Published in the June 8 issue of The Blood-Horse
In six years, trainer Bob Baffert has trained the winners of eight Triple Crown races. This year marks the third time Baffert has come to the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) with a chance to win the $5-million Visa Triple Crown Challenge. Silver Charm (1997) and Real Quiet (1998) both lost the Belmont after winning the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I). Last year, Point Given was defeated as the Derby favorite, then took the final two legs of the series. War Emblem won this year's Derby and Preakness after a 90% interest in the colt was purchased by Baffert for Prince Ahmed Salman's The Thoroughbred Corp. Baffert spoke about his Triple Crown horses with Ray Paulick, editor-in-chief of The Blood-Horse. In your wildest dreams, did you ever think while watching War Emblem jog at Keeneland before you bought him that he could be a Triple Crown winner?No. I just knew I was buying a nice 3-year-old. Even if he didn't work out for the Derby and Triple Crown, I knew he would be a good 3-year-old down the road. Are you lucky or good? Both. Have you trained War Emblem differently from your other Triple Crown horses because he has bone chips? I train him like he doesn't have a problem at all. I haven't had a reason to back off on him. You've talked about giving the horse Legend, a product that puts a hyaluronic acid into the joints through intravenous injection? What does that do?I use it on all my horses. It helps support the joint fluid, regenerating the area without having to inject the joints themselves. What medications did War Emblem race on in the Derby and Preakness? Bute and Lasix (now known as Salix). In Maryland he got very little Bute. I didn't use that other stuff in Maryland (adjunct bleeder medication). I've never used it. I don't give much Bute to my horses--too much can dull a horse. I've had some penalties for Bute overages, but those happen when mistakes are made by someone in the barn. It's going to happen when you have a large operation. Why do you think some people, including other trainers, are critical of your style?It seems as if they are intimidated by the success I've had in the short span I've been in the Thoroughbred business. How do you compare your three Triple Crown hopefuls, mentally and physically?Silver Charm was a big, stout, powerful, nice-looking horse. He had a beautiful mind, and you could do anything with him as far as his running style is concerned. Real Quiet was a leaner, longer, stretchier horse, but still very good looking. He had a great mind, too. This horse is lean like Real Quiet, but lankier. Mentally, he's tough, and he has just two gears: fast and faster. What they all have in common is composure. You lead them to the paddock, with all the people and the noise, and none of them turned a hair. They were cool and confident. Which of the three horses faced the toughest competition?They're all tough. Silver Charm's group was good: Free House and Captain Bodgit were very nice horses. Victory Gallop and Real Quiet went on to be top 4-year-olds. There's always at least two good ones. Proud Citizen is a good horse, and so is Perfect Drift. We don't know much about Magic Weisner, but he's got good form. The Silver Charm year may have been toughest, though, because you had Touch Gold coming in there really fresh. The mile and a half really separates them. Of the horses I've taken to the Belmont, Point Given and War Emblem have had incredible stamina. War Emblem's wind capacity is just amazing. When he breezes or comes back from a race, he's just not winded at all. I've never had a horse that wanted to savage the pony coming back after a race the way War Emblem did after the Preakness. Have you tried to put this in historical perspective--going for the Triple Crown three times in six years--or what it would mean to finally win it? I grew up on a chicken and cattle ranch and learned to never count your chickens before they hatch. I was very upset with myself last year after Point Given's Triple Crown. I felt we had a really good chance; we were overconfident and in the Derby got caught up in the strategy of the race and how the track was playing, instead of letting him run his own race. We took him out of his game. Win or lose, you said you're going to rest War Emblem after the Belmont. What then? Managing a good horse is so important. Right now, I'm not sure what we'll do. The prince has mentioned that he wants to go to Dubai (for the Dubai World Cup, UAE-I). I know we'll want to go to the Breeders' Cup. After a mile and a half race, we'll back off and give him some time. He's a star now.