- Horse Racing - A conversation with Bob Baffert

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Wednesday, October 24
A conversation with Bob Baffert

Kenny: First question is ... do we have your permission to tape this so you don't sue our ass later?

Bob: Oh ... you're fine.

Kenny: Okay, we're good for now. It's strange how things work out, isn't it? You had Point Given ... it looked like you had a world-beater -- and he was for his time -- you lose him and right away you get this guy Officer.

Bob: Well ... it's fortunate luck I guess, but it was tough losing Point Given, probably the toughest horse I've ever had to ... you know just as he was really getting better and stuff. It was probably the toughest loss I've ever had retiring like that really quick.

Kenny: Gary Stevens said that he's the best he's ever been on. Is he also the best you've ever trained?

Bob: He's much the best I've ever trained. I never had one that could do, especially for his size ... what he did as a 2-year-old was really unbelieveable because it was like he wasn't supposed to the things he did at two. He just had like bad racing luck -- the Breeders' Cup, the Champagne -- you know he should have had a lot more wins by his name there, but unfortunately racing luck cost him a lot.

Kenny: Do you still go back and look at the Kentucky Derby over and over in your mind? I mean, I explain it as it was just a weird surface ... three track records were set; it was like cement. He didn't like it ...

Bob: I feel the same way about it; I agree with you there. It was one of those things where we let Gary sort of ... Gary was going to ride him like he did Thunder Gulch in the [1995] Derby which would have been fine if the track hadn't been like that. You know it was very hard on him and he was chasing sort of a fast pace. It took him out of his game. He probably learned the way he wanted to run after the Derby. At the Santa Anita Derby, he sort of got away with running like that and he won so ... you know you can't look back. Once it's over with we all thought if it's meant to be it's meant to be. So it didn't happen. I figured if I was going to win the Triple Crown, he was my horse. I knew the third leg would be a problem for him, but it wasn't -- it was the first leg.

Kenny: Right. When you guys had the dispute at the Haskell, right? You and Gary got into each other a bit -- and that might have been overplayed -- but did everybody seem to lose confidence in each other just for the moment?

Bob: No, what happened was that track was ... there was a lot of pressure. I had a hurry-up offense to get him ready for that race and I had to get him ready in three weeks. And so we all knew there was a lot of pressure on us. We were there. I needed like an extra week with him and didn't have it. And that's what made this horse so great, that he's the kind of horse that ... you know when you have the luxury of picking your spots or waiting for him to come round and you can do it. But with him, it was like when you run in the classics, there's no luxury. You've got to do it now. And so, we wanted to run him there, we'd talked to the Haskell people, they were so great for us trying to make the race. And so we made it, and I told Gary I was coming in there with a pretty short horse. It was just nerves that I forgot to remind him about coming left-handed with his horse so he doesn't come in. because when he switches leads sometimes, he just does that, he's such a big horse. So, it was a bonehead move of mine to send that information. Whe I found out I could do it I thought "Maybe I should do it. But maybe I shouldn't do it." But then I thought "Hey, it's no big deal." But by the time it got there, it was totally wrong and that's what upset Gary. And then the horse breaking and then the field took off ... and then Gary realized "Oh, I better pick it up." And he made a long drive with him when he turned for home the horse was empty and he still won because he's so good. Any other horse probably would have run fourth or fifth.

Kenny: Does the whole experience with him ever make you re-question the ... what's the word ... I guess they'll edit this part out so I don't look as stupid as I normally am, or maybe they'll just let it ride, I don't know. I questioned you a long time ago -- I think it was at the Eclipse Awards -- like "Ought we not rethink the Triple Crown? Are we putting these horses through to much?" And I remember distinctly your answer was like "No, that is the test."

Bob: No, I agree. They've got to to keep it the way it is. That two weeks after the Derby you have to because that's the whole thing for the horse to show the toughness ... the gritiness of these horses ... and I think it keeps the racing fans and public really enthused and they can't wait to see if that horse can go on and win the next leg so they can stay tuned. So, I think they shouldn't change it. I agree with it. I think the draw ... I think we should go back to the old style of the draw at the Derby.

Kenny: When you look at it though in proper perspective, it's not like he's suffering that much. Your horse went out with a win and he runs off and has sex for the rest of his life. If you were to break your leg on the job, and they turned you out and said "Go have sex for the rest of your life" -- that wouldn't be so bad would it?

Bob: That would be great, especially with the caliber ... they lead in all these beautiful women, you know?

Kenny: They'd just lead 'em in one by one for you.

Bob: Exactly. What a life for a horse.

Kenny: All right, what about Officer? I really haven't seen the guy run yet. In my mind anyway, he looks like he just takes off, kind of has this ...

Bob: You've never seen him run?

Kenny: No, on video I've seen him. I'm saying I haven't seen him have to try. He just kind of breaks ...

