03/14/2012 3:00PM

2012 Kentucky Derby: Baffert relies on intuition to guide prospects to prep races

Coady Photography/Oaklawn Park
Secret Circle, winner of the second division of the Southwest, returns to Oaklawn Park for Saturday's Grade 2 Rebel.

ARCADIA, Calif. – One of the reasons Bob Baffert rose so quickly through the ranks of Thoroughbred trainers, all the way to the Hall of Fame, is that he relies so much on instincts. Like a quarterback who comes to the line of scrimmage and calls an audible, or a basketball player who feels he’s in the groove and launches up shot after shot that hit nothing but net, Baffert’s approach to training is far more art than science.

Even though he’s a three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby, and has seen what works and what doesn’t work in terms of preparation for that race, Baffert has become even more reliant on his instincts this year. It obviously helps that he has a large pool of horses from which to draw, but, by and large, which Baffert 3-year-olds have run in which stakes races this spring have been determined largely by Baffert’s intuition.

“It’s whoever’s doing best that week, whoever is putting up the three-point shot,” he said earlier this week. “We nominated everywhere, and ship whoever’s doing good.”

[DERBY WATCH: Top 20 contenders | Who's hot, who's not]

The horse who got the call this week is Secret Circle, who will return to Oaklawn Park for the Grade 2, $500,000 Rebel Stakes on Saturday. Secret Circle won a division of the Southwest Stakes last month, with the other division going to Baffert-trained Castaway. Instead of also heading back to Oaklawn, though, Castaway will be given another week, and head to Sunland Park for the Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Derby on March 25.

At the beginning of the year, Baffert’s pool of 3-year-old males included Bodemeister, Castaway, Drill, Fed Biz, Liaison, and Sky Kingdom. Drill, though a game winner of the seven-furlong San Vicente, will be kept around one turn because Baffert will resist trying to turn him into something he’s not. Baffert’s quest for the May 5 Derby also will be made without both Fed Biz and Sky Kingdom, who were taken out of consideration because of minor injuries.

“Like George Bolton says,” Baffert said, referring to the owner of Todd Pletcher-trained Spring Hill Farm, who suffered a fractured knee in the Tampa Bay Derby, “the uppercut is just waiting to knock you down.”

But Baffert has been able to counter-punch, with both jabs and haymakers.

Bodemeister was being considered for the Sunland Derby following his victory against maidens, but instead was put in last week’s San Felipe, in which he finished second. While it might have looked like Bodemeister merely went in the race because Fed Biz came out, in fact Baffert was so enamored with the way Bodemeister was training that he thought it more prudent to run there than wait.

“And I didn’t want to ship Bodemeister yet,” Baffert said.

Bodemeister still needs a considerable cash infusion in his next race in order to make the Kentucky Derby, which seems certain to once again attract more than 20 entries, thus making the field determined by earnings in graded stakes. Baffert has a philosophical approach to that dilemma.

“If you don’t make enough money, you don’t belong,” he said. “It kind of takes care of itself.”

Liaison never really got untracked in the Robert Lewis before eventually losing his rider at midstretch, but he trained so well in subsequent weeks that Baffert thought he would run a better race in the San Felipe, even though Baffert believed before the race that the 1 1/16-mile distance was short of ideal. Liaison goes 1 1/8 miles next time, in either the Santa Anita Derby or the Wood Memorial, the New York race being strongly considered because Baffert thinks Santa Anita might not be as conducive to Liaison’s late-running style.

Secret Circle, a son of Eddington, has been, perhaps, the greatest surprise for Baffert. Secret Circle has terrific speed, as evidenced by his victory in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint last fall at Churchill Downs, but his win in the one-mile Southwest put him in a new light.

“He might be a Derby horse,” Baffert said the day after the Southwest. “He keeps surprising me.”

The Rebel, at 1 1/16 miles, is the farthest Secret Circle will have raced to date. He won his first three starts, all in sprints, at Del Mar, Santa Anita, and Churchill Downs. After finishing second to Out of Bounds in the Sham Stakes in his two-turn debut earlier this year, Baffert gave Secret Circle another try at a mile in the Southwest.

