ITS GO TIME FOR BAFFERT’S DERBY BARN
The Kentucky Derby is one of those magical things in life that transcends time. These two minutes around a dirt oval in Louisville, Kentucky can change your life. Should those 120 or so seconds go the way you want it translates to immortality. Nobody understands that better than Bob Baffert. That’s why the five-time Derby winning trainer is on the gas pedal in preparation for the 145th Run for the Roses.
As the modern-day benchmark for success, Big-Race Bob has been hotter than some Nashville chicken in recent times. Two wins in the world’s most famous race and two Triple Crowns (American Pharoah 2015, Justify 2018) in the last four years has the hall of fame conditioner just one win from tying Ben Jones (6- 1938, 1941, 1944, 1948, 1949, 1952) for most trips to the big circle on Derby day. Never one to think about the past, Baffert is focused on the future as he continues that competitive chase that drives men to greatness. Because he understands what it takes to get there, his California-based barn is fully immersed in Derby-prep mode.
“We are at the point now where we can’t miss a beat if you hope to be ready to win the Kentucky Derby,” says Baffert. “Training is critical and if you are going to have a horse ready for this type of challenge they cannot miss any training because of illness or injury.”
Baffert’s 2019 Derby prospects are looking really good at the moment as the 2018 unbeaten Juvenile champion (Game Winner), unbeaten CashCall Futurity winner (Improbable), and a two-time graded stakes winner (Mucho Gusto) are all residing in his barn. Yes the key to making chicken salad begins with having some chicken, but there is much more to making a Derby winner than just a talented colt. Understanding the game and developing a young horse into a Kentucky Derby champion is not a simple math equation. That’s why the Arizona native is sharpening his pencil now.
“Of course it starts with having a good horse,” says Baffert. “Talent is important, but there are a lot of other factors. Mother Nature plays a part every where this time of year and you have to figure a way to work around the elements. The other part is getting enough points to make the starting gates. The introduction of the points qualifying system means you have to run in the right races in order to get there.”
Because starting in the Kentucky Derby is so coveted, a points system was devised to determine which 20 three-year olds make it to the gates. As the first Saturday in May draws closer, the prep races are worth more points. For guys like Bob Baffert that has more than one contender, deciding when and where to run for points can be a challenge. Keeping horses separate so they don’t deny their stable mate sometimes means shipping. Knowing when and where has been a Baffert strength in years past, but he will quickly tell you there is no tried and true method to those decisions.
“You just have to take it week to week and sometimes day to day,” says Baffert. “Trying to keep them healthy is the number one goal. We’ll decide who to start where as the races draw closer. “
As we have seen in recent times, the Baffert game plan abilities have been pretty solid. In Belichick –type fashion, Baffert has put his players in position to be successful. Utilizing races in California and Arkansas in the past has placed his charges in position to run at history. Look for more of the same in 2019.