Baffert: Del Mar would be
perfect with synthetic track

Aug 8, 2006 3:36 AM

Bob Baffert and Del Mar go together like reality TV and high ratings. Deportment aside, it’s an ideal match.

Baffert typifies Del Mar’s prevailing image: great weather, beautiful women, and a playboy’s bankroll. It’s an atmosphere of sun, sand and salaciousness. The 52-year-old trainer wallowed in it from 1997 through 2003, when he won seven consecutive Del Mar titles and 186 races. Despite being displaced in 2004 by Doug O’Neill and last year by Jeff Mullins, Baffert always sits armed and ready to regain the crown.

Even if he doesn’t, he’s odds-on to lead the meet in good times. Not that he doesn’t take training seriously. He does, and he has the record to prove it, one that will lead him directly into racing’s Hall of Fame as soon as he becomes eligible. He will not pass go. He will not collect $200.

In the meantime, Baffert, who at 12 groomed and galloped quarter horses on his father’s ranch in his native Nogales, Arizona, enjoys his status as the most recognizable trainer in the world. Credit that to the constant schlepping around of his toddling son, Bode, nationwide TV exposure thanks to three victories in the Kentucky Derby, and his distinctive snow white hair.

A race track novice once asked someone how to find Bob Baffert. The stranger cast a curious glance and replied, "He’s the guy who looks like he’s wearing a shower cap."

Baffert recently was buttoned-holed for a Rorschach test on some topical racing issues.

On synthetic surfaces: "It’s a thing of the future that might be OK. I’m in favor of trying new things. Anything that will keep horses sounder is good."

On Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, whose racing career is over and whose life is day-to-day following a catastrophic injury to his right hind leg early in the Preakness Stakes: "The veterinarian (Dr. Dean Richardson, who led the team that performed the surgery) was given an awful tough assignment. The little experience I’ve had with injuries that extreme have not been good. A horse can be doing great and go bad over night. Barbaro’s chances have been slim from Day 1, but he’s at the right clinic (University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center). On the other hand, he’s such a big horse, that’s a disadvantage. You’re dealing with all that weight. The unfortunate things with horses is, you can’t put them in a bed and forget about them."

On the Kentucky Derby: "It’s the most popular race in the world and it means a lot more than any other race. That’s what makes this whole Barbaro deal so tough on (trainer) Michael Matz. His horse wins the Derby, then he breaks a leg. I feel fortunate, knock on wood, that nothing like that has happened to me. But the Derby is the Derby. It’s the biggest event in America."

On the continuing popularity of Del Mar, which enjoyed its biggest on-track opening day crowd ever this year, 42,005: "I think once they change the track (to a synthetic surface), it’s going to be perfect."

Meanwhile, despite Del Mar’s best short-term efforts, horsemen remain vocal in their concerns about the condition of the main track, where this meet, nine horses have suffered fatal injuries. Understandably, compliments are in acute reserve.

You’d sooner catch Mel Gibson at a meeting of the B’Nai Brith.

The homestretch

Declan’s Moon, who suffered his first defeat when Cosmic Boom nosed him out at Hollywood Park on closing day, is aiming for the seven-furlong Pat O’Brien Breeders’ Cup Handicap on Aug. 20. Whether the male 2-year-old champion of 2004 would be pointed to the 11/4-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic or the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at six furlongs on Nov. 4 is up in the air.

"I don’t know," trainer Ron Ellis said. "We’re just considering the O’Brien right now and we’ll decide about the Breeders’ Cup after that. Buzzards Bay (Oaklawn Handicap winner) would have to be supplemented to the Classic (for $450,000), but that’s where we’d like to end up with him."

Ellis, disenchanted with Del Mar’s dirt surface, said he shipped Buzzards Bay back to Santa Anita, "because this track is terrible." Declan’s Moon also would have to be supplemented for $450,000 to the $5 million Classic, and for $180,000 to the $2 million Sprint.

”¡ Los Angeles radio station KMXE (830 AM), purchased by Angels’ owner Art Moreno, airs two hours of horse racing news ranging from captivating to controversial each weekend morning, starting with the Roger Stein Show from 8 to 9, followed by Thoroughbred Los Angeles, hosted by Mike Willman and Kurt Hoover. The latter show recently left ESPN affiliate KSPN (710) for its new home. Word on the street is that Moreno is efforting to buy out the Angels’ contract on KSPN which runs through 2007 and shift the broadcasts to KMXE.

”¡ Soundalikes: Corey Black and Toby Maguire.

”¡ Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire are twice the men they used to be. If you don’t believe it, look at their pictures when they played for Pittsburgh and Oakland, and look at them today.

”¡ Major League observation: I don’t know who’s more juiced, the players or the balls.

”¡ Isn’t it about time Fidel Castro chucked the fatigues?