“One thing about him is he won’t let a horse by him if he can see him,” Baffert said. “In the Sham, I don’t think he saw that horse until it was too late. He tried to come back at him. Last time, you weren’t sure he was going to get it done, but he kept on going. Even at Churchill Downs, he went so fast early in the race, I thought he would fold up like an accordion, but the other horse never got by him.”

Jose Ocon More than 1 year ago
I like Paynter a lot... just a maiden win going into the Illinois Derby GII
freecharm More than 1 year ago
Does this article mean or imply that Princess Arabella is not under consideration for the Derby and will have to settle for a win in the Oaks? :)
Nick Gunritz More than 1 year ago
Who exactly has Princess Arabella beat? More importantly, how many horses has she beat? No knock against her obvious talent, but have to see more from her than perfect trips against small fields at Santa Anita before I'm throwing her in Derby talk without any graded earnings yet.
Peggy More than 1 year ago
wasn t the fillie who won the belmont, a few years ago, have the same running record as Princess Arabella.
stevejPS More than 1 year ago
Lets not write off Mr B just yet. I still think Castaway might yet prove the surprise And while we're on the subject of trainers and the way they treat their horses.....lets just remember Bob Baffert is NOT the same as Todd Pletcher. Just sayin'
Morris More than 1 year ago
to all you nay sayers; if mr baffert dont have a contender,/ mr baffert will go buy a contender.. never count out mr baffert.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I believe Baffert would not do that this year . I think Baffert has more PRIDE in his ways than to go buy a contender ! Baffert will be fully loaded for this years Breeders Cup , so I would say that Baffert will just take his bumps and bruises now , and rebound thru-out after the Derby . BODEMEISTER could be a Perfect Fit in the PREAKNESS - if Baffert does not rush him
Roy Sankar More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yes , it is looking that way huh !
Nick Gunritz More than 1 year ago
Except for when El Padrino wins the Derby.
Felix More than 1 year ago
Whatever....its still very early
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yeap , WHAT - EVER ! One MISSISSIPPI Two MISSISSIPPI Three MISSISSIPPI . . . and the number just keeps adding up with-out a Hopeful Derby contender ! Secret Circle - as of now looks to be Bafferts main foe . . . . and that will all be said and done after the REBEL .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
O K Flex , tell the viewers WHOM are the top canidates in the Baffert stable that you believe are a serious KENTUCKY DERBY contender ! I dont even believe Bob knows at this time . At least now , all the Sprint and Mile Races are all out of the way for conditioning for the Derby , now the Preps are all a 1 1/16 to 1 1/18 . . . . Serious Business Begins From here on
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is about time that the truth starts to come out by sports writters other than Me running my mouth this Spring about WHERE ARE THE BAFFERT 3 YR OLD COLTS FOR THE KENTUCKY DERBY BECAUSE I HAVE YET TO SEE ONE THAT STANDS OUT - OR - ONE THAT LOOKS TO GO THAT EXTRA DISTANCE ! Now the Head-Lines start to surface . The truth of the matter is - Baffert Does Not Have A Solid Contender For This Years KENTUCKY DERBY . Baffert has been my favorite Trainer for nearly 5 Years now . After last years JUVENILE BREEDERS CUP , I right then started to worry about this years KENTUCKY DERBY . Baffert has MANY AWESOME 3 YR OLD COLTS THAT WILL GO A MILE EASILY , and JUST AFEW THAT MAY GO 1 MILE 1/16 , BUT THAT IS ABOUT THE DISTANCE AT THIS TIME . So YES - I am Worried and Sad that I will not have a Good Baffert COLT for this years KENTUCKY DERBY ( THAT I WOULD HAVE FAITH IN )
Bryan Tripoli More than 1 year ago
OwenJ More than 1 year ago
I agree with Anonymous. Unfortunately Baffert does not have a standout Derby distance horse and Creative Cause beat the latest flavour of the week Bodemeister much easier than the margin of victory suggests. I would love to hear what Andy Beyer has to say about my theory: America appears to be breeding horses mainly for speed and the breed is not as sound as yesteryear. If we do get a Triple Crown winner in this decade that horse may not be of the quality of Citation, Secretariat or even near-winners such as Spendabuck, Silver Charm or even Smarty Jones who barley missed during a year marked more by an undistinguished bunch of 3 Y.Os.