Bob: I was talking to Victor Espinoza, his jockey -- I was talking to him yesterday; he was in the paddock -- and he said "How are the horses doing?" and I said they worked great the other day and he says "Good, because people keep telling me that Officer's really not that good and I keep telling them 'Well Baffert won't let me let him run.'" He says, "You're going to have to let me let lim run on Breeders' Cup day." And I said, well you go ahead. I'm sure there's not a problem there, you know. But I mean, he's one of these horses -- we refer to him as a superstar -- he does everything effortlessly and he's really fun to watch. You know he's easy to train -- Point Given, you know he drove me crazy. He [Officer] doesn't have any bad habits, he's very professional ... a good feeling horse ... likes it, enjoys it ... he's got a beautiful fluid stride. If you look at him, he just looks like a mass of ... the muscles are in the right spots. He's long. He's just got everything going for him. He's just an ideal picture of a racehorse.

Kenny: When the players are going to try and beat him -- because nobody wants to get short-money; everybody's greedy at the racetrack -- are people going to over-analyze and say "Well, he's never really been pushed in the stretch, so if he gets pushed, who knows what'll happen to him." You don't sound like you're terribly worried about that scenario.

Bob: Because you know you can tell by the way these horses train, you can tell what they got, and he's very competitive. He loves to pass horses and once he passes horses, then he knows he can just shut it down. As long as he has a target in front of him, he likes to take off after it. If anything, he might be too ... he likes to put the running to them earlier and I hope he doesn't get into some kind of speed duel. I don't want him to choke him down, but at the same time, let him run his race. I think a lot of people -- they might knock him or whatever -- are people that are hoping that he's not that good ... that are running against him. Unfortunately, he hasn't really had to run hard or hasn't tackled a really top, top horse because, basically, all the other good horses, they stayed away from him ... they ducked him, which makes it better for us because our horse really hasn't had a hard race. I keep him fit and keep him happy and so he'll be prepared for a battle, so I don't worry about that part.

Kenny: The good thing too, is in many cases you don't get a chance to be on the track where you're going to run. This time, he's already done well there and you have that extra confidence that way.

Bob: Well Belmont is the kind of track where we've had a lot of success, as have a lot of people in California, where you can ship in there, in a few days run the horses, the horses will run great and there's few tracks where you can do that. But you still have to have a horse that has brilliance and he has it, and so I'm really looking forward to it. I think a lot of people are looking forward to it to see how good he really is and everybody knows he's going to let him run and so everybody is just dying to see something. So hopefully with post positions and a nice racetrack and good weather, I'd like to see everything happen. But Breeders' Cup, with all those horses in there, you never know what's going to happen.

Kenny: What's your next best chance all day long, if you had to pick one other that you were going to do well with?

Bob: I like Habibti in the Juvenile Fillies. I love that filly. She got sick but it was a little virus. It was knocked out in a few days. She really has a lot of talent. I think with some luck ... I'm glad that race really didn't get too many horses because she's only had two races so I didn't want to see her in a 14-horse field. But, she has a lot of talent.

Kenny: Were you relieved to hear about most of the Europeans ... that their plans are still to come? There was obvious concern over everything that's gone on and the continued threats.

Bob: Well, I really don't keep up with what's going on there. I just worry about my own horses. I just want to get there. The exciting part about the Breeders' Cup is to be in the position where you have a chance to win. I'm coming in there with El Corredor, who's a very fast horse -- 6 furlongs is a little short for him, but he has a lot of speed. I've shortened him up; I've freshened him up; I'm hoping he'll be ready to leave there hard and strong and he has brilliance and he's a fast horse. So I'm coming in there with three horses. I just hope that day that I feel really good about how they're training and that they're hitting on all cylinders because I think I could have a big day that day.

Kenny: Isn't there something more to it besides what you're doing with your horses? Isn't there an extra emotion attached to it because it's taking place in New York?

Bob: Well, there was when I went back for the Champagne. It was a very somber mood. You know, there were a lot of things going on. Everywhere you looked ... when you drove by a church, there was a funeral going on ... there was no electricity in the air. There was a lot of mourning going on. But it's one of those things where I don't think we'll feel the excitement in the air until the race -- actually the race day. I think you'll feel it coming up because the Yankees, they've go 56,000 people and they're back in swing. On the down time, I think a lot of people in New York ... everybody's looking over their shoulder. A lot of people, they feel that way -- what's going to happen next? And so everyone's on pins and needles. Out on the West coast, we really don't feel that because we're so far away from it all. But I'm sure when we're there ... everybody's apprehensive and watching out, but I really think come Breeders' Cup day, everybody's going to be really into it. The buzz and the electricity will be in the air.

Kenny: All right. I wish you luck and we thank you for all your time.

Bob: Thank you.

Kenny: I'll see you out there.


 More from ESPN...

 Kenny Mayne and Bob Baffert
Kenny and Bob discuss Point Given and Baffert's next potential superstar, Officer. Transcript

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