08/01/2012 2:20PM

Jerardi: Baffert, Frankel stand out as racing's two current stars


Thank the Beyer Speed Figure gods for Bob Baffert. Just when I was certain that we had already seen the fastest 3-year-olds of 2012, Baffert produced Paynter at Monmouth Park for the Haskell Invitational.

Watching the colt run away from the field Sunday, you knew it was special. The time told part of the story. So did the margins. It was no shock when the 108 Beyer was posted.

Paynter got a 100 Beyer in the Derby Trial, just his third start. He came back with a 106 in that allowance on Preakness Day. The 96 Beyer in the Belmont Stakes was more a function of the slow pace and oddball distance than a true measure of the colt’s talent.

The Haskell was dazzling in every way. Paynter blew the race open with a 23.36-second third quarter. And when Nonios made a strong run at the top of the stretch, Paynter took off again.

Is there anybody who did not think Travers when Paynter hit the wire? I figured the only way he wouldn’t win is if he didn’t run. He may not run.

Unless Paynter recovers quickly from the temperature he spiked, the colt likely won’t make the Travers, which is a shame on many levels – unless you plan on being at Parx Racing on Sept. 22. There will be two seven-figure races on the card, the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby and $1 million Cotillion Stakes, a rarity if not a first in American racing on a non-Breeders’ Cup program.

And, unless he makes the Travers, Paynter likely will be the star of that day at Parx, along with his trainer, the only true star in the sport these days. We have some nice horses, many solid jockeys and several legendary trainers. But we only have one star – Bob Baffert.

His is the most recognizable face in the game. If he shows up at Parx, he will be the biggest thing there since the day Smarty Jones paraded in 2004 just before he left for his stud career in Kentucky.

Even after running second in each of the Triple Crown races, losing when losing really did not look like an option, Baffert is having one of his greatest years. He not only survived that heart attack in Dubai, he is closing on 100 wins and is winning with a ridiculous 32 percent of his starters.

And who this side of Woody Stephens does what Baffert has done in the Haskell? Woody’s five consecutive Belmont Stakes will never be duplicated or even approached. Baffert has won the last three Haskells and the last six where he has entered a horse, going back to his first with Point Given in 2001. Only Baffert has any chance to improve on that record and, even if his doctor suggests he can’t have a Max’s Hot Dog, nothing, it appears, can stop the man from winning the Haskell.

I am a sucker for streaks. Which is why I would not have missed Baffert’s sixth Haskell and could hardly wait to see Frankel’s 12th consecutive win Wednesday morning. I do not believe I have ever seen a horse run faster at the end of races than Frankel. It really does look like somebody hits the fast forward button when he runs. It is just silly.

Frankel did not disappoint, winning with total ease at Glorious Goodwood. Sadly, there is no third $1 million race at Parx for Frankel. So we will have to admire one of the great horses in history from afar. Not sure how many races Frankel has left, but I won’t be missing any of them.

By the way, what is it with all these unbeaten horses and long streaks – Frankel, Black Caviar, Zenyatta, Peppers Pride, Rapid Redux, Baffert in the Haskell and another horse to consider, the brilliant unbeaten English-bred Camelot, winner of the Epsom Derby and Irish Derby and alive for the first English Triple Crown since Nijinsky II.

Speaking of Zenyatta, there can only be one. A New Zealand-bred 5-year-old mare named Zenyatta is not making her namesake proud. She has raced six times without winning. She has earned $834. The real Zenyatta did not lose until her 20th race and won $7,304,580.

The real Bob Baffert, thankfully, is still cranking out major winners from coast to coast. I am really starting to wonder if we will ever see another Triple Crown, but I have to believe, if it ever happens, it’s going to be Baffert. Nobody has ever come closer to winning it without winning it than Baffert did in 1998 with Real Quiet. He also looked like he had it in 1997 with Silver Charm. And who knows what happens if War Emblem does not miss the Belmont break in 2002.

There is always 2013. Or 2014. Or …