Updated on 09/16/2011 9:52AM

On tap, Baffert's sweet Vindication


ARCADIA, Calif. - Bob Baffert arrived at Santa Anita on Friday morning just in time to clock a team working in company and supervise the next set. Never mind that it was 9:15.

"Good afternoon," said Ron McAnally, gently tapping his wristwatch as Baffert walked by. Bob didn't let it go.

"How many Derby winners you train?" Baffert shot back, knowing the answer was none. Somehow, McAnally made it into the Hall of Fame anyway. And somehow, in the face of all that is holy on the backstretch, Baffert's ability to resist the pressure of waking at 4 a.m. has not affected the performance of his stable.

For those who lost count, Baffert has three Derbies, including the 2002 version with War Emblem. He takes no serious credit for the War Emblem coup, referring to the speedy colt as a "made horse" who fell into his lap on the eve of America's most famous horse race.

Baffert's next Derby winner, if it happens in 2003, will have to come from scratch. War Emblems do not occur twice in a lifetime. Baffert knows this, which is why he is comforted by a whole team of fine young 2-year-olds that developed in waves through the 2002 season and seem ready to win in all directions next year.

Kafwain, Bull Market, and Truckle Feature are established stakes-class runners. But it is the dark brown horse on the eastward facing row of Baffert's Santa Anita stalls that will command most of the attention in the next few months.

Vindication is an unbeaten son of Seattle Slew who has done his best to keep the memory of his late sire going strong. Earlier this week, Baffert caught part of the ESPN Classics telecast of a Seattle Slew biography and was impressed anew with the link between father and son.

"Vindication is a lot like Seattle Slew," Baffert said. "Not as high-strung, though. And a little more refined than some of the Seattle Slews I've seen. Not quite so top-heavy."

Even though he has not raced since winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Oct. 26 in Chicago, Vindication is the kind of colt who makes news just showing up every day. His owner, Satish Sanan, was courted by such buyers as Coolmore and Godolphin before he sold a minority interest to John Sikura's Hill 'n' Dale Farm.

Dan Borislow wanted a piece of Vindication, too, and he was hoping to get it in next weekend's Hollywood Futurity. The owner of Champagne and Remsen winner Toccet issued a very public challenge, urging Sanan to bring his colt out one more time to run for all the championship marbles. In the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Toccet drew a bad post and finished far behind Vindication.

"Don't give that man a hard time," Baffert said in defense of Borislow. "I know how he feels. After the Breeders' Cup, you always want one more chance to prove your horse is best. It happened to me with Point Given and Captain Steve." Both colts lost championship chances in the Breeders' Cup, then came back to win the Hollywood Futurity.

Attractive as some kind of showdown might have been, nobody bothered to ask Vindication. The colt has been doing nothing but jogging two miles a day at Santa Anita since recovering from his trip to Chicago. Baffert has yet to decide when to resume Vindication's more serious conditioning.

"I was going to start him galloping right after the 15th," Baffert said, looking toward the coming week. "But now if it rains like it's supposed to, I'll have to wait.

"He needs to do something," Baffert added. "He's starting to go a little nuts. We've had to order rubber padding for his stall."

The description runs contrary to prior behavior. Clearly, Vindication is in need of distracting activity. Larry Damore, who gallops and jogs Vindication, calls him "a real sweetheart." Dana Barnes, who is aboard when the colt works, has found him to be a classy customer with short learning curve. Mike Smith, his rider, added evidence of his own.

"The only time he wasn't perfect was after the first time he shipped, when he went to Kentucky," Smith said. "You could tell he wasn't real happy, and that's why he was thrashing his head around in the gate and broke so bad." That was the Kentucky Cup Juvenile, which Vindication won anyway.

"The next time in Chicago, he was calm as could be," Smith added. "It only took him that one time to figure things out."

Other than a long, well-barbered forelock and his deep, dark coloring, Vindication bears no distinguishing marks. He does have the classic Seattle Slew look of a horse with considerable leverage, a neck always ready to bow, and a long torso leading to flat, mechanically efficient hindquarters. Everything about Vindication says "forward."

"He's feeling good," said groom Rudy Silva as he dismissed Vindication from his bath. The colt danced a couple of jig steps and then took his place on the ring.

"Derby, huh?" Silva added, grinning at the sight. "My last one was Silver Charm. Maybe it's time for another one."