BOZICH | Bob Baffert has a special gift for American Pharoah reunion Monday
Bob Baffert will finally visit his Triple Crown winner American Pharoah Monday for the first time in nearly six months. The trainer has already purchased a special treat.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The carrots have chilled in Bob Baffert’s refrigerator for several days.
Strike that. Organic baby carrots have chilled in Baffert’s refrigerator for several days.
American Pharoah brought horse racing its first Triple Crown in 37 years. The colt’s treat menu from his trainer features more than peppermints, apple strips and bargain-level carrots.
On Monday morning, after the trainer works his current collection of horses, including Kentucky Derby contender Mor Spirit, Baffert, wife, Jill, and their son, Bode, will drive 60.5 miles from Churchill Downs to the 2,000-acre Ashford Stud farm outside Versailles, Ky.
Their mission: Deliver the organic baby carrots and share one more celebratory cry with American Pharoah, winner of the 2015 Kentucky Derby, Triple Crown, Breeders’ Cup Classic and souls of sports fans everywhere.
“I’m sure I’ll get very emotional,” Baffert said Sunday at Churchill Downs before American Pharoah was honored with an exhibit at the Kentucky Derby Museum.
“He’s one of the top five or 10 horses that ever ran.
“I went and saw Silver Charm (his 1997 Derby winner) when he got back last year. I got very emotional when I saw him at Old Friends (farm). He came up to me there. It was real emotional for me.
“You think about what you went through and everything … When you see a horse like that, it’s like listening to an old song.”
An old song that everybody in horse racing danced to last year after American Pharoah proved that, yes, a colt can win the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, the way Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and eight others have done it. We were beginning to wonder.
Baffert held his breath every time American Pharoah lifted a leg for more than a year – and then in early November the horse was gone, off to a lucrative stallion career, several days after American Pharoah won the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland. He stands at Ashford for $200,000 per breeding session.
Monday will be the first time Baffert has visited his friend since American Pharoah left the barn nearly six months ago, but the trainer said that he gets a report from Ashford Stud at least once a day.
According to a story in the Lexington Herald-Leader, American Pharoah has impregnated about 80 percent of the 100 or so mares he has covered since mid-February.
“Everything he does is great,” Baffert said. “He could race. He’s intelligent. I could bring him out here and people could pet him. He loves people. I’ve never seen a horse like that.
“They say at the farm, he’s the same way. He goes and he gets them all in foal. He’s great at whatever he does.
“They say that when he makes a left to go to the stud barn, he knows. He gets on his toes and knows he’s going to work. When he makes a right and goes to see the public, he’s quiet. He knows.”
Baffert knows, too. At 63, Baffert has become as much of a regular on Derby Day as bumper-to-bumper traffic on Central Avenue – 26 starts, four wins, three seconds, three thirds.
He knows that American Pharoah is a once-in-a-lifetime horse for any trainer. Knows that Nyquist is the horse to beat in Kentucky Derby 142. Knows that he and his colt, Mor Spirit, are mostly a side show during the inexorable build-up to Saturday’s race.
But Baffert also knows that he has won the race three other times – 1997 with Silver Charm; 1998 with Real Quiet and 2002 with War Emblem – with colts who didn’t make the tote board tilt the way Pharoah did.
Mor Spirit is likely to be the sixth or seventh betting choice. The colt has finished first (three times) or second in all seven starts. He was beaten by 6 ¼ lengths by Exaggerator on sloppy track in the Santa Anita Derby. Baffert has done more with less.
“Last year we were the headline,” Baffert said. “Now we’re the opening act. It’s more relaxing. Last year it was a little stressful.
“After the Arkansas Derby, it was like, ‘Man, I can’t mess this up.’ It was like you’re coming in with the heavyweight. I felt the pressure that this could be my last chance to win a Derby.”
It wasn’t. It isn’t. It won’t be.
Nobody needs to show Baffert a record book for him to understand what the stakes are Saturday. Baffert, D. Wayne Lukas and Herbert “Derby Dick” Thompson have won the race four times. The only trainer with more Derby victories was Ben Jones, who won his sixth and final Derby in 1952.
“I used to joke around after I won the first one that when I win five, I’m going to quit,” Baffert said. “I’ve always wanted five.”
Odds are that Baffert will eventually get his five – just as American Pharoah will get his organic baby carrots Monday morning.
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