Leading Trainer of 2000: Baffert's Three-Peat

What a downer. He didn't saddle a winner of a Triple Crown race, and for the second year in a row he failed to find the winner's circle on Breeders' Cup Day. His total grade I win count for the year fell from a whopping 20 a year ago to a mere six in 2000. Prior to the Breeders' Cup, he was lambasted in the Louisville and Lexington newspapers as having a "wretched" year.

One would think trainer Bob Baffert had fallen from his perch as top trainer. However, just the opposite was true, as his stable remained powerful enough, and deep enough, to lead all trainers in North America by money won for the third year in a row.

"If I'm having such a bad year, what about all those poor bastards behind me?" Baffert joked in Louisville on the eve of the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup.

While based in Southern California, the deep bench of Baffert's stable again reached to all corners of the country, winning grade I races on both coasts and scoring other rich stakes in middle America states like Kentucky, Texas, and Iowa. While the 47-year-old trainer said goodbye to champion Silverbulletday, who was retired after just one stakes win in the spring of 2000, Baffert's barn was reloaded with top young talent, and restocked by a new owner, The Thoroughbred Corp.

For the year, Baffert's runners made 678 starts, winning 146 times with 94 seconds and 108 thirds. Earning a total of $11,831,605, Baffert's runners averaged an impressive $17,451 per start. That figure falls short of his running averages in 1998 and 1999, but his stable in 2000 lacked a stellar full-time performer in the rich older horse division, like Silver Charm and Real Quiet, that could have lifted the average.

What's impressive about Baffert's three-peat is the fact he did it without his longtime assistant Eoin Harty, who left the Baffert stable at the end of 1999 for a job tending the North American-based string of 2-year-olds for Godolphin.

By the numbers, Baffert's year was thus: 20 individual stakes winners who won a total of 39 stakes, 22 of which were graded. He had six grade I wins, 10 grade II victories, and another six individual grade III scores. Two under his command earned more than $1 million in 2000. And he didn't come up completely empty at the Breeders' Cup, earning $820,600 on racing's richest day, headed by Captain Steve's third-place finish in the Classic (gr. I) and Point Given's nose defeat in the Juvenile (gr. I).

The 3-year-old Captain Steve was Baffert's leading earner and "Iron Horse" in 2000, taking down $1,882,276 while making 11 starts. Wins for the most consistent sophomore in training in 2000 came in the Swaps Stakes (gr. I), Kentucky Cup Classic (gr. II), and $250,000 Iowa Derby, with second-place finishes in the $1-million Haskell Invitational (gr. I) and Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II). A third-place finish in another seven-figure race, the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), didn't hurt the pocketbook, either.

Baffert's other millionaire in 2000 was General Challenge, who earned $1,198,118 in taking the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) and Strub Stakes (gr. II), and placing in another $1-million race, the Sempra Energy Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I).

Two-year-olds Point Given ($618,500), Arabian Light ($431,944), and Flame Thrower ($388,200) formed a rich trifecta of young talent, giving Baffert plenty of fuel for 2001. Flame Thrower's major victory came in the Del Mar Futurity (gr. II), a race Baffert has now won five consecutive years. His streak began in 1996 with Silver Charm and continued with Souvenir Copy, Worldly Manner, and Forest Camp.

Other 3-year-olds, El Corredor ($462,360) and Chilukki ($309,105), chipped in with major victories in 2000.