"I'm living my dad's dream," Bob Baffert said. He's living it large. Baffert now has eight Triple Crown race wins over a six-year period, putting him behind just six other trainers: Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons and D. Wayne Lukas, with 13 each; R.W. Walden, 12; James Rowe Sr., 11; and Max Hirsch and Ben Jones, nine each. He's won the same number as Woody Stephens. And he doesn't appear close to being finished. Baffert's done it with homebreds (Point Given), a yearling purchase (Pegram's Real Quiet), a 2-year-old purchase (Bob and Beverly Lewis' Silver Charm), and now with War Emblem, a horse he bought privately for Salman just weeks before the Kentucky Derby. In Baffert's 1999 autobiography, "Baffert: Dirt Road to the Derby" (written with Steve Haskin and published by The Blood-Horse, Inc.), Bill Baffert said of his son: "He was a natural horseman, and even when he was a kid he could pick out a good horse. At 12 and 13, he already had the ability to tell me right away if a horse was good or not. He had great balance and broke all the horses at the ranch. You'd look at this skinny kid and would never think he'd ever be able to handle these kind of horses, but he broke everything...Those same attributes he had as a kid, he uses now."
Today, though, Baffert doesn't have to get on the horses to evaluate their ability, yet he sees things that many others do not. When War Emblem breezed under Dana Barnes at Churchill Downs four days before the Preakness (gr. I), many people frowned at the final time of 1:031?5 for five furlongs. In fact, the slow time led some to speculate there was something wrong with the horse, especially since the trainer is known for putting fast works into his runners. Baffert was downright giddy afterwards. "Did you see that?" he asked one observer, who responded with a blank look. "See what?" "He broke off really quick, going his first furlong in 12 seconds, so I asked Dana to slow him down," Baffert explained. "He just shut it down, easy. After a little while I told her to pick it up again, and he did with no problem. He's really turning into a push-button kind of horse." The transformation didn't happen overnight. Since the speed-crazy colt was transferred to Baffert's care, exercise rider Mick Jenner, a former steeplechase jockey in England, has worked with War Emblem, settling him down in his daily gallops. The work is paying off. The ultimate payday could be June 8 at Belmont Park.