Baffert running with
patience as guide

Jan 16, 2007 2:17 AM

Bob Baffert lives on the rail.

No records are available to substantiate the numbers, but from personal observation, the 54-year-old trainer draws the No. 1 post position more than anyone else in racing.

Not that it matters, because it doesn’t stop him from winning. Take E Z Warrior, for example. The 3-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Exploit, owned by Ahmed Zayat of Hackensack, N.J., has drawn the rail in each of his three starts. He has won each race by daylight, including the $75,000 San Miguel Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan. 7. Baffert spoke glowingly of the $1.2 million colt afterwards, comparing him to Smarty Jones, who thrust himself into the hearts of mainstream America after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2004.

"He’s small, like Smarty Jones was, but he’s a freak of nature like Smarty Jones was, too," Baffert said. "E Z Warrior is incredibly fast."

Fast at six furlongs, the distance of the San Miguel, and fast at the Derby distance of a mile and a quarter and winning over that exacting route, are horses of different colors. In racing terms, it is light years from today until the First Saturday in May, when the 138th Run for the Roses unfolds at storied Churchill Downs.

At present, however, Baffert’s barn is loaded with talented 3-year-olds of undetermined potential. He hopes at least one makes it to the Kentucky Derby, a race he has won three times and missed by a nose a fourth time with Cavonnier in 1996.

Let’s face it: in terms of achievement, Baffert is on a path to become the Wayne Lukas of the 21st century. Once he is eligible to the Hall of Fame, Baffert is as sure to be elected as Dick Vitale is of moving his hands when he talks.

Baffert, similar to Vitale except for the grating staccato, seems to operate on fast-forward, much like his horses. Seldom does one race without having a bullet workout. For the uninitiated, a bullet workout is the fastest one at a particular distance. Despite a quick start which had him leading in pursuit of his ninth Santa Anita training title (he won seven in a row from 1997-98 through 2002-03), Baffert has unveiled a novel approach this campaign, a new modus operandi, if you will: forbearance.

"We’ve been pointing to this meet," Baffert said. "It’s very important to us. We have some good horses and it’s nice to be back and geared up. We were very patient waiting for Santa Anita to start. The only disappointment so far has been the Malibu. I thought for sure we could win it (with either Midnight Lute or the recently retired Da Stoops). We had some bad luck, but that’s the way racing is, up and down. We’re in a good cycle right now; we just have to maintain it.

"I’ve got some nice young horses and if we put them in the right spots, good things usually happen."

The homestretch

Baffert has taken a wait-and-see approach on synthetic surfaces. "I think everyone will know more about it as horses race over it," he said. "The jury’s still out on Polytrack. You can’t really make a judgment from Turfway Park (the first track in the United States to have the synthetic surface installed on its main track), because it’s totally different and has different type of horses. At Keeneland, the quality of horses is higher. Some will like it and some won’t. I don’t think we know enough about synthetic tracks yet, but we do know they’re safe to train on because the surface is consistent. It’s the same track every day.

"There’s too much inconsistency with dirt tracks," Baffert continued. "If the money was spent for the right kind of soil for a dirt track, I’d rather run on a dirt track. But for some reason, there are no dirt track engineers in our business. Del Mar had no choice but to go with Polyrack because it’s a bad race surface (18 euthanizations last meet). It can’t handle all the traffic of morning workouts and afternoon racing. I think the Polytrack is a better product than the Cushion Track. I think Cushion Track is just a cheaper version of Polytrack."

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