ESPN Horse Racing

Why'd we make this so hard?
By Kenny Mayne
Special to

Here was one idea. Take four dollars and box the horses trained by Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas in an exacta. Those guys are supposed to be good horsemen or something.

War Emblem
Victor Espinoza celebrates his first Kentucky Derby win aboard War Emblem.
But that was too easy. And who wants to fill out federal tax forms anyway?

No. It was much more interesting to analyze the field for pedigree, dosage (whatever that is) and best Beyers.

I know one person out of the 150,000 I slammed into at Churchill who had War Emblem.

Bob Baffert.

In the paddock before the race he told me he bet $500 to win. "It's the first time I've bet on one of my Derby horses since Real Quiet," he said. "If they can leave him alone (on the lead) we'll win it."

I know when I'm being snowed. And how would Baffert have any clue about this? In my half hour in the paddock, I'd been around War Emblem almost as much as Baffert.

He and the Prince decided the Illinois Derby was a claiming event this year and cut a deal to buy War Emblem pretty much as he was galloping to the winner's enclosure after taking that race by 6 1/4 lengths. (This was the prep race all the smart people knew to be irrelevant.)

Now that he had a Derby horse, what the hell, why not have two? Baffert entered Danthebluegrassman, which bumped Windward Passage from the field. Then on Derby morning, Baffert scratched Danthebluegrassman, which meant the idea of an Also Eligible list wasn't the dumbest thing mentioned all week. No, the winner there was "this race is going to be taken by a stalker or a closer."

In the paddock I was alerted to the fact M.C. Hammer was there. And maybe he was. But the rapper in question was P. Diddy or whatever it is he's going by these days. It was all so confusing. But it played right along with the oft-spoken remark that these horses hadn't distinguished themselves from each other.

The breeder of Request for Parole told me her colt was "lazy in the barn." I told her that was quite an endorsement. "No," she said, "I mean he saves it all for the track." Others were lazier than Request for Parole Saturday. He showed enough vigor to finish fifth.

Back near War Emblem's stall, Baffert suggested that Johannesburg might be sent out as a rabbit to aid stablemate Castle Gandolfo. He was wrong about that.

And I was wrong about not knowing anyone other than Baffert who bet on War Emblem.

The ESPN makeup lady had invested four dollars on the exacta. She wasn't betting Baffert and D. Wayne. She was betting off recent experience not recent form.

She'd just visited Ground Zero in New York City. The names War Emblem and Proud Citizen stood out to her. Unlike those of us who were too busy in deep research, she went with what she saw as obvious.

She filled out government forms.

Baffert didn't have to in order to collect his pari-mutuel winnings. He wasn't bothered by details very much at all this weekend. The instruction to his jockey was "get on the horse and take the lead and then go really fast at the end of the race."

The rest of us, we often complicate things.

Baffert wins third Derby in six years

Kentucky Derby results

Last-minute shopping gets Baffert his winner

Harlan's still a favorite around the McPeek barn

Cronley: So much for the Derby experts

Finley: Dumb, stupid luck

Derby loser quotes