Updated on 09/17/2011 10:02AM

They're two of a kind

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Trainers Bob Baffert (left) and Ronny Werner have much in common, both present and past.

NEW ORLEANS - They come from the same background and grew up around the same kind of horses in the Southwest. They began their training careers with Quarter Horses, then moved to Thoroughbreds with a benefactor who bankrolled the switch. And on Sunday, Bob Baffert and Ronny Werner will square off in the biggest race for 3-year-olds so far this season when Kafwain meets Badge of Silver in the $750,000 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds.

Baffert, 50, who trains Kafwain, has become a fixture in these events. He is a three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby, with Silver Charm, Real Quiet, and War Emblem. He also has a head start on Werner, having switched to Thoroughbreds more than a decade ago after becoming one of the kingpins of the Quarter Horse game.

Werner, 42, is getting his first serious exposure to the madness of the Kentucky Derby chase. "This is crazy. I'm getting calls night and day," he said at his Fair Grounds barn. Werner moved to Thoroughbreds only five years ago and has never run a horse in the Derby. Badge of Silver could be the first. And Werner hopes it starts him down a path well worn by Baffert.

"I want to get where he is," Werner said. "Absolutely. No doubt. You don't know how much. It's not about the money. You do this because you love what you do. It's about history, competition, beating the best."

There is mutual respect between Baffert and Werner, and a growing, friendly rivalry. They have known each other for 15 years. Baffert said one of his first interactions with Werner involved the sale of a pony.

"Lizard," Baffert recalled. "I bought him off Ronny when I went to Ruidoso Downs to run some horses. He was a nice pony. He was white, but when he'd get wet, he'd change colors. So they named him Lizard."

Baffert first knew of Werner because Werner's father, H.C. "Bubba" Werner, was one of the top Quarter Horse trainers when Baffert was at the top of that breed.

"His dad is a real good horseman," Baffert said. "Ronny's pretty sharp. He's been around horses all his life. I used to tell him a long time ago, 'Get rid of the Quarter Horses.'

"With the right kind of horses, he can do it. He knows horses, every part. When you work around Quarter Horses, you have to do it yourself. He's not a walk-on. I have a lot of respect for him."

Like Baffert, Werner speaks fluent Spanish. Werner one morning this week gave a thorough, hands-on diagnostic exam to all 37 horses in his barn here. An assistant stood nearby, making notations as Werner rattled off instructions in Spanish.

"All the horses get their dings," Werner said.

Baffert and Werner have been teasing each other for the past few weeks, since Baffert first decided to send Kafwain from California to the Louisiana Derby. Their conduit has been Frank Mirahmadi, the manic Louisiana Downs racecaller known for his impressions. Mirahmadi, a native of California, works for Fair Grounds's marketing and publicity departments, and was sent to Santa Anita last month to try and recruit Baffert to come to Fair Grounds.

"Baffert told me to tell Ronny that he had one special request - to bring a wheelbarrow so he could haul all the money out of here," Mirahmadi said. "Bob called the other day after Badge of Silver worked. Ronny told me to tell Bob it's good to know he's thinking of us. I asked Ronny to please not duck Kafwain. Ronny said he was going to kick his butt."

Baffert grew up in Arizona, but has embraced the Southern California lifestyle. He has a large house near Santa Anita, and his celebrity status enables him to get tickets to major sporting events. Baffert will still wear jeans in the morning, but he does not get on horses any more, and the cowboy hats he once wore at Los Alamitos are gathering dust.

Werner, who grew up in Texas, is still a country boy at heart. He groomed horses for his father in the summers at Ruidoso Downs, beginning when he was 12. "My dad is H.C. Jr. I'm glad I wasn't H.C. the third. His real name is Hugo Charles."

Werner went to college on an athletic scholarship in rodeo. He competed in bull riding, bareback riding, and bull dogging at Texas Tech. These days, his morning outfit includes jeans, boots with spurs, and a hat that says "Harley Davidson Motor Cycles." The radio at the barn is tuned to a country music station.

"I like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings. Those are the guys I grew up with," Werner said. Werner shaves in a Van Dyke. He looks menacing, but is rather easygoing. On race days, he always - always - wears a cowboy hat.

"Bob always makes fun of my hat. He says I've got to get rid of my hat," Werner said. "But that's who I am. That's always been me. That's my heritage. It comes from where I was raised, and I'm not going to give that up.

"I still try to have a nice suit and dress appropriately, but the hat, I'm not going to give up."

Werner is trying to be a cross-over success. Werner said he decided to make the switch five years ago. "I had one Thoroughbred at Lone Star. I had 35 Quarter Horses at Sam Houston," Werner recalled. "The one at Lone Star won a maiden race, and he made more in that month than my whole stable of Quarter Horses."

Werner's transition was aided by owner Tom Durant, who has a large auto dealership in Grapevine, Texas.

"Tom Durant gave me the opportunity to prove what I could do, just like Mike Pegram did with Baffert," Werner said.

Baffert and Pegram won the Kentucky Derby with Real Quiet.

In other Derby developments:

- Peace Rules was added on Wednesday to the field for the Louisiana Derby, with trainer Bobby Frankel opting for that race over Saturday's $200,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields.

- The El Camino Real Derby is expected to include Crackup, Ministers Wild Cat, Ocean Terrace, Ozzie Cat, and Ten Most Wanted, among others.

- Robledo, the Turf Paradise Derby winner, is scheduled to make his next start in the $500,000 WinStar Derby at Sunland Park on March 30, trainer Vladimir Cerin said.

- Saintly Look, who was fifth in the Risen Star Stakes in his last start, is likely to make his next start in the March 16 Tampa Bay Derby, trainer Dallas Stewart said. Stewart said the March 22 Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park is a back-up plan.