When my youngest son was a little bitty fella he provided some terrific answers to a kindergarten questionnaire. When asked what his favorite season was he quickly replied…”Bear Season”. He enjoyed playing with toy guns and following the family beagle around, so it came as no real surprise he didn’t answer spring, summer, fall, or winter. He said bring on the “big game” season. Well, it seems as though a certain Thoroughbred trainer is in about the same spot right now.
Every sport and its competitors have peaks and valleys. Much like the game of life, it is simply the nature of the beast. When things are going well and the altitude is up, it is said to be “your season”. For most of 2017, Bob Baffert has been stalking the grizzly. Sure the California conditioner has seen his ups and downs since January, but he has spent more time on Mount Everest than dwindling in Death Valley.
The year began with the coronation of Arrogate with smashing wins in the mega-million dollar Pegasus and Dubai World Cup. Injury and misfortune kept the three-year old Baffert trained boys out of the Triple Crown races, but the brilliance of three-year old filly Abel Tasman in the Kentucky Oaks and Acorn eased that pain. Cupid won the Gold Cup in June, Mor Spirit took the Met Mile, and a blossoming West Coast was fantastic in winning the Easy Goer. Not to mention five-year old mare Vale Dori began the year by winning four consecutive starts before a pair of hard fought second place finishes to Stellar Wind. July, however tested the hall of famer as the once invincible Arrogate proved to be very mortal in a disappointing San Diego Handicap at Del Mar. A lackluster fourth place finish had Baffert wondering if his hunting permit had been revoked.
“July was a tough month for us,” says Baffert. We had to wonder what was going on. Of course I blame myself for not having Arrogate ready.”
Baffert bounced back in August and big game season was open again. West Coast dazzled with a huge Travers Stakes win, Drefong was immaculate in the Forego, and Baffert won the Pacific Classic with Collected. September has seen even more success as “Big Race Bob” took the million dollar Pennsylvania Derby with the ever blossoming West Coast.
No stranger to success, the veteran horseman has not just fallen into over 2700 wins, four Kentucky Derby victories, six scores in the Preakness, and three consecutive Breeders’ Cup Classic wins. A workman like approach and rolling up his sleeves everyday has given the Arizona native an amazing amount of success. Driven by a quest to always be better and do the right things for his team of outstanding athletes, the one-time quarter horse jockey has his recipe for success.
“You have to go to work everyday and be dedicated to the cause,” says Baffert. “You have to work the horses and keep them fit, especially the good ones. Giving them every chance to be strong and healthy is very important. An unfit horse is more likely to suffer an injury and that is the last thing we want. Like any athlete, you have to prepare them for success. I have got a great supporting cast that all works toward the same goal.”
Of course Baffert hopes his “season” can continue on through the Breeders’ Cup where he appears to be loaded for bear. This however, is far from his first trip around the track.
“Things in this business can change overnight,” observes Baffert. “When you get close to the top of the mountain you never look down because you could topple at any moment.”
Obviously, the man knows the game, but for now it is bears beware!