Just another day at the track for Baffert
By Kenny Mayne
Special to ESPN.com
It's 20 minutes before the horses are to be called over to the track from the Stakes barn and Bob Baffert looks like he doesn't have a care in the world. Shouldn't he be giving War Emblem carrots and sugar cubes or whatever it is that trainers do? Instead, Baffert has his back turned to the colt, talking with friends and reporters, calling out to passers-by. He's so relaxed he could fall asleep, except he never stops talking.
Maybe he's the author of his own dreams.
The story is well known at this point. Baffert moved to buy a horse for his key owner, Prince Ahmed bin Salman, just weeks before the Derby. There was misguided criticism that the two had bought their way into the Triple Crown series. But the colt they purchased wasn't going to be in the Derby without their intervention, and was not highly regarded once they entered him. War Emblem was overlooked in Louisville by the horse racing intelligentsia to such a degree, an audit should have been required to prove there was actually enough betting support to make him 20-1.
And by the way, the connections of every horse involved in this thing buy their way in. Sometimes it's for nearly a million dollars, sometimes the funds can be appropriated through a search for spare quarters underneath the floormats of a car. But we'll get to Magic Weisner shortly.
Friday Baffert said he wouldn't even bother giving his jockey, Victor Espinoza, any instructions for the Preakness. "I told Victor this is your show," Baffert said, "I'm not telling him what to do." Espinoza listened to every word. It's the horse that wasn't taking it all in. War Emblem had so much run in him that Espinoza looked like he needed to have a full body restraint on board in addition to reins. He finally gave in to his runner with more than a half mile to go. Together, they started running to Elmont, New York.
So there was no speed duel to wear out War Emblem, though the idea is getting tired. Once again, War Emblem burned out all the rest. The only one in the same picture at the wire was Magic Weisner. He's the gelding whose name was misspelled in the initial paperwork, whose mother was misjudged when sold for one dollar. That's like a million-to-one horse story: a million dollar purchase and the product of a dam that went for four quarters being in the same picture at the wire in the Preakness. In fact, that was the best part of the Preakness. One barn blessed with unlimited resources briefly shared the stage with mere common folk.
But like Nick Zito said on the morning of the Preakness, "They don't remember the second place horse for long in these things."
The memory from this day is that 20 minutes before heading over to the track, Bob Baffert turned his back on his horse. It was body language that said there's no looking back. There was something very big to look forward to.
It's bigger now.