05/14/2014 1:20PM

Baffert has one bullet left - Bayern

Barbara D. Livingston
Bob Baffert will race Bayern without blinkers in the Preakness.

BALTIMORE – Bob Baffert began the year with 3-year-old prospects like Hoppertunity, Indianapolis, Midnight Hawk, and Tap It Rich. But when they kicked the gate for the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago, his lone representative was Chitu, and he’s down to just one runner, Bayern, for the Preakness Stakes here Saturday at Pimlico.

Baffert’s spring odyssey is a stark reminder of just how difficult it is for a trainer to get to these races, let alone win them. He had 18 horses nominated to the Triple Crown, and while not all of those horses looked like legitimate Derby prospects, horses like Indianapolis and Midnight Hawk were on everyone’s shortlist early in the year. Todd Pletcher had the most nominations to the Triple Crown, 41, ended up with four runners in the Derby, did not win, and has no representatives in the Preakness.

Meanwhile, Art Sherman had one nominee, California Chrome, who won the Derby. All you need is one. The right one.

Bayern looked like a rising star earlier this year, when he won his first two starts, both at Santa Anita, including a dazzling 15-length victory against allowance runners Feb. 13. He was expected to run in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes in his next start and would have faced California Chrome, but he had a training setback and has been trying to get back to that good form ever since.

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After missing the Lewis, Bayern was sent to Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby, in which he finished third going 1 1/8 miles.

“He wasn’t totally ready for that race,” Baffert said. “He showed a lot of guts to hang on.”

Bayern turned back to a one-turn mile for the Derby Trial, and though he crossed the wire first, he was disqualified to second for interference.

“I was a little bit disappointed in the Derby Trial,” Baffert said this week. “I thought he would run away from those horses. The track was deep and slow that night. He made the lead, but he didn’t go on with it. That’s why I’m taking the blinkers off him for the Preakness. I think he can sit. He can run at a horse.”

In the Preakness, in which 10 were entered Wednesday, Bayern will be trying to stretch his speed to 1 3/16 miles. Because of his recent setbacks, though, he is entering the Preakness as a longshot. This will be the first time in his career that he will not be favored. He was odds-on in three of his first four races and never has been higher than 8-5. He’ll be a lot higher Saturday.

Baffert said he considered a slightly softer spot for Bayern but ultimately decided to go for it because “it’s the Preakness,” a race he has won five times.

“California Chrome is obviously the horse to beat,” Baffert said. “He’s a good horse, and he’s in the zone. He races close to the lead, so he stays out of trouble. That gives him a big edge.

“Bayern isn’t a Belmont-type of a horse, so if we’re going to run in a Triple Crown race, this is it. Does he have distance limitations, or will he go on? That’s what we’re going to find out in the Preakness. We’re taking a shot.”

A little more than six months ago, Baffert looked like he had the best horse in this crop in New Year’s Day, who won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in only his third start. But he was subsequently injured and retired.

Indianapolis started off with great promise but had to be taken out of training and only recently has returned to the track. He’s “a few weeks away” from a workout, Baffert said.

Tap It Rich needed time to get over mental and physical issues. He had surgery for a testicle that did not descend. “I think that was bothering him,” Baffert said.

Midnight Hawk is being freshened after finding the increasing distances of the Derby preps too high a hurdle to clear. Hoppertunity developed quickly but was hurt just before the Derby and was scratched. He underwent surgery and will get time off to heal and mature, Baffert said.

Chitu overachieved to get to the Derby and is soon to return to California after remaining at Churchill Downs following the Derby.

Now, for Baffert, it’s down to Bayern.

“It’s all about being right at the right time,” Baffert said.