06/05/2012 3:23PM

Hollywood Park: Baffert hot at home if not in Triple Crown

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Barbara D. Livingston
Bob Baffert went into the week with a double-digit lead in victories over the second-place trainer, John Sadler.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is down to his last chance.
After disappointing losses by Bodemeister in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes last month, the lightly raced Paynter starts in Saturday's Belmont Stakes as Baffert's final opportunity to earn a victory in the series of races he covets the most.

[BELMONT STAKES: Video updates, expected field, early odds]

Baffert has nine Triple Crown career wins - three Kentucky Derbys, five victories in the Preakness Stakes, and one in the Belmont Stakes. It will be an achievement if Paynter can beat I'll Have Another on Saturday. The colt has yet to win a stakes.

Last weekend, Baffert reflected on his frustrating losses in the Triple Crown this year, which has occurred simultaneous to widespread success with his home stable in Southern California.

"If you get beat, you get beat," he said last weekend. "When they make it official, you've got to move on to the next one."

For Baffert, 59, this has been a year like no other. A heart attack suffered in March while in Dubai has led to a stricter diet. He says he is about 16 pounds lighter now, around 170 pounds, than he was a few months ago.

Because of his health issues, he seems more at ease in recent weeks. In the past, tough losses in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes would have been a sore subject. Today, he is more philosophical.

Baffert has never won the Triple Crown, but came close in 1997 and 1998 when Silver Charm and Real Quiet won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes only to finish second in the Belmont Stakes.

For Saturday's Belmont, Baffert is cast as the role of spoiler with Paynter, a rapidly improving colt owned by Ahmed Zayat, who also owns Bodemeister. There is little to lose in starting Paynter. Trainer Doug O'Neill and the I'll Have Another team will capture the attention this week, from fans and media.

Baffert will not have the spotlight. He recalls all too vividly the pressure of being the trainer with a Triple Crown at stake, and the attention that accompanies that.

"I tried to do it myself and it was exhausting," he said. "By the time the day comes, you're ready. Let it run."

Paynter has faced I'll Have Another once, finishing fourth, in the Santa Anita Derby on April 7. A colt by Awesome Again, Paynter was later second in the Grade 3 Derby Trial Stakes at Churchill Downs on April 28 and an impressive winner of an allowance race at Pimlico on May 19, on the undercard of the Preakness Stakes.

Baffert, who won the Belmont Stakes in 2001 with Point Given, confirmed Paynter as a Belmont starter last weekend.

"He's not a good work horse," Baffert said. "I wanted to get a nice seven-eighths in him, and we got one. He'll have to really step it up to beat I'll Have Another.
"I've got a lot of respect for that horse. I can't beat him."

He cannot beat him with his 3-year-olds -- so far -- but the game will change for I'll Have Another later in the year. Eventually he will face older horses, and Baffert will be waiting with the five-time stakes winner Game On Dude, who was fourth in the 2010 Belmont.

Game On Dude provided the springtime highlight for Baffert's stable, with an emphatic victory by 7 1/4 lengths in the Grade 2 Californian Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park last Saturday. The win made the 5-year-old Game On Dude the favorite for the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 7.

"I thought he'd run well, but I didn't think I'd see that," Baffert said after the race.

Through Sunday, Baffert is the runaway leader in the trainer's standings at the Betfair Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting, winning with 19 of his first 46 starters. He has a double-digit lead on closest pursuer John Sadler, who has eight victories.

"Everything is clicking well," he said. "I've got a good staff. We have nice horses and we're getting opportunities to run."

As he said that, Baffert's competitive nature surfaced.

"You can never win enough," he said. "You can lose too many.

