ARCADIA, Calif. -- Nine days removed from having a heart attack, and fewer than 24 hours after arriving back in California from Dubai, trainer Bob Baffert strolled into Santa Anita on Wednesday morning, his humor still intact.
"Back to work," he said. "I feel like a hundred bucks."
It was a whirlwind morning for Baffert, who was moving slowly and had a noticeable limp, still sore from the site where the medical procedure commenced in Dubai. This was the first time Baffert had seen his locally based horses in 11 days, and he had some catching up to do with them, including working horses like Secret Circle for next week's Arkansas Derby, in which Bodemeister will also compete.
Baffert also was making final preparations for Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, in which he entered three horses on Wednesday morning, including Liaison, the winner of the CashCall Futurity.
And Baffert was the center of attention, more so than usual, with numerous trainers and jockey agents lining up to say hello and welcome him back in between phone calls and text messages.
"I've heard from some people I haven't heard from in 20 or 30 years," he said.
It all proved fairly exhausting. After training his horses, Baffert headed home to rest, sensibly choosing that over extending the morning to attend the draw for the Santa Anita Derby.
A field of 10 was entered in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby, which will go as the sixth race on an 11-race card that begins at noon Pacific on Saturday. Creative Cause, the winner of the San Felipe Stakes in his last start, drew the rail and was installed as the 6-5 favorite by Jon White, the morning-line maker at Santa Anita. Liaison is in post 2, then come, in order, Holy Candy, I'll Have Another, Longview Drive, Paynter, Senor Rain, Midnight Transfer, Blueskiesnrainbows, and Brother Francis.
The Santa Anita Derby, California's major prep for the May 5 Kentucky Derby, has been dominated by Baffert. He has won the race a record six times, including last year with Midnight Interlude, who, like Liaison, is owned by Arnold Zetcher.
"I'm so happy Bob was out this morning," said Zetcher, who gave Baffert a hug when he saw him on the track apron Wednesday morning. "It's very moving to have him back."
In addition to Liaison, Baffert also entered Paynter, a winner going 5 1/2 furlongs in his lone start on Feb. 18, and Blueskiesnrainbows, who was a distant third to subsequently sidelined stablemate Fed Biz in a first-level allowance on Feb. 9.
Baffert said he is "still a little bit on shock" over the heart attack.
"I thought I was invincible," he said. "I looked through my family history, top and bottom, and no one's had a heart attack. But I had high cholesterol, horrible eating habits. I knocked off two porterhouses at the Arroyo Chop House before I left. I'm one of those who would eat all the fat. The doctor told me I could have meat maybe every 15 days. I was like, 'Are you kidding me?'
"But I feel like I got a second chance. I'd have five Diet Cokes a day. I'd have three or four cups of coffee. Today I just had one. I'd eat BLT's. And there's a lot of stress in this job."
Though Baffert has an easygoing public persona, make no mistake he is deeply competitive. He said his wife, Jill, had been trying to get him to relax long before the heart attack.
"She's always telling me, 'You've got to take it easy. You're not curing cancer,' " Baffert said. "I just need to deal with it now. Like Jill said, 'God took me to the woodshed.' I've got to get back into shape. It was a good warning."
Baffert's fate could have been far worse. He said had Jill and their son, Bode, not traveled with him to Dubai, he might not have heeded the increasingly gloomy warning signs.
"I thought I was just tired," Baffert said. "It must have been coming on. I had been complaining that my legs were getting numb when I was on the couch at home. Over there, if Jill's not there, I don't go in. It felt like a pressing feeling. Jill got on the computer. She asked if I had pain in my left arm. I did. Then she asked if I felt like I was going to throw up. I didn't. And then all of a sudden, I got the urge to throw up."
There was no more time to waste. Baffert now realized he was in trouble. While being transported to the hospital, he said he thought he was gone.
"If it was exchange wagering, I'd have bet against myself," he said.
When Baffert was taken away, he said Bode called out to him, "You'll be all right daddy, Bye-bye."
"He was so cute that night, but that made me feel worse," Baffert said. "I thought I wasn't going to see him again.
"Once that doctor walked in with his Armani suit, I said, 'I've got a shot,' " Baffert said. "He was the best-dressed doctor ever."
Being back home was a tonic for Baffert. He said while driving to the track Wednesday morning, he phoned his brother, Bill.
"I told him it felt good to be out in the nice, fresh air," Baffert said, looking up at the San Gabriel Mountains. "If I'm gonna drop, I want to drop here, at Santa Anita."
The Santa Anita Derby will be shown live on NBC, beginning at 1:30 p.m. Pacific time, during a 90-minute telecast that also includes the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial from Aqueduct.
Eight were entered in the Wood, including Derby Watch members Alpha, Gemologist, and My Adonis.
Also Saturday is the Grade 3, $500,000 Illinois Derby. Seventeen were entered, including three also-eligibles. Currency Swap and Our Entourage are the marquee names there.