Longtime Baffert assistant relishing chance for Triple Crown
Jimmy Barnes' role as a member of Bob Baffert's team goes well beyond his job description of assistant trainer.
Baffert treats his longtime assistant and friend more like a partner.
Barnes has handled numerous media responsibilities around American Pharoah's bid to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. Sure, he performs traditional assistant duties, like putting the prized colt through his paces. Baffert entrusted Barnes to manage American Pharoah's stay at Churchill Downs ahead of Saturday's Belmont Stakes.
It's why Barnes hasn't left to run his own stable.
''Bob takes care of me very well, so I don't even think about going anywhere else,'' said Barnes, who joined Baffert in 1999. ''I consider him like a brother. We've won a lot of races together, so it's like a family.''
It doesn't just feel like a family, it literally is.
Barnes' wife, Dana, also is part of the Baffert mix.
Dana exercised Baffert's previous Triple Crown hopefuls such as Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002), and has worked out other Baffert horses such as Dortmund, who was third to American Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Preakness.
In March she took 6-year-old Secret Circle to Dubai and won the $2 million Golden Shaheen, and Baffert might've been happier about it than his exercise rider.
''It was really fun and it showed that Bob had confidence in me,'' said Dana Barnes, 51, who has worked with Baffert since 1997. ''But he's that kind of person.
''When you work with someone as long as we have, you know the routine. We take care of what Bob wants.''
No matter which Barnes does the work, Baffert said his horses are in good hands.
''He has been with me, him and Dana, for years,'' Baffert said after American Pharoah's seven-length Preakness victory. ''We get there and we have a system and it works. We try not to get off the system, and we work with each other.''
For all the excitement American Pharoah has generated with a chance to end the 37-year Triple Crown drought, the Kentucky-bred champion began laying the groundwork as a 2-year-old.
Barnes sensed something special in Pharoah, who rebounded from a fifth-place debut at Del Mar last August with consecutive Grade 1 stakes wins the next month to ignite his current six-race streak. The bond between Barnes and American Pharoah has been obvious this spring, with the bay colt appearing most at ease with the trainer nearby - ready with a handful of carrots and a comforting pat.
That's no small matter with clicking cameras recording American Pharoah's every move on the track and around Barn 33, often with Barnes in the picture. Getting so much face time is another indicator of his boss' faith in him.
It also allows Baffert to spend time with his family in California and tend to his other horses.
''Bob pretty much leaves me alone,'' Barnes said. ''He knows that I know what to do. We go over what he wants to do, what his plans are. He trusts me and knows that I make the right decisions. ...
''He has trained me well and all our owners are very confident in me that if Bob isn't there, that's fine by them because they trust me. It's like he trained me to be Bob, and in some ways I am Bob.''
Barnes said the obvious difference between the two is Baffert's eye for talent, an uncanny skill that has brought him to the brink of a Triple Crown for the fourth time. This is Barnes' second attempt as his assistant, but the ride has been so much fun for him that leaving is unthinkable.
''Bob gives me my props and credit when we win, and I appreciate that,'' Barnes said. ''But at the end of the day, I am his assistant and it's a lot of hours and lot of sacrifice with home life and family. But I'm fine with that role.''