Updated on 08/11/2015 9:24AM

Once again, Baffert is the Haskell’s big dog

Barbara D. Livingston
Bob Baffert has brought American Pharoah to Monmouth Park looking for his eighth win in the Haskell.

DEL MAR, Calif. – The first time trainer Bob Baffert ever went to Monmouth Park was in 1997. He’s become a regular over the years. Though he’s based here in the summers at Del Mar, Baffert has made the Haskell Invitational a priority, and he’s continued to have every reason to go back, for his record in the race is one of the most dominant of any trainer in any major race this era.

Baffert has won the Grade 1 Haskell a record seven times, all since 2001, including four times in the past five years. Those seven winners have come from just 11 starters. Not once has a Baffert runner in the Haskell finished out of the money. Seven wins. Three seconds. One third.

And he’ll be heavily favored to get his eighth win on Sunday.

The Haskell is the spot where American Pharoah will launch the second act of his career following his Triple Crown sweep this spring. It was an obvious choice. Baffert loves Monmouth, owner Ahmed Zayat is a resident of New Jersey, the Haskell is far enough from the Triple Crown to allow adequate recovery for American Pharoah, and the $1 million Haskell is by far the richest and most prestigious race of a stakes-cluttered weekend for 3-year-olds.

“A million dollars, Grade 1, a lot of history,” Baffert said, ticking off some of the reasons he likes the Haskell. “There’s something about it. Winning the Haskell is always big if you have a 3-year-old.”

Baffert took time to build his dominance in the Haskell. His first three starters in the race all lost, with Anet finishing second in 1997, Forestry third in 1999, and Captain Steve second in 2000.

Since then, though, Baffert has won with seven of the eight horses he has sent to the Haskell.

Point Given won it in 2001, War Emblem followed in 2002, and Roman Ruler in 2005. Baffert has been on a tear this decade. Lookin At Lucky won the Haskell in 2010, Coil in 2011, Paynter in 2012, and Bayern last year. The only loss in that streak came in 2013, when Power Broker was second.

Baffert said there’s no obvious reason for his success there other than “taking good horses.”

“I like to think my horse has them over a barrel,” he said.

He comes to the Haskell with the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, American Pharoah. Baffert said he believes some of his Haskell success has come from facing horses “that have tailed off a little bit” from the Triple Crown. In this case, he’s running a horse who ran in all three legs. The only other horse of his who competed in the entire Triple Crown and then went to the Haskell was Point Given, and Baffert said American Pharoah most mirrors Point Given in how they came through the Triple Crown.

“Of all my horses, he and Point Given handled it,” Baffert said. “This guy’s been pretty solid the whole way. What makes him a great horse is he can sustain his form. He hasn’t tailed off like I thought he would. He’s getting stronger. He’s just a special horse.”

Baffert’s Monmouth success isn’t limited to the Haskell. When the Breeders’ Cup was held there in 2007, Baffert won a pair of races with Indian Blessing in the Juvenile Fillies and Midnight Lute in the Sprint.

“I’ve had a lot of luck there, but the reason I’ve had a lot of luck is because I’ve taken my best horses there,” Baffert said.

On Sunday, Baffert won’t rely solely on having the heavy favorite. Over the years, he has made it part of his routine on race day to visit Max’s Hot Dogs in Long Branch, about 2 1/2 miles from Monmouth Park. It’s not exactly on his meal plan following his heart attack in 2012, but there are some traditions you just don’t mess with.

“You have to eat it there, too,” Baffert said.

American Pharoah arrived in New Jersey on Wednesday following a flight from California. Baffert’s assistant, Jimmy Barnes, will oversee final preparation at Monmouth until Baffert arrives on Saturday.


Baffert said he doesn’t feel any pressure regarding this race. “There was more pressure for the Kentucky Derby,” he said. “We couldn’t let that race get away.”

He said American Pharoah is “ready for this race.”

“If he’s on that plane, it means he’s doing exceptionally,” Baffert said.

An exceptional horse for a trainer with an exceptional record in the race. Hot dog!