10th-place finish after he grabbed a shoe leaving the gate.
“He wasn’t a happy horse at Del Mar,” Baffert said. “I thought he was good enough to overcome some things there. But he’s happy and healthy now. His foot has grown back out ,and he’s ready to run tip-top.”
As far getting Midnight Lute to the Sprint off works alone, Baffert waved off any potential problem there. “I’m a Quarter Horse trainer at heart,” he said of his beginnings in the sport. “This is how I grew up, doing this. If I can’t get one ready off the layoff, I’m in trouble. Of course, you’ve got to have the horse, too, and he’s a superior horse. All he needs is to be in the clear once he gets rolling.”
Midshipman, now owned by Darley after its purchase of the Stonerside Stable horses, took the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) in early September, then came back to finish second in the Norfolk Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita Sept. 28.
“He’s getting more mature now,” Baffert said. “He was a timid horse when he was younger, and I was disappointed he didn’t win the Norfolk. He broke on his wrong lead and got shuffled back, then had to come very wide and finally flattened out a bit.”
Baffert, who has seen his numbers — both stock and victories — decrease in recent years with the deaths of major clients such as Robert Lewis and Prince Ahmed Salman, knows that big days like these Breeders’ Cups are crucial to maintaining his high profile in the industry. The media darling has been conspicuously absent from the last couple of Kentucky Derbys (gr. I), and another big Breeders’ Cup will reinvigorate the white-haired wonder’s standing.
My whole life is out there,” Baffert repeated, his gaze fixed on the racing surface as the sun rose.