the baffert factor

Dick Jerardi

Basketball has LeBron James. Football has Tom Brady. Horse racing has Bob Baffert

The legendary trainer is loaded again with a major talent for the May 1 Kentucky Derby, a race he has already won a record-tying six times. Nobody is going to be surprised if he holds the record alone, with seven, by sundown on the first Saturday of May.

 Life is Good is unbeaten in three starts. Concert Tour is unbeaten in three starts. Life is Good likely will make his final pre-Derby start in the Santa Anita Derby while Concert Tour may go to the Arkansas Derby. If each wins impressively, Baffert will bring as strong a hand to Kentucky as he did in 2015 when he finished first and third in the Derby with American Pharoah and Dortmund.

Baffert was not hard to read that 2015 Derby Week. He never tipped his hand about which horse he liked best, given that they had different owners, but he made it very clear he thought he was going to win it. He did, of course, and American Pharoah kept right on winning until the colt had won the first Triple Crown in 37 years. Later, Baffert admitted he knew all along which horse was better. He just let the horse show it.

Concert Tour is a very nice horse who just gave Baffert his eighth Rebel Stakes win since 2010. Life is Good has superstar potential. The colt does not run; he glides. Another American Pharoah? Another Justify, the 2018 Triple Crown winner? Time will tell.

Baffert obviously has access to horses with great pedigrees, but he also has a program that is designed with the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes in mind. Watch the horses develop race to race, workout to workout so they peak at exactly the right moment. Everything is by design. The results are no accident.

The results now include those two Triple Crowns, the six Derbies, the seven Preakness, and the three Belmont Stakes, a record 16 Triple Crown race wins in all. He even proved last year that he could win the Derby in September with the third string. That was Authentic in the spring behind Nadal and Charlatan. But when those two got injured, Baffert brought Authentic off the bench to win the Derby, nearly win an eighth Preakness and win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Not bad for a backup.

In all, Baffert has trained more than 3,100 winners. His horses have earned $316 million. He has won the Eclipse Award as leading trainer four times (1997, 1998, 1999, 2015) and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2009.

But it is his Triple Crown race mastery that sets him apart. D. Wayne Lukas showed him the way and then Baffert even improved on the standard Lukas set.

Baffert won his first Derby in 1997, the year after he lost it by a nose with Cavonnier. Then, he won it again in 1998 with Real Quiet and War Emblem in 2002. It was 13 years between War Emblem and American Pharoah, but an older, wiser Baffert began another roll in 2015, winning it again in 2018 with Justify and in 2020 with Authentic. So the man won the Derby three times in six years – twice.

And there is also this. His horses have finished second in eight other Triple Crown races. And, with a bit more racing luck in the years he won two of three, Baffert could actually have won four more Triple Crowns.           Think about all that when the horses are in the post parade for the 2021 Kentucky Derby. You may be considering betting on a horse or horses not trained by Baffert. You might want to reconsider.

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