The Finish Line with Bob Baffert

The legendary trainer is a perennial contender for the Triple Crown races and has a strong hand for the Kentucky Derby

Bob Baffert – Photo: George Selwyn

I watch my horses really closely and see how they react after a race.

I’m always working and trying to figure our plans for these horses. Approaching the Triple Crown, it’s day-to-day and week- to-week. The thing about Kentucky that you don’t know is what you will get with the weather. It can change in eight hours, like it did last year.

Though I won the Triple Crown with Pharoah, I enjoyed it more with Justify because we knew it could be done.

We had the horse to do it and we felt more comfortable. But Justify and Pharoah were off-the-chart horses. This year I think I have solid three-year-olds.

I was a bit of a loner when I was younger.

I grew up on a ranch in Nogales, Arizona and couldn’t wait to get home and saddle up the horse that my dad gave me. I’d ride him for two hours. It got me away from everything; I’ve always loved the horses.

Being attached to horses, when you have a lot of stress, they’re emotional support.

They’ve been that for me and I love being around them. I’m in charge of them and I’m responsible for their health and wellbeing. As long as I can be around them and we have this beautiful track, I could do this forever.

Santa Anita is basically my home. I wouldn’t send a good horse out there if I thought there was danger, or if the horses were at risk.

Things happen in racing; they’re athletes and things go wrong. We see that in professional sports. I think for a lot of people, there has been a lot of awareness brought to the sport. You better think about your horses first before anything.

I keep hearing I’m the face of racing – or perhaps the hair of racing! – because I’ve won two Triple Crowns.

I’m recognisable and I feel like I do have a responsibility that people want to hear from me and what I think. I’m very opinionated at times and I’ll tell you what I’m thinking.

I’m actually cutting back on my numbers as I don’t want a whole lot of horses.

I want a manageable amount and I’d like to keep it about 100. I’d like to take 40 two-year-olds every year, including homebreds.

When I first came over from Quarter Horses, I got my horses ready really early.

Now I like to take my time and most of the horses I buy are bred to go longer. I like playing at the top end and my clients want to play at the top end; I’d like to get everyone to the Derby. There’s nothing like it for excitement.

I had a plan with Roadster [winner of the Santa Anita Derby from stablemate Game Winner] and it worked out.

I have new challenges every year – when the challenges come, I have a rolodex in my head. I don’t panic. I’ve always got a game plan; that’s years of experience. I surround myself with top people that carry out everything for me and it makes my job easier.

I bought [1998 Kentucky Derby winner] Real Quiet for $17,000.

With conformation, I could find horses. But you can’t do that anymore. It’s too tough, people have gotten sharper. At the end of the day, it’s all about speed. That speed is the most important factor. I got in at the right time.

Pinhooking has changed everything; horses are changing hands far too much before they get to the track.

The sale ring is always important but with the pinhooking, they go through a lot. They don’t get to grow up and be horses.

I own 15 guitars; I don’t why I have so many. I just accumulate them.

It’s like accumulating golf clubs. I’m trying to play a little golf with [14-year-old son] Bode now that he’s older. He’s going to be starting high school. He’s at the age where I can do more stuff with him.

Once I used to go to the Breeders’ Cup and by the time I got there my horses were empty. I’ve changed a lot.

But you learn – you want to be a little fresh for it and I’ve learned to aim for these bigger races. If I have a horse that doesn’t work in California, I’ll let the owner know and maybe they can take them to a softer circuit.

I’m proud I’m still very good friends with the clients I’ve had for 30 years. People like Hal Earnhard and Mike Pegram.

You‘ve got to put the horses first. I love being able to develop the young horses, the two-year-olds, and that’s my favourite part, watching them grow. They’re going to be coming in soon.

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