Bob Baffert has been here before. The American Pharoah trainer has had three horses win the first two legs of the Triple Crown, only to come up short in the Belmont Stakes.
The degree of difficulty of winning the Triple Crown has been well-documented – no horse has done it since 1978 – but does that historical footnote add pressure to the chase or make it more galvanizing?
“I’ve been through this already three times, so I’m not going into uncharted waters,” Baffert said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “I know what to expect. My job right now is just to get the horse . . . freshened up and put him in a position to have him ready to give him his best chance to win. It’s sort of fun. I felt more pressure probably in the Kentucky Derby because I was not prepared to lose. When you’re not prepared to lose, you just feel like there’s more pressure on you. You want to win it. And so once we won that, it’s fun from here on out. Because these horses, he got me the race I wanted.”
Earlier this week, Pat Forde appeared on Tiki and Tierney and said that it’s tougher for horses to win the Triple Crown these days because they’re bred more for speed, not stamina. Thus, winning three races of three different lengths in a relatively short amount of time puts a lot of strain on horses.
“Some of that might be true,” Baffert allowed, “but the thing about the Triple Crown, (it used to be the same horses in all three races). Now a lot of people skip the Preakness and they freshen up their horses so everybody’s waiting for you at the Belmont. It’s a big spectacle now. You got the TV and everybody wants to be a part of history. They’ll gang up on you. It’s a totally different mind now.”
Baffert said American Pharoah looked “pretty good” with the race still more than two weeks away.
“You don’t know how much (the previous race) affects him until probably two weeks later or 10 days later,” Baffert said. “They either tail off or they keep moving forward and holding their own. He’s holding his own right now. We’re just hoping that when I go back to see him next week he’ll look like he’s moving forward.”
American Pharoah is the fourth Baffert horse with a chance to win the Triple Crown. Two of the previous three finished runner-up in the Belmont.
“When Real Quiet lost in ’98 – he was in front before the wire and he was in front after the wire,” Baffert recalled. “You talk about a bad beat. I thought maybe he had won it. But to tell you the truth, the worst beat I ever had in my life was ’96, when I got nailed at the wire in the Kentucky Derby because I thought I would never get another chance.”
Baffert’s horse, Cavonnier, finished runner-up to Grindstone that year. Baffert said it was like watching a wide receiver drop a game-winning touchdown pass in the end zone in the Super Bowl.
“To me, that was the toughest,” Baffert said. “But the Triple Crown, we know we’re swimming against the current now. It’s going to be tough. Thirty-seven years, I’ve been there. It’s tough on these horses. That’s why you have to be prepared to lose. That way it makes it easier. Mentally, emotionally, I’ve been to these big dances and I know what to expect. My job is to have that horse ready. If he runs his race – he’s special. He’s a pretty special horse.”