Two down and one mile and half to go for immortality.
Bob Baffert has been here before, three times in fact, and on Saturday will try, try again to take horse racing’s coveted Triple Crown when American Pharoah goes to post in Saturday’s $ 1.5 million Belmont Stakes.
“You have to give him a lot of credit,” trainer Nick Zito said of Baffert. “You know how good you have to be as a trainer to do that.”
Baffert is not just good, he’s a Hall of Famer, and Thursday tried to convice the world that Saturday is just another race.
“I’ve never set any goals for myself. I’m just hoping there’s another good 2-year-old in the barn. Every year I say there’s no way I can beat last year’s year, and I’ll never have another horse like that. I’ve been so fortunate to have a lot of good horses come through that barn you just got to count your blessings.”
But not everyone was buying Baffert’s line, especially the horse’s owner Ahmed Zayat.
“Don’t believe a word he says,” said Zayat, who attended the press conference with his son, Justin. “I can tell you about this guy. He’s the most competitive guy I’ve ever known in my life. He does set goals. His goals are high and lofty and he wants to go down in history as one of the best and for me he is the best. And yes, of course, he wants to win the Triple Crown, he’s just being humble and enjoying the moment because it does mean something to him.”
It should, since Baffert has already had three cracks at the Triple Crown, only to come up short.
His last attempt before this year came in 2002, but War Emblem weakened after a poor start and finished eighth. Baffert had back-to-back tries with Silver Charm (1997) and Real Quiet (1998), and both finished second — Real Quiet’s loss by four inches is the smallest margin of defeat in Belmont history.
“I got beat a nose,” Baffert said referring to Real Quiet, who was caught on the wire by Victory Gallop. “I came the closest. He turned for home in front by five. He’s in front before the wire. He’s in front after wire, that’s a nasty bob. Those things happen and you scratch your head like how can that be, you go a mile-and-a-half and you get beat a couple of inches.”
Zito will saddle longshot Frammento in the Belmont, trying to win his third Belmont Stakes. His first two – Birdstone (2004) and Da’ Tara (2008) – ended the Triple Crown runs of Smarty Jones and Big Brown respectively.
Baffert, already a Hall of Fame trainer, said Thursday that he doesn’think about what a Triple Crown would mean to his career.
“I’ve had my career, I’m just finishing it off,” said the 62-year-old Baffert. “I haven’t really thought about it myself. We’ve been fortunate to accomplish what we have. I think (winning) the Breeders’ Cup Classic (last year for the first time) is the one that was lacking, and we got lucky and won that.”
Dale Romans, who will saddle Keen Ice in the Belmont, believes Baffert’s prior failures will help American Pharoah this year.
“He’s in the right hands and is a true quality good horse,” Romans said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s anointed the Triple Crown on Saturday. American Pharoah is the best horse of the 3-year-old crop. If everything is equal, everybody runs their best he runs first. I think he’s quite a bit in front of us right now.”
In the end, Baffert wants to see American Pharoah’s name with the likes of racing’s greatest stars – Secretariat, Seattle slew and Affirmed.
“I really want to get it done for the horse,” he said. “This horse deserves to be up there with those great names and hopefully that’s what we are here for.”
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