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Hollywood Park: Baffert hot at home if not in Triple Crown
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.
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.
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"
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.
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.
Only chance Optimizer has is RAIN
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?
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.
Baffert is the best trainer in horse racing and knows how to handle horses.
Bodemeister lost??? Did I read this in 'B'RF???
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.