Morris More than 1 year ago
what kind of odds can i get if i bet that bob baffert is the next trainer to win the triple crown??? " an ole railbird"
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Well, Morris, you're the'house'. What kind of odds are you laying?
haire75 More than 1 year ago
Baffert surely is no Woody Stevens,He's only been licensed as a thoroughbred trainer for a little over 15yrs.AND if it wasn't' for Mike Pegram,he'd certainly still be traIning ponies in New Mexico.This sport is pathetic how they induct people like Baffert,when there are true legends that accomplished far more than Baffert ever thought of doing,and been deceased for nearly one hundred yrs. And still waiting for there day,that's wrong.Most other sports ,it took many yrs. And lot of athletes passed on before ever getting there honorable achievement,not horse racing ,it's a Joke.A good example of this yr.
Manuel Acuna More than 1 year ago
Trainers become eligible after 25 years as licensed Thoroughbred trainers and elected in 2009 that makes it more like 28 years. Mike Pegram is no Harry Guggenheim, Henryk de Kwiatkowski, and Claiborne Farm. Woody Stephens won 8 Classics while Baffert has won 9. Baffert doesn't need to be Woody Stephens he has done all right for himself. If you hate this "pathetic sport" why bother move on.
gary More than 1 year ago
I just want to know what excuse all the Union Rags fans are going to make for this horse when he fades like an old memory down the stretch. He doesn't have the breeding to get the distance. He'll be a great horse at a mile to a mile and an eighth and that is it.
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
Based on Dixie Union? This is only his 8th crop, there hasn't been enough samples. That's why you have to go back a couple of generations. Union Rags is out of the legendary Northern Dancer sire line and the Raise A Native dam sire line, his Dosage Index is the same as I'll Have Another, tied for 2nd best pedigree among this year's Belmont Stakes field. He ran his final half furlong, final furlong and final quarter faster than I'll Have Another in the 10f Kentucky Derby, and was a G1 winner on the Belmont oval. Union Rags is the 2nd most likely winner of the Belmont Stakes, and you get about 4-1 to 5-1 to find out. Is it enough to take a risk rather than betting favorite at 3-2 to 2-1? There is no right answer now, we'll find out at 6:45pm on Saturday.
julien richards More than 1 year ago
Well, i am entitled to agree with that dosage assessment that UR will be competitive in the Belmont but all things considered I'll Have Another will crush them all.
ted More than 1 year ago
Only chance Optimizer has is RAIN
Robbie Rodriguez More than 1 year ago
is it just me, or does Baffert look really horrible health wise....or are they just showing an old pic after his heart attack over and over again because if that picture is recent....Is this Bob's final Belmont?
JoyJackson21 More than 1 year ago
The writer is wrong, Bob Baffert hasn't changed (because of the heart attack). He's just internalizing his reactions better. Bob is still doing the same things and saying the same things he always has before the heart attack. He's still a media magnet - interestingly, he didn't say a lot about Paynter or how he was training. That's unusual for Bob, he is usually talking up a blue streak about a horse he has entered in a stakes race. I learned more about Bob, and even Game On Dude, in the article than I did about Paynter. Interesting. - LOL.
Meydan Rocks More than 1 year ago
Joy, That's what he did before Real Quiet won the K Derby. His silence regarding Paynter might be telling.
JoyJackson21 More than 1 year ago
No, you're right - Bob didn't speak much on Real Quiet in the Derby, he had another horse in the race he talked up a storm about the he favored much more than Real Quiet - and it made me kind of angry on Real Quiet's behalf af the time. I kept wondering why Bob never said more than "he's a good horse" about RQ. Whether Bob liked hm or not didn't matter to me in the end, because I still went ahead and bet Real Quiet in the Derby for the win and with Victory Gallop the exacta. I did the same thing in the Preakness and Belmont as well. What Bob did or did not say about RQ in the end did not stop me from placing money on Real Quiet in any of the Triple Crown races. However, during this year's Santa Anita Derby, Bob was extremely vocal about Liaison, and not much was said at all about Paynter. Both were entered in the S.A. Derby, but Bob was only vocal about Liaison. Paynter was somewhat a mystery, as he was lightly raced coming into the race. Paynter made a good showing in the race in the second tier of horses, Liaison did not do so well. In the Kentucky Derby, Bob was extremely vocal about Bodemeister, but was mostly silent about Liaison. We all understand the greatness of Bode and that was obviously going to be the horse he spoke about most, but it felt as if he was throwing mostly crumbs of support toward Liaison. My point in my original post was that Bob usually speak a lot about the horse he feels has the best chance in a stakes race Bob has horses entered in, but Bob rarely speaks about the horse he feels is not the best shot in the race. Bob only has one horse in this race - the Belmont. Therefore, Bob should be waxing poetic about Paynter, Paynter has no other competition in this race for Bob's attention, and for the second time this year in a derby race Bob is not waxing poetic about Paynter. I find that very interesting, a little curious and a little sad. Why does Bob seem to not to sing the praises of this colt as he did most of this year with Liaison and Bodemeister? This article should have really been about Paynter as Paynter is the horse running in the Belmont, and the article was mostly about Game On Dude, a horse not running in this race. Paynter is a nice colt, Bob should talk about him more, sing his praises more just as he does other horses in his stable. My money will be on I'll Have Another in the Belmont Stakes, as well as my well-wishes, my heart and my loyalty. I will be pulling for IHA no matter what race he is entered in, and that will always be because I am loyal to IHA. However, I do feel compassion for Paynter, and wish Bob would support him a little better and pat Paynter on the back publicly in the press more than Bob has done so far this year. Paynter often seems to be an afterthought to Bob, or at least that is the way it often appears in the press and on video.
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
I don't like this at all about Paynter. Baffert always makes the trip to the classic races and send other horses to run in the undercards if he thinks he has a really good shot.
D More than 1 year ago
Do you know how to read Grass? Where does it say he is not making the trip to Belmont?? They really should make you show some sort of diploma to post on blogs/boards...
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
I see. You didn't know that Baffert wasn't coming to NYC. I didn't read it anywhere. I live here, sometimes I hear this kind of stuff.
Todd Elliot More than 1 year ago
Baffert is the best trainer in horse racing and knows how to handle horses.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Bodemeister lost??? Did I read this in 'B'RF???
Kalar Walters More than 1 year ago
LOL!
Mr 6 More than 1 year ago
belmont bob....winnnnnnnnnz
Ron Gillaspie More than 1 year ago
Can't recall if a "non-stakes winner" has ever won the Belmont but that would certainly put a stamp on this years crop. I loved the fact that Bodemeister was a Virginia bred like Scretariat. I still picked Union Rags though because he seems to be the best of a weak crop of horses. A loss in the Derby hasn't changed my thinking. Paynter can either commit suicide on the front end or be willing to have Union Rags poised right off his flank from the start. Either way, there is not any horse in the Belmont that beat Union Rags in a "trouble-free" Belmont. Second place has to fall to a price horse like Optimizer which sets up juicy exacta.
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
many non-stakes winners had won the Belmont Stakes especially in the modern era, but no horse has ever won the Belmont Stakes without a prior win on dirt. Datara had only one win and it was his maiden breaker - it was on dirt at GP.
Steven More than 1 year ago
How is Union Rags the best of a weak crop. He has won 1 race and been beat in the ground twice. Hope you bet enough to help my odds because no horse by Dixie Union is going to win a BELMONT.
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
Didn't you just said that about Roman Ruler last year? I think I heard you said that about Gone West and Wild Again also, and your ilks used to say that about Mr. Prospector a long long time ago.